Hueco Tanks, TX

El Paso, TX

On Monday we left Carlsbad, NM and headed back to the southwest on US 62, the same route we used a few days earlier to get to Carlsbad.  The road provides some great views as you pass down along the Guadalupe Mountains.

Us 62 in the Guadalupe Mountains

After about 140 miles we came to the entrance road to Hueco Tanks State Park and  Historic Site, just east of El Paso.

Hueco Tanks State Park and Historical Site has 16 RV and camping sites with water and electricity, many long enough for a large motorhome.  We just made the decision to come here over the past weekend and the reservation site was closed so we couldn’t be sure of getting a spot.  But we called the office in the morning before leaving Carlsbad and were told there were some spots available.  Once there we found they did, indeed, have a spot that would fit our motorhome.  After registering but before going to our assigned site, we were required to watch a 15 minute video about protection of the fragile resources of the park.  Once finished with registration and the video, we headed into the campground, stopping at a gate at the entrance to the campground section of the park that requires someone to manually open and close it.

The Gatekeeper

We found our site (#3) to be very long, with a covered picnic table.

This small state park is popular for birding and bouldering, and is culturally and spiritually significant to many Native Americans.  It contains over 2,000 interesting pieces of rock art, mostly hidden in small caves under huge boulders.  To protect the fragile environment the park only issues entrance permits to 70 people per day.  Ten permits are reserved for people in the campground on a first come first served basis but campers must present themselves at the park office by eight in the morning.  We had heard that these go quickly so we were up and at the office just a little after seven.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the sun rises in the east about this time, and apparently does so every day!  Who knew?

There were only nine people seeking permits that morning so we could have waited to arrive until eight, but then we would have missed the sunrise.  Permit in hand, we headed back to the motorhome to enjoy breakfast and wait for the temperature to reach a reasonable degree.

Once up on the rocks our first goal was to find the Cave Kiva, a small, hidden cave with some interesting rock art.  To find the kiva we went to the park headquarters and asked for directions.  We were given a one page set of directions and were required to leave a driver’s license to secure its return.  The paper described two rock formations to follow after climbing a ridge behind a picnic shelter.

First you climb the ridge behind the picnic shelter

Up the ridge we go

After climbing the ridge we were instructed to find the rock formation that resembles a duck.  From there look to the right and find the rocks that look like an alligator.

Duck formation lower left (red arrow), alligator in the upper right (blue arrow)

Climbing straight up from the head of the gator we found the cave entrance under a huge boulder.

A veteran spelunker prepares to enter the cave

It’s a bit tight at first

Just a few more feet!

The rocks are slippery from all the traffic over the years

Once inside there was enough headroom to sit up and, in some spots, stand.  The rock art was on the walls right in front of us.  There were seven faces or “masks” to find.  We found all seven!

A young spelunker at rest

Backpacks at the entrance

We climbed out of the cave and made our way up the rocks to get a better view of the surrounding area.

Examples of the tanks that name the park

We were leaving the park the next day but, since check-out isn’t until two in the afternoon, we used the morning to take another short hike up into the rocks using the Chain Trail.

This area is very popular for bouldering, an activity where you just use your fingers and toes to scale the sides of large boulders.  You can identify these people heading out into the rocks as they carry what appears to be a doubled over mattress on their backs.  We sat for a while watching two groups to see them climb, but it is our observation that this sport involves a great deal of standing around talking.  Finally one young lady laid down on her mat, reached up to the boulder, pulled herself up, and quickly made her way to the top.  She was pretty impressive!

We spent some time looking for another small cave that had some artwork.  We had trouble locating the cave at first but spotted the entrance when we heard a group on a ranger led hike talking inside it.  Once they left we made our way inside.  One area had an inscription made by a local named Santiago Cooper in the late 1800s.

Getting a view of some artwork

Getting in and out was a bit of a challenge

Once out of the cave we made our way back to the motorhome, packed up a few things, and headed down the road.  We really enjoyed our brief stay in Hueco Tanks.  We only hiked the North Mountain section of the rocks, as that is the only place open to self-guided hiking.  If you are really interested in rock art, climbing/bouldering, or birding, you can participate in some ranger-led hikes in the West Mountain and East Mountain sections.

OK, enough of Texas!  We are now off to visit Las Cruces, NM.  More on that later . . .

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46 Responses to Hueco Tanks, TX

  1. Laurel says:

    So glad you guys experienced Hueco Tanks — we loved our adventures there! We even had the same beautiful campsite that you did. Wasn’t the hike to the Cave Kiva fun? (Take a right at the duck, look for the alligator, :-)). Your photos of the Mogollon masks are great! The ranger led hikes to the protected areas were excellent, too. It was a bit strange to be locked in at night, but I think it’s good they’re being so proactive to protect the rock art.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was an interesting experience with all the regulations at the park, but a great idea as we see so much vandalism in the National Parks. I’m sorry we didn’t have more time to take at least one guided rock art tour. Finding the faces was the highlight of the stop:) I remembered reading your post on this park, but totally forgot until our friends were there just weeks before us. We were driving right by the park…what timing!

  2. Sue says:

    Really interesting place and blog….”climb the ridge, look for the duck, look for the alligator, find the masks…..” right up your alley!

  3. geogypsy2u says:

    Nice to see how serious this park is about protection. Hiking by landmarks is how you get to The Wave also. I think better than a designated trail, unless the chains are really needed. Most amazing artwork!

