If you have "no place to go," come here!


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Note: This is a continuation, since y'all asked for more, of my previous post, So Last Thursday We Saddled Up For A Three Days' Ride.

Image courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife

You may have heard of Hueco Tanks. Hueco Tanks is one of Texas' newest State Parks -- and among its most famous, having been profiled in a number of magazines including Southern Living. Climbing magazine online has this quote and image:

In the 1980s, Hueco Tanks earned an international reputation as a top rock-climbing spot, especially during mild winter months. In addition, a growing number of school groups from El Paso and throughout West Texas find the park to be an outstanding outdoor classroom.

Because of graffiti and other past damage to some of Hueco Tanks’ invaluable archeological treasures and its fragile desert ecosystem, park users’ access to the park has been limited in recent years in accordance with a public use plan. Park visitors must watch a 20-minute TPWD video that explains the history of Hueco Tanks, the importance of conserving its natural and cultural resources, and defines the park’s self-guided and guided-only areas.

The site used to be one of the world's most popular, and remains among the premier, destinations for rock climbers. These days -- as people often do, in previous years

people abused Hueco Tanks -- the fragile desert watering place with its connections to the past has tighter access controls, and some of them come from the climbers themselves:

TPWD, which operates Hueco Tanks, and the climbing community haven’t always enjoyed such favorable relations, so park staff were impressed that Hueco Tanks climbing coalition president Nikias Kiehnle and fellow climber Andy Klier came to them with the request for the temporary closure after they noticed the nest under the Grenade Boulder overhang.

Canyon wrens, as with all native birds, are protected by various federal statutes. The attractive songbirds are uncommon to locally common permanent residents in the Trans-Pecos and Texas Hill Country, TPWD wildlife biologist Mark Lockwood said.

While the Grenade Boulder climbing route is temporarily closed, dozens of other comparable climbing routes remain open in the park’s North Mountain self-guided area.

Preservation of Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site’s cultural and natural features is the site’s primary mission and is required by law. Some climbing routes have been permanently closed over the years to protect archeological sites and other resources. But the park’s mission also requires that the public be afforded recreational opportunities, and the staff works with affected user groups to try to accommodate their needs and provide the best visitor experience possible.

TPWD archeologists in 2007 assessed several areas at Hueco Tanks for signs of risk to archeological deposits, such as loss of vegetation, erosion or other changes that had occurred over time. Photographs of the sites were compared to photos taken of the same areas in previous years to determine user impact. Most of the areas were found to be in good condition, but those which indicated significant changes, such as the north face of Mushroom Boulder, were closed to further activities to protect valuable cultural resources.

Texas isn't world-famous for its Native American rock art, but Hueco Tanks is one of the places where Texas has rock art that predates history.

I find it remarkably encouraging that the people who come here to enjoy climbing are also aware and careful regarding the wildlife. I've seen the Hueco Tanks video, too, firsthand, in the preserved ranch house that now serves as an interpretive center, including a small museum of artifacts from Hueco Tanks. It's about 150 yards from the entry station, where you check in and out to visit (there's a camp ground at Hueco Tanks, but I'm not going to report on that until I've been there to stay -- you must have a reservation and actually be a camper there to see it, but I hope to achieve that soon).

The parks personnel at Hueco are knowledgeable, friendly, and protective -- not just of the ancient and austere park itself, but of visitors. I saw more kids and families at Hueco Tanks Sunday afternoon than I've seen in a Texas state park since I was a Scout leader. (Expo doesn't count; that's a giant outdoors fair, and it's not technically in a park, although it overwhelms TPW&D's headquarters annually).

You can watch a Hueco Tanks video at the TPWD site for the park. You can visit Texas Beyond History's website and get a closeup overview of the site.

I'm an unashamed advocate of Texas. Unlike some of our modern politicians, though, I don't think Texas needs to secede from the US. I think we need to get back to our roots and our history and take care of our land, water, and air, because it's all connected, and it's taken care of us -- and our ancestors -- and we owe that to our descendants.

