Beings from around the globe awe at the size of the statuesque terrain that is Mt. Everest. I must admit, and not firsthand, it seems amazing in its own right. With a record 29,035 feet above sea level, it is the highest mountain on Earth. Its scenic, snow draped, cloud covered peaks makes for a picture perfect painting.
But what if one cannot travel so far to experience this mountain? A place more locally situated for us and just as picturesque as Mt. Everest? Not so much for its size, and certainly not for its snow. This place I speak of is Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site. It is nestled in the Far East side of El Paso County, Texas. With little to none major modern interruptions, huecos; natural rock basins where rain water collects, and a sea of never ending desert, it is a true oasis. Unfortunately, few locals know of its existence.
This land goes back to pre-historic time. It has provided water, food, and shelter to all Chihuahuan desert travel. One of the earliest human-made objects found were fluted lance points of the Folsom culture dating back to 9,000-8,200 B.C. Also, Paleo-Indian hunters are thought to be the earliest people to have inhabited this land around 10,000 years ago. It might have been them, among other cultures, to have marks that make Hueco Tanks so unique.
These marks are called pictographs, which they alone, invite people from different parts of the world to be spectated. Images painted or carved on stone, include: animals, birds, and large eyed figures, thought to be rain or storm deities. The more famous are those of “masks” or face designs that have been deemed the largest grouping of such images in North America, with more than two hundred identified. Thinking about its rich history, is it not amazing to have pictures to look at on rock, all the while dwelling on the fact that very ancient people once stepped right where your foot sets?
Today, it is used for many recreational activities, as well as, studies. Bird watching allows for a relaxing look at different species of birds, maybe while picnicking in one of the sites. In search of a challenge? Try hiking on a self-guided or guided tours and trails. Something more challenging? How about rock climbing, or as it is called here, bouldering. Given that name for its cratered boulders many mountain sport enthusiasts seek to conquer. Then, finish off stargazing with an El Paso breezy night in one of their camp sites.
Some do stay, but they do so with the intentions of further studying its ecosystem. May it be the different species of animals such as gray fox, rattlesnakes, coyote, javelina, skunks, raccoons, rabbits, amphibian, and mountainlions. Alike, people and scientists, can also observe plants and trees that we crossed and saw all over. Hueco carries ocotillo, cacti, sotol, and the prickly pear to name a few. Texas Mulberry, Mexican Buckeye, and the rose-fruited juniper are some of the trees found here. Colubrina Stricta is an erect colubrine and the only known population resides in Hueco Tanks.
Hueco Tanks wasn’t always the park I now know and hiked. Its path to being a state park and historic site took some time. Juan Armendariz was the first person to build a ranch after he purchased three sections of Hueco Tanks in 1895. Then, Silverio Escontrias bought off most of his land, filed for ownership papers in 1898, and started a cattle and horse operation alongside his wife and eleven children in an adobe home he had constructed. It became a tourist attraction in the 1940’s, which by that time was under the operation of the Escontrias family. It was finally approved by legislature as a state park in 1957. El Paso County bought it in 1965 and looked over it until 1969, when the state took over. It was finally opened to the public May 1970. It has definitely had quite a journey.
The park is so vast in what you can do, discover, observe, and walk that my two hour disposition was not enough to get a whole hearted view. The road leading there seemed long, maybe it was due to the fact that there was only desert and small mountains to follow. Once there, my $7 fee paid, backpack on hand, I was ready for my short, but surely, memorable trek. Taking this small journey in the middle of the afternoon in El Paso was not the greatest of ideas, for I felt I was already dehydrating within the first ten minutes. Wonder, how soon it will take to bump into the first water filled “hueco”? Then, remembering the conveniences of today, I reached for a water bottle. Walking leveled ground on sand while taking in the beautiful, vibrant colors that mix together to create a breathtaking view, made me realize that this is a land worth protecting, worth of enjoyment, and worth of respect for all it is, has, and hides. For the animals, plants, trees, pictographs, and people it has housed. I caught a slight breeze once I reached higher ground over a small hill, on top a boulder, where I decided to catch a break and see the land below.
Land that once belonged to pre-historic time, native people, and even a now extinct huge, straight horned, Ice Age bison, Bison Antiquus. It’s like an heirloom passed down in a family that has to be preserved, taken care of, and very well aware of it at all times. I wondered about this place. Wondered about its geography, ecosystem, history, and what it would look like face to face. I’ve hiked other mountains and this one has really stood out to me, by far. It’s like a hidden treasure tucked away in the midst of a great city where we can all get away and lose ourselves in the tranquility this oasis has to offer.
A communications major with a passion for the outdoors and writing.