Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is located approximately 32 miles outside of El Paso. The park is about 860 acres. We had read about this site in a blog we follow and then we started researching it and found mixed reviews. (Some people were turned off by all the rules you have to follow.) However, it sounded like an area we would love so we made reservations to check it out and we are very glad we did.
This site is named for the natural rock basins that capture rainwater. Hueco is a Spanish word meaning hollows. Today this site preserves more than 2,000 pictographs made primarily by the Jornada Mogollon culture from thousands of years ago, is a popular birding site, and is known as one of the top bouldering (free style climbing) sites in the world. In the past this site had been run by the county, was heavily used, and was suffering damage. The county turned it over to the state to be developed into a state park and Texas laws were passed to protect the area.
Because of the sensitive nature of the site, you must make an advance request to visit or stay in the park. You must arrive before 4:30 pm to view a 15-minute video about conservation efforts required for the site, talk to a ranger, and be in the campground by 5 pm unless you have an emergency and need to leave. (They come by and check on you to make sure you have everything you need before they lock the gates.) There are only 20 campsites in the park but we were one of only 3 campers (this includes the host) spread throughout the campground. The sign outside the campground said it was full.
We could hear coyotes howling during the night talking to each other all around the mountains. A fellow camper saw 4 adult large bobcats cross the campground road and we saw evidence of and heard animals around our camper. We experienced cloudy nights so were unable to star gaze in an area known for their dark skies. We had a wonderful site secluded under some trees but we didn’t go out much after dark.
Due to over use of the site in the past, only 70 people may be in the park per day (including campers and day use visitors) and more than 2/3 of the park is restricted to guided tours only. North Mountain is the only available area that can be hiked or climbed without a guide.
Our guide for hike #2 was a retired history teacher. He took our small group, of about 8 hikers, on an informative 4 hour hike, telling us about the history of the area, diverse plant life and animals, and showing us his favorite pictographs. (We had to crawl into some tight spaces to see them and he really enjoyed telling us about times during his hikes when he or someone on the hike narrowly missed being bitten by a rattlesnake.)
While we were at Hueco Tanks State Park climbers from Mexico were bouldering in the park. Bouldering season is October through March because during the summer season the rocks get too hot to the touch. It is common for climbers from around the world to visit the park during bouldering season.