Hueco Tanks
Rock Paintings

El Paso, TX

Feb. 15, 2001

While visiting the many attractions in and around El Paso, we found an interesting State Park some twenty miles to the North. The Hueco Tanks State Historical Park promised a day of hiking while viewing some of the most famous pictographs in the Southwest. For this particular trip, we had been joined by Lynn and Sue Davis, our old friends from many previous stories. We arrived on a particularly bright sunny day ready for our trek into the unknown. Our first stop was at the ranger station where we learned that the North Mountain, the site for many of the ancient Indian rock paintings was open to the public for day use without a guide. This was good because no guide had showed for the scheduled tour. The delightful ranger explained that each visitor must first complete a 20-minute orientation session, renewable on an annual basis. The number of visitors on North Mountain was limited to 70 people at one time.

Reservations could be made but walk-ins were accepted until the limit was reached. Visitors were asked to check out with the rangers, before leaving the park. We all dutifully marched into a cluttered back office where a TV and VCR sat on a table next to the inner wall. We quietly watched as required and received about 5 minutes of information about the area and the paintings, and 15 minutes of "Don'ts in the Park" Upon completion, we paid our fees, got our map and were off to find the paintings. We now understood that millions of years ago this area was covered by seas in which thousands of feet of sedimentary rocks were deposited. Twice the area was uplifted and eroded. About 34 million years ago a third uplift occurred and molten rock was introduced into the older sedimentary beds. Cooling and crystallization produced an igneous rock called Syenite. Several million years of erosion stripped away the overlying layers leaving the more resistant Syenite exposed in this broad valley. The valley is now partially filled by gravel and other sediment, washed in from the mountains to the east of the park. Some 10,000 years ago, the first Indians arrived and these Paleoindians left a few stone tools and a very distinctive projectile point called a "Folsom" point. It was quite effective in the hunting of the now extinct prehistoric Bison, prevalent back then. It is believed that most of the pictographs were produced sometime after 1150 AD by a small tribe of Indians known as the "Jornada Mogollon". These pictographs include more then 200 masks - the largest collection of painted masks in North America. The masks and other Jornada Mogollon pictographs have a distinctive static quality and seem to incorporate many classic Puebloan motifs. A noteworthy trivia is the meaning of the name "Hueco Tanks". Hueco is Spanish for hole, or depression in a rock formation. It described the large, somewhat deep depressions in the rocks which collect water during rains. These can be quite large in places. The un-scaled map we had received, indicated that North Mountain was perhaps a mile in circumference, rising several hundred feet. Much of the rock face was smooth. Trails were marked with blue strips of plastic, dangling from trees and bushes, until they ran out at the foot of the rocks. Not wishing to offend, we kind of hung around at the base of the rocks trying to decide what to do next. I ventured off the trail on a small border between rock and dirt looking for signs. This brought me to another developed trail that led to a point on the rock face in which a climbing chain had been bolted into the rock face.

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