February 28 – March 2
Another stop and another state park. Just as we like it. Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site has an interesting mix of visitors, mainly because of it’s two very different claims to fame – rock climbing and ancient rock art. We came to get a taste of both. But first, the journey.
Tumbleweeds, Blimps & Other Delights
We left Davis Mountains State Park and knew we’d have a pretty easy drive, but didn’t realize how eventful it would be. Lots to see on the way.
First off, it was sooooo windy. The kind that sends gusts to push us onto the shoulder. The kind that blows honest-to-goodness tumblin’ tumbleweeds right into our path. These suckers are pretty big and Pat does his best to swerve around to miss them. He’s concerned about the stiff stems making it to the radiator. Well, he managed to miss all but one. We found dents and tumbleweed remains in the fine mesh Pat put over the front of the grill to protect Lucy’s radiator in Alaska. Glad we still had it installed. Onward to Marfa, TX.
We didn’t see the famed lights outside of Marfa, but we did see this Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS). We played the “what is that” game for miles until we got close enough to see that it was indeed a blimp. A moored helium balloon to be exact. Turns out that US Customs & Border Patrol has eight of these at strategic border points to detect suspicious low-flying aircraft. They fly these like kites and the radar has a range of 200 miles. On this day they are definitely grounded due to the high winds.
Gas isn’t on our agenda for this travel day, but lunch is. I see there’s a Flying J truck stop in Van Horn and it has a Wendy’s. Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve even seen a Wendy’s? That’d be three MONTHS! Yes, we’ve been off the beaten path for quite a while where even fast-food is non-existent. We happily park in a rough gravel lot next to the truck stop and indulge. Jackson is promised french fries, so he doesn’t complain too much.
Our driving route after lunch takes us due North and gives us a grand view of the Guadalupe Mountains in the National Park.
When we get excited, Jackson gets up to take a look, too. He’s gazing upon the road most likely, but there’s the highest point in Texas ahead – Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet.
After we make the turn West towards El Paso and our Hueco Tanks destination, Pat ends up leading a parade. We’re pretty slow compared to the rest of the traffic, rarely doing more than 58-ish miles per hour. Once a line forms, Pat likes to find a pull-off if it’s a difficult place for people to pass. He pulls into a roadside picnic area and it turns out to be a fantastic impromptu stop.
For his courteous driving, we’re rewarded with this view of the Guadalupe Mountain range. This is the Western Escarpment and according to the roadside sign, “one of the best exposed geologic rock sections in the world”, and “one of the best examples of a fossil reef anywhere in the world”.
A few more shots from my roadside photo shoot. I call that first one “Boot on a Fencepost”.
The Huecos & The Tanks
Hueco (pronounced Waco) Tanks State Park is named for the two things it provides this desert area. “Huecos” are natural basins, and you can find bowl, bathtub and pond-sized indentations in the rocks. “Tanks” are the natural water pools from the collection of rain-water in the huecos. Together they provide water for a wide variety of plants, animals, and also supported the ancient people who visited.
The drive into the park takes you around the North Mountain rock face. I really do see a face in it – something sunning itself with eyes closed. Maybe a frog or a lizard, with a bit of a smile. The rocks in the park are really unique compared to what’s around in the area. Essentially Hueco Tanks is four hills of stone made from molten rock that cooled underneath sandstone millions of years ago. The limestone wore away to reveal the lumpy rocks, filled with huecos.
Here’s a look at one of the larger “tanks” surrounded by that bumpy rock.
Our first night here was beautiful. The moon rose over the surrounding mountains that were aglow from the setting sun. I stood right on Lucy’s steps to take this picture.
Rock Climbing & Rock Art
The park is filled with ancient pictographs, so they don’t let you hike about without a pass. We reserved ours months ago so we could be sure to explore the area. On one of the mountains, you can do a self-guided hike, and that’s where we got our taste of mountain “climbing”. Actually we did what what is referred to as “bouldering”. That’s where you climb over the face of small rocks or boulders using only natural handholds.
Mostly we just scrambled over and around rocks, but we’re counting is as bouldering. The “real” climbing fanatics come in by the van load, each with their own crash pad. This is essentially a big square foam mattress folded in half. They wear them on their backs like backpacks until they get to their climbing spot. From there, they lay them down on the ground as a landing spot when they fall. We talked to a group of enthusiastic young people who assured us that you need a crash pad for when, not if, you fall.
This is the face of North Mountain head on. We’re on our way past and look up since Pat hears a noise. This is when we get to watch the real mountain climbing.
In the shady spot, about a third of the way up the cliff face, is this climber. We find that we just can’t tear our eyes away.
The climber swung over to get another rope, swung back and kept climbing. Almost at the top, and finally standing on top coiling up the ropes. It was worth the whole stop to watch that feat, which was about a 200 foot vertical climb.
The other mountains in the park are closed to visitors unless you go on a guided hike. We booked one to see the rock art. Our guides, Tish and Dar, took us on quite a hike and one that really involved some bouldering. At one point we were on a nice little ledge and I just didn’t look down.
We visited several caves with pictographs and petroglyphs that are estimated to date back to 1000 A.D. Several different groups came to the area including the Apache, but who came here, and exactly when, is unknown. There are estimated to be as many as 5,000 pictographs in the caves, with more being discovered each season. Tish and Dar have been living in the park in a tent for over a year, and spend their spare time bouldering and cataloging new pictograph sites. Now that’s camping!
Tish knew all about the plants and pointed out the yucca. Their sharp points and stringy parts made a perfect needle and thread for the original people passing through.
More huecos, tanks and scenic views from our pictograph hike.
We’re Not Stalkers
When we first arrived and got set up in our camping spot, I noticed something in the spot next door. I tell Pat, “Look! It’s those people again”. I say again, since we noticed this same white truck with Maine plates and green kayaks mounted on top at Maverick Ranch, Davis Mountains State Park, and now here. Truthfully there aren’t a lot of different routes out of Big Bend, but seeing the same people in these same state parks seemed unusual. We knew that meant they must like the same kinds of places that we do, so we kept an eye out to finally meet them. We also wanted to make sure they knew we weren’t stalking them. It was grand to finally meet Henry and Linda, and they even went on the same pictograph hike with us.
Farewell Lone Star State
We’ve seen all we came to see, and we’re ready to leave Texas. It’s been a great four months of wintering, but we need to add some new states to our camping map. Some back-tracking was required on our travel day and we knew from experience, there was precious little on the route. There was the Cornuda Cafe and that was absolutely it for any food along the way. Looked quirkly and our new friends Linda and Henry were going to stop there, so we decided to give it a try.
All the tables had real legs, complete with jeans and cowboy boots.
My leg and our table leg.
Fantastic burgers and homemade french fries. I had the World Famous Cornuda Burger with Green Chiles and Cheese. Pat had a regular cheeseburger and we were both delighted. And the guy playing guitar and harmonica wished us safe travels when we left.
This drive gave me one more chance to photograph Guadalupe Peak and a chance to drive past the National Park. Texas has two national parks and we were fortunate enough to see both of them.
Next up: Guess where Linda and Henry are headed? They have reservations in the same New Mexico state park that we do. So stay tuned for Carlsbad Caverns and our first motorhome dinner party.