Park Facts

                                                                             Escontrias Ranch House

The area which is now Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site has a long history of human use.  This history is covered in the History and Culture section of this blog.

The park consists of 860 acres which used to be part of a much larger cattle ranch owned by the Escontrias family.  It has been a state park since 1969.  As mentioned elsewhere, this park has long been a favorite place for all sorts of outdoor activities.  There were initially no restrictions on park use, but over time the hundreds of thousands of yearly visitors took its toll on the park.  The most obvious problems were destruction of the vegetation and graffiti.  Graffiti became an issue from the time people of European heritage started passing through the area.  They put their names or initials and dates wherever they wanted, including on top of the pictographs left by the natives.  The earliest graffiti are now considered to be an historical record.  One of the staff at the El Paso Museum of History has checked these names and has been able to document the people in history.  For many of them he has photographs of the person.  Even though these names seem to be graffiti, they might have served the purpose of letting other people know that the person on a westward journey had made it at least as far this oasis.

The problem that resulted from destruction of the vegetation has been erosion.  There are several places in the park where the effects of erosion are made obvious by deep ravines.  The main paths still show signs of erosion every time it rains, even though they have been stabilized.

Because of these major issues, plus the concerns of Native Americans about desecration of sites that are important to them (a burial ground, as well as the pictographs), the park was eventually closed down in 1999-2000, so that all the groups with interest in the park could get together and come up with a public use plan that would grant people access to the park while protecting important resources and respecting history.

To look at the park now, it is no longer obvious that there was ever any damage to the vegetation.  A number of sites in the park are now off limits to climbers, so as to protect pictographs.  Unfortunately, some of the pictographs that had been covered with graffiti have not fared well.  Early attempts to remove graffiti involved sand blasting, which unfortunately removed not only the graffiti, but also the pictographs underneath them.  The most blatant example of this is the central part of the Kiowa Siege Panel.

The primary mission of the park has two parts: 1) to restore and preserve the prehistoric, historic and natural features of the area, and 2) to provide interpretation to the public, including tours and other educational programs.

Currently there are a couple of things going on with regard to park usage.  Since the current public use plan has been in effect for 15 years (as of this writing), there is talk about coming up with a new plan that might increase the number of people who could use the park at any one time.

The other thing is that the park is in the process of applying for status as a UNESCO world heritage site.  It would qualify both as a landscape site and a cultural/social/historical site.  This would be a wonderful way to preserve this unique area for future generations to enjoy.

© Susan L. Stone 2015