Climber’s Paradise: Hueco Tanks State Park

This article was written and photographed by ChronicWanderlust contributor Jacob Pelham.

View from the Hueco Tanks

Hueco Tanks State Park is a place that travelers have used for hundreds of years, from the ancient Paleo Native Americans to being a stop on the Butterfield stage route, travelers have used this area as a lifeline in the desert. Travelers of today flock to this area for many reasons including bouldering, birding, hiking, camping, and to just escape the pace of the city. 

Hueco is a Spanish word for hollows, referring to the swiss cheese type holes and indentions in the boulders

Hueco is a Spanish word for hollows, and refers to the swiss cheese type holes and indentions in the boulders that make up this unique area .These holes collect water during rain and tend to retain much of the water within crevices and caves hiding the water from the hot sun. Many types of grasses, cacti, succulents, and trees have sprouted up in the areas adjacent to the massive rock formations which in turn attracts wildlife to this area. Native Americans used this area for many different purposes including hunting, gathering and collecting water, some believe this a a very spiritual place, and in certain areas you can find huge collections of pictographs and petroglyphs telling unknown stories on the rock.

A climber bouldering over his crash pads

From October to approximately February, the population of this remote location explodes with climbers from all over the country and even other parts of the world. Most of the climbing that goes on here is bouldering in which you do not use ropes but portable crash pads in case you fall. The usual maximum height of these boulders that are climbed is around 30 feet and even with the use of crash pads this extreme sport is dangerous. There are hundreds of possible climbing routes throughout the park some of  which are very technical and challenging, but possible. As you walk through the park you notice white marks along the rock where climbers climbed using chalk for grip. Some of the routes seem impossible for anyone to climb and about the time you start thinking that, a climber will come along and climb the impossible.

Freedom to climb wherever you want...

During the last of February this unique area hosts the Rock Rodeo, a multiple day competition where some of the best climbers in the word come to compete. This is a great time to visit and climb on the rocks, even if you are just starting in bouldering someone will come along and give you a few pointers or even let you tag along in their group.

The Hueco Rock Ranch's welcome sign...

The Rock Ranch is a camping area just outside of the park that host to climbers but anyone is welcome. For 5 dollars a night you can have your own personal patch of dirt to set your stuff up and all the stars you care to sleep under. During the Rock Rodeo this camp area is packed with campers, tents, and even a few hammocks (reservations mandatory). At night at the Rock Ranch expect to be invited to join everyone around one of their monstrous bon fires where stories are told and the beer flows freely.

Beautiful rock formations

At Hueco Tanks, it doesn’t matter your background, where you are from, or what your political beliefs are, you are guaranteed to meet friendly interesting people wandering the desert just as you are, and just as the people who came before you were.

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