Ahh, Hueco Tanks! For years, this place has been widely considered one of the best bouldering destinations in the world, and it remains true to this day. If you're a climber, you simply must make a visit.
Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, you might fall in love with some of the most amazing boulder problems in the world. A short drive from this dusty, desert border city sits an otherworldly oasis of rock that seemingly appears out of nowhere. Hueco Tanks State Historical Park is a trio of syenite granite “mountains” whose innumerable caverns, caves, and natural pools hold water throughout the infernal summer, supporting flora and fauna that would otherwise not exist in this barren desert. The water also attracted many bands of Native Americans, who left behind stunning works of art throughout the park. Put simply, this place is surreal.
It’s hard to explain how good the climbing at Hueco Tanks is. The rock is featured with slopers, crimps, flakes, juggy huecos, and everything in between. Though famous for roofs, every type of climbing is found here. Even with hundreds of climbers visiting every year, new problems are established on a regular basis. The climbing is highly concentrated, with thousands of problems documented in the guidebook and plenty more to be done.
What Makes It Great
Climbers of all abilities will find world-class problems to throw themselves at. Melon Patch is one of the better V0’s around, Hershey Symphony is a top-100 V1 slab, and Nobody Here Gets Out Alive and Ghetto Simulator are both top-100 V2’s. At the other end of the spectrum, check out Terremer, a steep V15 featuring credit-card crimpers. Students of climbing history will marvel at the problems established (without crash pads) by John Sherman and Bob Murray, and the standard-defining contributions of Fred Nicole and Chris Sharma. The history of climbing at Hueco Tanks would require hundreds of pages, and include the birth of modern bouldering and the now-ubiquitous V-scale. (There is even a wealth of sport climbing to be done, and it’s supposed to be quite good. Then again, a Ferrari might have a great sound system, but I wouldn’t buy one just to listen to music.)
Now, before you load up your car and drive through the night hoping to get on See Spot Run by sun-up, you’ll need to do a little bit of planning. The fragility of the desert ecosystem and the abundance of irreplaceable artifacts from human history is the reason the park currently limits visitors. Though it seems daunting, it’s fairly easy to figure out once you’re there.
North Mountain is the only self-guided area, and the park currently allows only 70 people in per day on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a reservation system, and you can call (512) 389-8900 up to six months in advance. To access east/west mountains or east spur, you’ll need to be on a guided tour. This part is a little bit trickier to navigate. Commercial tours are offered by the Wagon Wheel Coopt. For more detailed information about access, check out the American Alpine Club’s Rock Ranch page.
Who is Going to Love It
Climbers of all abilities will find world-class problems to try and solve while climbing at Hueco Tanks.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Regarding where to sleep at night, your options are to stay in the park, at the Hueco Rock Ranch, Wagon Wheel Coopt, or the Hacienda. The advantage of staying in the park, besides proximity, is that those staying in the park get first crack at the 10 “walk-up” spots the park reserves every day. The Rock Ranch, recently bought by the American Alpine Club, offers cheap tent camping and more swanky digs in the bunkhouse. The Hacienda is on the more luxurious end, and also offers guided climbing tours. All of the above options are within a couple miles of the park. If you absolutely can’t pay money to camp, then you can take your chances driving around one of the many dirt roads, but you’d likely be trespassing and this is not recommended. Believe it or not, wandering through the desert so close to the Mexican border is not really a good idea.
Vista Market is a short drive from the park and has everything you need, including amazing donuts and fritters. Just behind that is El Pasito, a dirty taqueria that is cheap, filling, delicious, and popular. There is not much to do in El Paso on rest days, so just keep your skin healthy and climb as much as you can!