10,000 Years at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, El Paso County, Texas


In 1999 and 2001, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Archeology Survey Team conducted an

intensive survey of the ca. 500 acres of level terrain around the rock hills in Hueco Tanks State Park and

Historic Site, located in northeastern El Paso County. The entire park is designated as site 41EP2; this

property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and was officially designated as

a State Archeological Landmark in 1983. Twenty-nine archeological localities were defined within this

area during the current investigations, containing cultural components that can be isolated horizontally

and vertically.

The porphyritic syenite hills of Hueco Tanks have attracted humans for some 10,000 years, providing

shelter, capturing and holding water, serving as a canvas for rock imagery, providing a grinding surface,

and yielding rocks for heating and cooking. Water was the main resource that spurred use of Hueco

Tanks. Beginning in prehistoric times it was retained behind simple dams, allowing greater numbers of

people to gather. Archaic groups hunted the abundant and diverse animal population, and processed

wild plants in bedrock mortars while occupying nearby rockshelters. The most intensive occupations

at Hueco Tanks took place during the Doña Ana phase; groups living in multiple areas cultivated corn

and beans in small patches of moist soils, and roasted leaf succulents in rock-lined pits. Almost all of

the items used by prehistoric groups at Hueco Tanks were collected in or near the Hueco Bolson, but

pottery was obtained through a trade network that involved groups to the northwest and north, and

to a limited extent, Mexico. Hueco Tanks also was a focal point in the spiritual landscape of the eastern

Hueco Bolson for 1,000 years or more. The abundant rock imagery primarily appears to represent ritual

petitions for rain; some pictographs date to the Middle to Late Archaic, but most probably were painted

during the Doña Ana phase, when Hueco Tanks supported the greatest number of people. Sacred precincts

were established high on the hills, and many persons were laid to rest at the Tanks. Native groups

traveled a trail through Hueco Tanks toward water and salt sources on the east for centuries, and their

descendants guided military scouts and travelers along it, beginning in 1692. Although a stage station

was established briefly in 1858, the first permanent historic occupation was the Escontrias ranch, which

operated from 1898 to 1956. Military training was conducted at the Tanks in the 1940s and 1950s.

Recreational activities began before the turn of the century and continually increased, culminating in

establishment of the state park in 1970.

A plan is provided for management and protection of the significant cultural resources in Hueco

Tanks State Park and Historic Site. Recommendations are made for future investigations and interpretation

at the park. The artifacts and records from these investigations are curated by the Texas Parks and

Wildlife Department in Austin.

Cite this Record

10,000 Years at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, El Paso County, Texas. Margaret Howard, Logan McNatt, Terri Myers, Tim Roberts, Amy Ringstaff. 2010 ( tDAR id: 447006) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8447006

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -106.123; min lat: 31.834 ; max long: -106.101; max lat: 31.859 ;

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