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On Walkabout At: Hueco Tanks State Park, Texas – Part 1

The city of El Paso out in far Western Texas has a wide variety of hiking trails and rock climbing destination all around the city.  Most of these outdoors opportunities are located in the Franklin Mountains that run through the middle of town, but to the far east of El Paso lies the city’s other great outdoor attraction, Hueco Tanks State Park.  Hueco Tanks is a prominent rock outcropping that lies at the base of the Hueco Mountains:

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The park is open 7 days a week and year-round.  Here are the Park Hours: Winter (October 1st through April 30th): 8 a.m. – 6 p.m;.Summer (May 1st through September 30): 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. (Fri-Sun); 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Mon-Thurs). Reservations are recommended for visitors planning a trip to Hueco Tanks:

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My wife and I planned to spend the day here hiking around and checking out the various Native American rock art galleries located in the park.  So we paid the entrance fee and parked our vehicle near the visitor’s center:

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At the visitor center, everyone who visits the park has to sit through a 20 minute video that educates visitors about the significance of the park.  The video was quite good and the Native American park ranger was very informative as well with the answers he gave to the questions that were asked by the people who sat through the video.  Here is a brief history of the site provided by the state park authorities:

This site was opened to the public in May of 1970. This 860.3-acre park is named for the large natural rock basins or “huecos” that have furnished a supply of trapped rain water to dwellers and travelers in this arid region of west Texas for millennia.A unique legacy of lively and fantastic rock paintings greets the visitor at the “tanks.” From Archaic hunters and foragers of thousands of years ago to relatively recent Mescalero Apaches, Native Americans have drawn strange mythological designs and human and animal figures on the rocks of the area. The site’s notable pictographs also include more than 200 face designs or “masks” left by the prehistoric Jornada Mogollon culture. Hueco Tanks was the site of the last Indian battle in the county. Apaches, Kiowas, and earlier Indian groups camped here and left behind pictographs telling of their adventures. These tanks served as watering places for the Butterfield Overland Mail Route.  [Hueco Tanks State Park]

Before this land became a park in 1970 it was actually a private ranch owned by the Escontrias family that lived on the land for many decades.  The remains of their old ranch house can be seen near the visitor center:

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The remains of the old Butterfield Stage station can still be seen as well near the visitor center as well:

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For those not wanting to travel very far to see some of the Native American artwork that can be found at Hueco Tanks, there is literally right behind the visitor center a cave in the rocks that is home to a few paintings:

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The rock art inside the cave isn’t all that impressive, but nevertheless interesting to look at:

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From the cave it is also possible to see one of the huecos that the park is famous for:

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These huecos are formed when rain falls and flows through the cracks in the rocks and settles in these “tanks” in the various caves that shade it from the sun thus preventing evaporation.  Water remains at Hueco Tanks all year around so it easy to see why through the centuries this area was so important to the Native Americans.

From the cave I also had a great viewpoint over the visitor center area as well as the highest point in the Hueco Mountains, Cerro Alto Peak at 6,787 feet:

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Here is the view towards the cliffs of the Hueco Mountains that mark the end of the Otero Mesa and the drop in elevation to the Chihuahuan Desert floor where the Hueco Tanks lies:

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We also had a view of my wife’s Hyundai that I had just recently bought her sitting in the parking lot:

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From the cave my wife and I made our way past the visitor center down a trail that runs to a major rock art gallery that walk in visitors can go see:

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The trail to the rock gallery went right by this lush grass field that wouldn’t be so striking if it wasn’t for the fact that all of this green was in the middle of the arid desert:

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Beside the trees and bushes there was still plenty of lush desert scenery along the trail as well:

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Here is an example of a ocotillo or Jacob’s Staff looks like cactus but it is actually an entirely different plant species:

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Eventually the trail turned towards the rock and the art gallery:

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The gallery really wasn’t rock art, but instead graffiti:

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However, this graffiti was very interesting to read simply because of how old it was:

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Reading the graffiti it is easy to imagine the travelers on the Butterfield Stage stopping here at the station and walking over hear to leave a message on the rock that they had been here.  Unfortunately this is as far as day visitors can go to explore the rock art at the park because the south side of the park is by guided tour only, which prior reservations are needed through the park service.  I will definitely have to do this some day, which gives me an excuse to come visit the park again.  However, even the day use area there was still plenty more to see on this visit.

Next Posting: Hueco Tanks State Park – Part 2

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