Hiding in the far reaches of the Chihuahua Desert, not far from El Paso, is a group of large natural rock basins, or “huecos”. These unusual rock formations collect and trap water in an otherwise arid region. For millennia, humans have used the huecos as a reliable source of water. The tanks were even used as a watering stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, a precursor to the Pony Express .
Pictographs from several distinct tribes and peoples can be found all over the Hueco Tanks, some dating to as early as 6000-3000 BCE. These particular pictographs are in the Early Archaic Style, and are the oldest of the many different styles present on the tanks. There are over 3000 rock drawings on these natural catch-basins, hundreds of which are mask designs reminiscent of the still active Pueblan Katchina Cult, a religious belief in a group of powerful beings often represented by elaborate masks or in doll form. The Hueco Tanks are the only place in North America with such a large concentration of painted-mask designs.
Some drawings were made by early agriculturalists known as the Jornada Mogollon, others from Mescalero Apache Plains warriors. There are countless images of hunts and adventures had near the tanks, from up to 8000 years of various Native American cultures.
For wildlife watching, there are seasonal population influxes of a small and translucent freshwater shrimp that attracts a multitude of predator species. Among the interested are bobcats, gray foxes, various falcons and eagles, reptiles and more.
The huecos can be found on the 860-acre Hueco Tanks State Park. Tours of the tanks and pictographs are free with entry to the park. A visit to the park website to determine hours and reservation information is suggested as entrance into the park is limited. Examples of the various rock paintings can be found on the website as well.
Know Before You Go
The park can be reached by traveling 32 miles northeast of El Paso on US Highway 62/180, then turning north on Ranch Road 2775.