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Submitted by hipparchia on

in fact, i don't think even my parents have been there and they've been everywhere in texas and new mexico [and almost everywhere in arizona] i seem to have really missed out. and i really, really want to go there now that i've read your post and seen these pictures.

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Submitted by Nervine5 on

Am I the only one who noticed the overlap in your pictures (the scorpion, et al)? You do see them, right?

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Submitted by viejolex on

Der Sarah, I missed a mention of how the Tanks are closed to the public for a significant period of time to acommodate the climbers. Nor is there mention of the significant damage left by pitons embedded in the rock, placed there primarily by Europeans.

Given the history of the site, I feel the Tanks should be closed to climbing of any sort. Long before prehistory, this was a site where nomadic peoples from both sides of the border stopped to rest, pray, and thank the Creator for making this place and its waters available.

Here is an example of the regard which members of the Kalpulli (read school, or community) Tlalteca and others descended from original peoples primatily from Mexico feel for this sacred ground:

from: Carlos Aceves
Sent: Sunday, April 26, 2009 8:13 PM
To: Kalpulli Tlalteca/Ramon
Subject: Quetzalcoatl Pilgrimage

Kalpulli Tlalteca invites the local Traditional Community to our annual pilgrimage to honor the Quetzalcoatl mask at Hueco Tanks park this Sunday, May 3. We will meet at 9:00 a.m. at the park offices for the necessary permits, then proceed to the site. I will be coordinating the ceremony which is offering of songs and food to the Spirit of Quetzalcoatl. May 4 is when Traditionals celebrate the birth of CeAcatl Toplitzin Quetzalcoatl, founder of the Toltecs.

Nahuatlaca civilization, a continous social effort that began with the Olmeca nearly 5,000 years ago, did not follow the western pattern of human development. Rather than peak and decline, the people of pre-columbian middle America renewed their civlization by changing the spiritual (political and economic) center. From the Olmecs it went to the Mixtecatl, then to the Totonacatl, then to the Teotihuacatl, then to the Toltecalt, then to the Mexicatl.

At about the time when the civilization was about to shift from Teotihuacan to another Nahua people, maestros from Xochilcalco (one of the great learning centers of the Americas such as Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon), were visiting Amatlan in the 7th century AD (now is the mexican state of Morelos). There they found a six year old boy orphaned since birth and being raised by his grandparents. They saw in him a great potential, to be a future Quetzalcaotl (the consciousness that unites earth and sky knowledge). Taken to Xochicalco until age 26, he returned to Amatlan and founded the city of Tollan (Tula) and became a key person in the fifth renewal of Nahuatlaca civilization---the Toltecs."

Very few people are aware of the significance this site holds for many. It should not be a cash cow which depends largely on climbers to the detriment of local peoples.

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Submitted by Sarah on

was contemplated not too long ago. The result was the public use plan of 1998. I realize that the graffiti and the pitons indicate a cultural arrogance and disrespectful attitude, and I tried to reflect that in my post. It's my belief that the folks at TP&WD do the best they're able to protect the site as well as to encourage responsible visitation.

I am not aware of a closure of the park to the general public in order to accommodate climbers -- can you elaborate?

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Submitted by Sarah on

I think you could get there via Amtrak or Greyhound to avoid a long solo drive (notice I didn't say it'd be affordable). I about fell out the other day -- for several places I'm trying to figure out how to get to, Southwest is as cheap as or cheaper than Greyhound. (Sadly, a trip to California via train isn't legitimately possible from Lubbock.)

All that said, I cannot recommend enough the Desert Southwest, the Trans-Pecos and El Paso in particular. This is but one place I was privileged to see just enough of to know I want to go back! Guadalupe Mountains NP and Carlsbad Caverns NP (the park is quite large above ground) are other places I saw on this trip. Like El Paso (and South Padre, and the Valley parks and wildlife refuges around McAllen/Weslaco/Harlingen), I want to go back and get a much better look.