The last new sticker we put on our map was New Mexico in October 2017. A lot has happened in our lives since then, different choices than we wanted. But here we are…
Big smile and a drum roll… We are adding Texas! We are just barely across the New Mexico-Texas border east of El Paso but it counts!
When we drove across the border, this sign told us that someone at the Texas Department of Transportation has a sense of humor! And that Texas is big.
We visited the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso. The docents were former border patrol agents and were happy to provide information.
The Border Patrol began in Detroit in 1924 as a push-back to illegal liquor coming into the country from the northern border. A second site was established in El Paso shortly after.
This map shows the distribution of current sectors along the northern and southern borders.
These vehicles have been used in patrolling the borders – along with the boat and helicopter outside.
One display shows a variety of home-made ladders used to scale border walls and..
..another shows ways people have used to disguise foot prints in snow or dusty areas.
We stayed at Hueco Tanks State Park. It is remote and visitation is strictly controlled because of the fragile nature of the archeological relics contained in the park.
We saw this sign right off. Do they really think I EVER stop looking for snakes. No! NOT EVER!
Everyone is required to watch an orientation film immediately upon entering the park – even before proceeding to the very small (20 sites) campground. Stays are limited to three nights.
Some campsites are tucked in amongst the giant boulders but we were on the scrub side. It has its own beauty.
Campsites and day use picnic sites have ramadas for shade. Ours was labeled as an Eagle Scout project from 1999.
We had obtained a three day permit for hiking and set right out to explore the area.
We were excited to see what we thought were mountain goats. We learned later that they are aoudads. Someone imported them from north Africa to use in commercial hunting. The aoudad escaped and have become an invasive species.
It was hard for us to think of them as an invasive species…
until we saw what they do to the prickly pear cactus around the park.
They have no predator except for the rare large cat and no hunting is allowed in the park. We saw the aoudad every day we hiked and one time saw a herd of about 25 climbing through the rocks eating the vegetation. It will be interesting to know what happens with the aoudad going forward. As the herd continues to grow, the status quo seems untenable.
The primary reason Hueco Tanks is protected is because of the long history of peoples visiting or inhabiting the area because of the food, water and shelter provided.
Rainwater collects in these natural tanks that are all over the boulder mountains.
Rock cavities formed as women ground roots and seeds. They are seen in many places around Hueco Tanks.
Different people groups left their stories in petroglyphs (carved or chipped pictures) or pictographs (painted or drawn). Some are thought to be 10,000 years old.
Visitors with a permit are allowed access on the North Mountain. On the second day of our three day permit, we spent several hours traipsing around the rocks looking at the aoudad, the scenery, the tanks, and the signatures from the 1800s and early 1900s covering the pictographs of old.
We did a Randy thing and went almost to the very top of North Mountain – and to the edge of a cliff. Because I was along, we didn’t actually go to the very edge!
This is what the cliff looks like from ground level. Yep, we were up there! For perspective, the box near the bottom right is the restroom building along the path that encircles north mountain.
As we went around a boulder we were surprised by a man being RIGHT THERE. He was bouldering, which looks a lot like free climbing. That isn’t a world we live in so if there is a differences we don’t know it. Hueco Tanks is a premier bouldering site but its coexistence with the archeology seems tenuous given the potential for damage.
We came down North Mountain by way of the chain trail.
And because I am always looking for the next Stairway to Heaven photo, I turned around and took this one.
We were looking forward to a guided tour on our third day. We anticipated being able to go to West Mountain or East Mountain or maybe some of the areas on North Mountain that require a guide.
The day dawned with rain….rain is good. We managed to find a raincoat and poncho and set off for our tour.
We met at the old ranch house belonging to the family who owned Hueco Tanks from 1898 until it became a state park in the 1970s. The house is now the interpretive center where you see your mandatory interpretive video. We met our three other tour mates and our guide Alex. He told us about the ranch family that lived at Hueco tanks and the descendants he knows personally.
Because of the rain he decided not to take us to East or West Mountain. He took us to some of the places we had been the day before and showed us what we hadn’t seen.
Soon we were scrambling over and around rocks and seeing things we had walked right by the day before.
Visitors in the 1800s and early 1900s carved right over ancient pictographs. It is hard to imagine.
Alex took us into all kind of nooks and crannies to see the pictographs.
He told us that the largest collection of mask pictographs in North America, and possibly the world, are at Hueco Tanks.
He told us what research had revealed about a few of the people who had written or engraved their names in the rock.
We climbed up into a covered precipice to wait out a rain storm and listened to story after story. Our three hour tour became five hours and none of us minded.
Alex explained as much as is known about the age and process of the pictographs we saw.
When you know where to look, they are everywhere!
We had a nice view from our protected precipice.
When the rain stopped and we emerged, there was water in the Hueco tanks!
We felt very fortunate. We had a memorable tour and rain in the tanks. We could watch the water rolling down the boulder mountain from tank to tank.
The rainstorm brought out the creatures – a Texas horned toad!
Some people are special in that they know and care about things and volunteer their time to share that wisdom with others. Alex is one of those people. His Navajo-Mexican heritage gives him a perspective and reverence for the Hueco Tanks area. He passed that reverence on to us in a way that literature, placards, and our own exploring could never have done.
We would sincerely recommend a visit to Hueco Tanks State Park. You will get the most out of it if you are comfortable scrambling over rocks. Plan in advance and take a guided tour. Get Alex if you can.