Rock Scrambling at Hueco Tanks State Park

Left Davis Mountains last Tuesday on my way to New Mexico, with a brief, two-night stay at Hueco Tanks State Park, using it as a shore-power based spot to unwind after Davis Mountains and plan the next leg to Albuquerque.

I wish I could stayed for four days instead.

During my 35 years in Texas, I’d explored a lot of the notable state parks: Big Bend, the gulf shore, the East Texas piney woods. I’d always heard good things about Hueco Tanks, but for some reason, never made it out there. My loss, as I discovered during this too-short stay.

I’ve always loved rock scrambling, which is a less strenuous, less life-risking form of rock climbing (but still can be dangerous). Not many places have the kinds of rocks and slopes where one can scramble to their hearts content, or more precisely in my case, until one more step is too exhausting.

I arrived mid-afternoon on Tuesday and hit the rocks until dark on my own. Next morning, since I couldn’t reserve a self-guided hiking pass in advance (they are hard to get: Hueco Tanks is a world-class accessible climbing site, rated #3 in the world I was told, and they limit daily self-guided passes to 70 people), I got to the ranger station early to snag one of the handful of permits they hold out for daily walk-ins. While in line, I met Dave who was interested in going to Cave Kiva as I was. Hiking in a pair is not only safer, but tends to encourage longer hikes, bolder paths and generally more fun. And Dave was a great partner: same age, but more experienced hiker which helped me go farther than I might have on my own.

Photo by Dave of Gary coming out of Cave Kiva
We scrambled our way to Cave Kiva, following park instructions since there are no trail markers, and found the elusive cave entrance and the eight, crisp and clear pictographs inside (gallery below). Later in the day we joined a guided tour through parts of the park off limits unless guided. There we explored and enjoyed more rock imagery and the guide’s stories of Indian spiritual rites and struggles with the Mexican army during that time of genocide violence.

As you can see from my FitBit screen capture, it was a highly vigorous day that left me wondering how I did it. The next morning let me know I did at least three times more than I should have done it. But it was enormous fun, fantastic views and rewarding in finding some of the better pictographs in the park.

I will definitely return to Hueco Tanks hopefully later this year to explore the trails I missed. The one thing on my list undone was to scramble to some high, remote place then sit and spend some reflective time in such a sacred and rare nature place.

Pictographs Gallery

Hueco Tanks S.P. Gallery

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