We’ve been out of pocket for a couple of days as we were staying at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site just east of El Paso. There was no wifi and cell phone signals were intermittent. There’s only 20 campsites and you need to make reservations to hike around the site because the number of visitors is limited and only certain parts can be visited without a guide. The reason for the limited access is that there are thousands of pictographs left by prehistoric and historic Indians on the rocks. Before the area was controlled, visitors to the area destroyed a lot of pictographs either by touching them or covering them over with modern “pictographs” or graffiti.
The area has been visited by man as early as 10,000 years ago. The area is an oasis in the Sonoran Desert because rainwater accumulates in hollows (huecos) in the volcanic rock that have over time become pockets of fertile soil and “microhabitats” that support a diversity of life including white oak, juniper, cottonwood, and willow. The huecos and other seasonal ponds that support freshwater shrimp and frogs.
The earliest visitors to this area were hunter-gatherers in search of game. Many of the pictographs depict hunting scenes. Later, a people called the Jornada Mogollon inhabited the area living in stone structures and raising domesticated crops such as corn, beans, and squash. Along with tools and pottery shards, these inhabitants left behind pictographs of animals, birds, and uniques “masks” or face designs. There are over 200 “masks” which is the largest assemblage in North America.
Even after the arrival of the Spaniards, the area was used by a variety of American Indian tribes for shelter and water as they moved through the area. They left pictographs of handprints, dancing figures, horses, weapons, and humans in European-like garb.
In the mid-19th Century, Hueco Tanks was used as a relay station for the Butterfield Overland Mail route between St. Louis and San Francisco. The relay station closed in 1859 when the route was moved south to take advantage of the string of frontier forts established to protect settlers in the area. At the end of the 19th Century, Hueco Tanks was settled by the Silverio Escontrias family. They built an adobe home and operated a large ranch. The adobe house is still exists and serves as the Interpretive Center for the site.
We walked through the North Mountain areas that are open to visitors on self-guided tours and were able to reach 5 or 6 areas that had pictographs. Unfortunately, many of the pictographs in these areas have been partially obscured by graffiti from the late 1800’s and early 20th Century. We missed the guided tours of the closed areas of the site that are available between Wednesday and Sunday. The campground is really nice with a picnic shelter, electric and water, and each site pretty much isolated from others. If we are ever in the area again, we like to stay here again as long as it’s between Wednesday and Sunday so we can go on a guided tour.
We’ve moved west and should be in the Tucson area by 3/17 for the Escapade. Stay tuned.