  4. Maxxtrails says:

    I’m glad you guys visited the caves and took pictures because that’s the only way I’m going to see them! There is no way I could convince myself to squeeze into those small entrances 😊

    • placestheygo says:

      I was surprised how well I did with both of the cave spaces. Neither place was sealed. There were openings with light all around. It was a fun adventure having to crawl around. Glad we could share with you:)

  5. Gay says:

    Amazing art! Fun directions! Beautiful area! Definitely need to check out Hueco Tanks!

  6. Amazing art work and amazing spelunkers! Thank you for taking us with you crawling, climbing and viewing historic artwork for us, for I know we won’t be heading that way in the near future.

    • placestheygo says:

      We were within a day of missing this park, MonaLiza. Our friends just posted photos as we were moving across that part of Texas. It was perfect timing since we were going right by, and I know we won’t be coming back this way anytime soon, either!

  7. Debbie L says:

    Oh you two were so brave!!! What an amazing campground and hike. I felt like I was there, too!

  8. Becky says:

    Hueco Tanks is an amazing spot. We love visiting the park. Let us know if you ever pass through the area again. We know of another great rock art area not to far from there.

  9. montanaclarks says:

    How cool! Glad you two are back in the land of hiking!

  10. Loved the pictures of the artwork. I don’t know if we would have squeezed in there, but now we would. I just kept thinking of snakes, but I am from the desert. lol

    • placestheygo says:

      There were signs about watching for snakes, but with the cold temps, I knew they wouldn’t be around. The areas with the rock art were rather open and didn’t have any hiding places for snakes.

  11. What a unique stop! Sounds like they try very hard to protect the place.

  12. pmbweaver says:

    I actually think it is a great idea to show that movie. I wish they would do that at more parks. Some people are so ignorant of the rules of hiking!
    Awesome site you were parked in.

    Now that is a unique way to mark a trail. It really makes you pay attention to the beauty of the area.
    There is no way we would spelunke. Paul says he is too big…hehe. I say he is just the right size for me. TMI?
    We can’t believe you two don’t want to do bouldering. You are perfect candidates for it…nuts…LOL

    Wait…We don’t think any one can get enough of Texas…can they?

    • placestheygo says:

      Marsha, we certainly are crazy enough, but we seem to be missing one key element…arm strength:) Some of us had enough of Texas:) Maybe one day we’ll return…one never knows!

  13. Bob Hazlett says:

    If you’re heading north out of Las Cruces, please take time to visit Chloride, NM — one of the neatest places for southwest history.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Bob! We always appreciate suggestion (that’s how we found Hueco Tanks). However, we won’t be going that way. As a matter of fact, we were heading to Silver City and had to cancel because of the snow and temps in the teens! Darn that elevation! We are moving to Naco, AZ in few days.

  14. We really enjoyed Hueco Tanks, and the guided hike we did was excellent. If we ever get back that way we’ll definitely go again, now that we know you can hike in that one area without a guide. Not sure I could get Jim to go in those caves, though.
    It’s a little too early in the year for Silver City, as you found out!

    • placestheygo says:

      The “caves” were actually quite easy to handle with so many openings around the sides. Having some direction for finding the faces is necessary. The park office has the Cave Kiva directions. The other art we found was with directions from a friend and even then we couldn’t find it until we saw the tour head in between certain rocks.

      Haha! Yes, we found out about Silver City! After we made a reservation online, I thought we ought to check the weather…oh, dear! Snowflakes and teens! This morning the fellow from the campground called thinking we didn’t realize the elevation. They were having a blizzard as he talked.

  15. Sherry says:

    So glad you stopped her so I could see it. I’ve put it on my list thanks to you but who knows when or if we’ll be able to go west. I’d love all that crawling around and being so close to the art is a WOW! Really glad they protect it so seriously. I wish other places would do the same. Interesting that it is so close to Carlsbad. I obviously don’t know my NM/Texas geography.

  16. Nice third eye. What a treasure that place is. It is great to have people with tips on places to see. That was some unusual rock art.

  17. Deb Dominick says:

    Cool rock art!

  18. Sunrise huh? I suspected it came up in the east…..Thanks for taking me along with the camera in the caves, as I’m quite certain my eyes will never see inside that teeny, tiny, tight space :-))) So glad they are serious about protecting the cool rock art, it is beautiful. That climber had to be fun to watch “spider” up the boulder!!

    • placestheygo says:

      Who knew that the sun came up each morning that way:) Watching the girl climb was like watching a spider. She made it look so easy. Glad you enjoyed our little cave adventure:)

  19. Mike Jones says:

    Interesting artwork in the cave but sure looked like a right for getting in. Glad you had a good outing and caught such a pretty sunrise.

  20. Jim and Barb says:

    Very cool area! Was looking forward to this post since seeing your pictures on Facebook.

  21. What a great adventure! I really enjoyed the duck & alligator rock look alike formations. 🙂

  22. girlonahike says:

    Wish I knew about all these places when I lived in the area!!! But I was also like 10 years old and wasn’t into exploring or could drive there on my own haha! -Alicia @

  23. LuAnn says:

    I had never heard of Hueco Tanks before reading Laurel’s post and now yours. Looks very inviting but wondering how someone who is claustrophobic would do in those caves.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was Laurel’s blog that first introduced us, as well, LuAnn! But I had forgotten about the place until friends were there just a couple weeks prior to our passing by that way. I am claustrophobic (not as bad as I use to be) and was fine in both areas. These really aren’t caves as I think of a cave, but rather huge overhanging boulders. There are opening around the edges that help take away that claustrophobic feeling.

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