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Hueco Tanks is an area of low mountains in El Paso County, Texas, in the United States. It is located in a high-altitude desert basin between the Franklin Mountains to the west and the Hueco Mountains to the east. Hueco is a Spanish word meaning hollows and refers to the many water-holding depressions in the boulders and rock faces throughout the region. Hueco Tanks is thus a redundant phrase. Due to the unique concentration of historic artifacts, plants and wildlife, the site is under protection of Texas law; it is an offense to alter or destroy them, although before the park was formed, considerable changes were attempted during private ownership. At one time, the site was the Escontrias Ranch. It was a stagecoach stop for the Butterfield Stage. The names of Texas Rangers and of US Cavalrymen, as well as Native American artifacts and paintings, attest to its historic nature.
Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is located approximately 32 miles (51 km) northeast of El Paso, Texas, accessible via El Paso's Montana Avenue (U.S. Highway 62/U.S. Highway 180), by turning at RM 2775. The park consists of three syenite (a weak form of granite) mountains; it is 860 acres (3.5 km2) in area and is popular for recreation such as birding and bouldering. The syenite pluton was formed 34-38 million years ago, as part of a larger range, the Hueco Mountains, which range in age to over 320 million years ago, when this area was covered by an inland sea. The pluton was eventually exposed through weathering to form the rock formations visible today, which jut from the desert floor. The site contains enough water to support live oaks (a specimen is visible in the image to the right) and junipers, species which survive from the last ice age. Freshwater shrimp and spadefoot toads survive at the site (for this reason, visitors are cautioned against touching the pools of water at Hueco Tanks to avoid destroying the eggs of the animals of the site, for example).
Hueco Tanks is also widely regarded as one of the best areas in the world for bouldering (rock climbing, low enough to attempt without ropes for protection), unique for its rock type, the concentration and quality of the climbing. In any given climbing season, which generally lasts from October through March, it is common for climbers from across Europe, Asia, and Australia to visit the park. Since implementation of the Public Use Plan, following a brief closure of the entire park due to the park service's inability to manage the growing crowds of international climbers, volunteer or commercial guides are required to access more than 2/3 of the park's area. Only North Mountain is accessible without guides, and then only for about 70 people at any given time. The park offers camping and showers for about $7.00 a day or, as is most popular for climbers, the nearby Hueco Rock Ranch offers camping where climbers can relax and socialize. This is also where commercial guides can be found, and where many volunteer guides stay during the climbing season.
Hueco's future as a climbing site is currently in deep question, threatening closure pending the site's transfer to the Texas Historical Commission. The Texas Historical Commission has a policy of closing sites to climbing due to damage to vegetation, damage to rock formations, and issues with trash clean-up. Climbers contend that these concerns are exaggerated.