Radio Program | Hueco Tanks Fact Sheet | Printable version
Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, northeast of El Paso
Hueco Tanks didn’t serve as a permanent habitation for
any group. However, its seasonal water supplies attracted many
people, who stayed for days or weeks at a time. The earliest
confirmed visitors were Archaic hunter-gatherers, who inhabited
western Texas at least 6,000 years ago. However, evidence of
even earlier cultures -- dating as early as 11,000 years ago
-- shows up in sites not far from Hueco Tanks, so it’s
likely that people visited the site at least that far in the
past. Later, the Jornada Mogollon built pueblos in the area and
visited Hueco Tanks, followed by the Apache and other Plains
Hueco Tanks consists of several small, mounded granite outcrops
surrounding a large central basin. The site is surrounded by
flat desert lands to the west and the Hueco Mountains to the
Hollows in the rock (known in Spanish as “huecos”)
capture precious rainwater, making the site an important attraction
for many cultures over thousands of years.
Over the centuries, many of these visitors drew pictures in
caves and rock shelters -- about 5,000 pictures in all. They
depict animals, crops, and people. Some rock-art panels tell
complete stories, but most are isolated images. The most impressive
paintings are the hundreds of stylized faces known as masks.
Astronomical connections at Hueco Tanks are a bit speculative.
A few of the pictographs show stars, sunbursts, or crescent Moons.
Many of the masks at the site depict versions of Mesoamerican
gods, including the rain god Tlaloc, and Quetzalcoatl, the plumed
Quetzalcoatl was one of the most important gods in Mesoamerica,
and was worshipped by most major Mesoamerican cultures, from
the Olmecs and Maya to the Aztecs. Quetzalcoatl was associated
with the planet Venus in both its “morning-star” and “evening-star” forms.
One particular mask at Hueco Tanks depicts Quetzalcoatl with
stars for eyes. The stars may indicate a connection to the sky,
which in turn may suggest that the mask is showing Quetzalcoatl
in his Venus form. The mask was painted on the underside of a
low-hanging ledge, at a site with an open view of part of the
western horizon. Venus would have been visible along this part
of the horizon during much of its evening-star appearance.
Tanks State Historic Site is open to the public seven days a week. Access is limited, however,
so it’s best to call ahead. Rock art tours are offered
by reservation only. The park is located off US 62/180 24 miles
east of El Paso, then 8 miles north on FM 2775. Hours: May 1-September
30, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7-7 Friday-Sunday; October
1-April 30, 8-6 daily. 6900 Hueco Tanks Rd. #1, El Paso, 79938,
915-857-1135. For reservations, 915-849-6684
Exhibits on local Indian cultures are available at the El
Paso Museum of Archaeology at Wilderness Park,
4301 Transmountain Rd., El Paso, 79924, 915-755-4332. Hours:
9-5 Tuesday-Saturday. Free admission (donations welcome).
A Rock Art Inventory at Hueco Tanks State Park, by John Davis
and Kay Sutherland Toness; El Paso Archaeological Society, 1974.
Available at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology.
Rock Art of Texas Indians, by Forrest Kirkland and W.W. Newcomb;
University of Texas Press, 1967, reprinted 1996. Contains hundreds
of Kirkland’s watercolor paintings of rock art at Hueco
Tanks and throughout Texas.
Rock Paintings at Hueco Tanks State Historical Park, by Kay
Sutherland; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1991. A small
booklet providing an introduction to the area’s rock art,
sold at Hueco Tanks.
Learn about...Texas Indians, by Georg Zappler; Texas Parks & Wildlife
A learning and activity book for children.
The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times, by W.W.
Newcomb Jr.; the University of Texas Press, 1961, reprinted 2002.
Handbook of Texas Online: Hueco Tanks
Handbook of Texas Online: Indian Rock Art
Texas Beyond History: Firecracker Pueblo
Information on an ancient Jornada Mogollon pueblo near El Paso.