In the world of rock climbing there are a few places that everyone has heard of and added to their rock climbing bucket list. Hueco Tanks in Texas is one of them, particularly if one is into bouldering. Located just outside El Paso, the park is named for the hollows formed in the rocks – some large, some just big enough to hook a finger in when climbing.
We headed there after a visit to Big Bend National and State Parks waaaaaaaaaaay down in the southern part of Texas hoping to spend a few days climbing and exploring. Alas, Hueco Tanks has fallen victim to its own popularity. Gazillions of visitors, some armed with spray paint and stupid enough to deface ancient cave paintings and others too lazy to haul out their trash created a big problem in this beautiful place… The desert environment is pretty sensitive to heavy traffic and the combination of people stomping all over the fragile flora, leaving their junk everywhere, and vandalism resulted in a major pendulum swing in the ‘we’d better protect this place’ direction.
Now, it’s tough to get in at all – only 75 people are allowed into the park at one time, permits are required, you certainly can’t take a dog in there, and activities are severely restricted. Access to 3/4 of the park is limited to visitors who come in with a guide. The result of all the hoops we had to jump through (including finding a local campground with a kennel where we could leave the dog for the day) meant we had a rather unproductive half day of climbing in the park. Granted, the climbing was fun (and, ironically, we were the only people rope climbing – the few others we saw were bouldering), but we wound up sprinting out with our packs at the end of the day to make sure we didn’t get locked inside when the gates closed at 6 pm sharp. The result was a stressful visit where we felt more like intruders rather than appreciative visitors.
We decided not to stick around for another day and headed instead west. Plan A was to make for Cochise Stronghold in Arizona – but along the way we stumbled across a State Park in New Mexico that sounded like it might be worth a look. City of Rocks was everything Hueco Tanks wasn’t.
Set up to welcome visitors, the campsites were roomy and private, nestled in among the boulders. The visitor’s centre was spotless with clean bathrooms (Hueco Tanks was having some plumbing problems when we were there…) and as long as we kept the dog on a leash and picked up after him, Tuulen was welcome. There were no places we were not allowed to go and our afternoon spent scrambling up a few boulders and poking around was pure pleasure.
Every time we turned around there was a convenient garbage can, excellent directional signage, and a bathroom or outhouse – which meant the park was spotless. It was also pretty much empty, at least on the side where they had the tent sites. Knowing what we know now, we would probably have skipped the Hueco visit and spent a couple of days in City of Rocks…