Absolutely a unique place. Hueco Tanks is an area of low mountains in El Paso, TX. Unlike the surrounding desert, Hueco Tanks still has remnants of trees and other plants that have descended from those that grew widely in the area at the end of the Ice Ages, 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. You can even find unusual and even unique desert plants.
But what really makes it incredible is that Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site is the keeper of geography where ancient peoples left their marks in stone — a record of more than three-thousand pictographs. The meanings behind these ancient pictographs largely remain a mystery and the subject of archeological research. Among these cryptic images are more than two-hundred painted masks or face designs attributed to an ancient people.
Roughly 10 millennia ago, near the end of the Ice Ages, Hueco Tanks received its first human visitors, small nomadic bands of big-game hunters, who hunted mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, horses and camels of that time. They are called “Paleo hunters, as they left spear points as evidence of their passing. Although it is far from certain, they could have painted the first images – rock art – on the stone surfaces at Hueco Tanks.
Between ten and two millennia ago, with the Ice Ages ended, the big game extinct and the climate hotter and dryer, Hueco Tanks became a site for the comings and goings of hunters and gatherers – “Desert Archaic peoples” – who took the smaller game and harvested ripening wild plants. More culturally diverse than their Paleo ancestors, they lived in nooks and crannies or in the open desert, leaving behind grinding stones, plant fiber weavings, and bone and lithic artifacts. They painted human figures, hunting scenes and geometric designs on the stone surfaces, leaving the earliest sure evidence of rock art at the site.
From early in the first millennium A. D. to late prehistoric times, Hueco Tanks was home for a more less active people, called the Jornada Mogollon, who still hunted wild game and gathered wild plants but who also lived in small settlements, they planted corn, beans and squash and made pottery. They produced one of America’s great galleries of paintings on stone. In the 15th century the Jornada Mogollon people abandoned this area.
What the Ranch House/Interpretive Center and surroundings look like today . . .
What The Ranch House looked like 1900.
The State Park and Historic Site was originally part of a large ranch owned by Silverio Escontrias. Escontrias filed ownership papers for the ranch in 1898. He built a four-room adobe house at Hueco Tanks, and he and his wife Pilar raised 11 children here. Their ranch, which began as a cattle and horse operation, became a tourist attraction by the 1940s. Today, the park’s interpretive center is located in the family’s adobe house.
Walking around and exploring you had to go thru some tight squeezes, negotiate loose rock, try not to squash some plant life and even step carefully going up and coming down some moderate slopes and lots of crevices. It was a fun place to do all of that.
For centuries, ancient peoples were attracted to this area because it provided them with the one essential thing they needed in order to survive in the desert — water! The huge boulders and rocks in the area are pock-marked with fissures and holes, called huecos (whey-coes), that can hold rainwater for months at a time. Hueco is a Spanish word that means hollows, referring to the natural depressions in the boulders. These natural water tanks attracted people and animals and created microhabitats that supported a variety of living things.
Our first “Rock Art!” We haven’t seen anything this ancient made by humans, exciting!
A Mask, a Feather and ?
The materials that were available on the rocks for painting the colors were carbon and manganese for black. Hematite and limonite made the red hues. Limonite and ochre made yellow. White clay and gypsum made white. I guess it was whatever minerals, plants, oxides or vegetables you had? Paint brushes were made from stiff leaves and human hair.
Dave sees a kind of “Family Tree” as members of this families names were carved in the rock in 1853.
Did I mention that Hueco Tanks is also one of the top rock climbing places in the world ?!
I can see why after seeing it’s some of it’s terrain. The Hue Rock Rodeo is a rock climbing competition held annually in February at the park. It is highly competitive and attracts professional rock climbers from all over the world.
This was the first time Dave & I climbed a chain trail, it was a lot of fun!
The park is a National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmark and a Texas State Historic Site.
It’s said this is also one of the most historic spots in the Southwest, we would have to agree. Dave and I enjoyed our visit to Hueco Tanks. We enjoyed our hikes and the incredible sights. As we walked we kept imagining what it must have been like for the peoples who found refuge here many, many, many years go. Hueco Tanks was a great place to spend the day and one of the best places we’ve been to.