Rock Art Inventory Project Coming to Hueco Tanks

Last year, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) formed a Hueco Tanks Working Group to undertake a comprehensive review of the Public Use Plan for Hueco Tanks State Park. This came on the heels of Texas State Senator Jose Rodriguez and State Representative Mary Gonzalez expressing concern that El Paso residents and indigenous people may be unfairly displaced from the Park by non-locals who are visiting to rock climb and boulder.

The Access Fund joined the Working Group along with representatives from Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition, the American Alpine Club, concessionaires licensed to guide within the Park, and a wide spectrum of other stakeholders.

The Working Group met monthly for six months and hosted two public comment meetings in El Paso. In September, we issued a final report with a list of recommendations to better protect park resources. These recommendations included: conducting a comprehensive inventory of rock art imagery, evaluating recreational impacts on the park’s resources, expanding and strengthening Hueco’s Guided Tour programs, increasing involvement with the local El Paso community, re-evaluating the park’s current visitation limits, and developing a new modern Visitor Center.

Last month, TPWD responded to these recommendations and is beginning to implement a number of them. As a first step, TPWD is seeking qualified contractor to perform enhanced rock art imaging (dstretch) at all known areas in the park where climbing occurs. The goal is to make sure that there is no conflict between climbing/bouldering and the rock art. TPWD anticipates that this project will take two years to complete.

After discussing the project with TPWD staff, Access Fund does not believe there will be any significant changes to access during the two-year imaging project. After the project is complete, TPWD has agreed to solicit climber input before making any changes to access. TPWD has also agreed to reconsider whether or not existing climbing closures—such as "Velvet Elvis" outside the Kiva Cave—are warranted in instances where climbing in the proximity to rock art poses no real threat to the imagery.

TPWD has also agreed to begin investigating whether or not bouldering areas that were closed long ago for non-cultural reasons, like erosion control or trail restoration, can now be reopened.

Access Fund will remain involved with the Hueco Tanks Working Group to assure the best outcome for the climbing community. Stay tuned for updates.

Photo: Courtesy of John Dickey