Hueco Tanks State Park & Historical Site

West Texas

Just over 30 miles northeast of El Paso, toward Guadalupe Mountains National Park, this 860-acre park contains three small granite mountains that are pocked with depressions – hueco is Spanish for ‘hollow’ – that hold rainwater, creating an oasis in the barren desert. The area has been attracting humans for at least 10,000 years, as evidenced by a chipped stone spear point found here. Park staff estimate it holds more than 2000 pictographs, some dating back 5000 years.

To minimize human impact, a daily visitor quota is enforced: reserve up to 90 days in advance to gain entry. At park headquarters you'll find a small gift shop, an interpretive center and 20 campsites ($12 to $16). You can explore the North Mountain area by yourself, but to hike deeper into the park – where the more interesting pictographs are – you must reserve and join one of the pictograph, birding or bouldering/hiking guided tours (915-849-6684; $2). Check online for current schedules. All visitors who camp or take a self-guided tour must watch an orientation video.

If you're into rock climbing, you probably already know that Hueco Tanks ranks among the world's top climbing destinations during winter months (October through early April), when other prime climbs become inaccessible. In summer, however, the desert sun generally makes the rocks too hot to handle.

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