Then she and the kids took us out to what must be the coolest natural attraction anywhere within a hundred miles: Hueco Tanks State Park. What a beautiful, family-friendly place to explore!
The park, located about 30 miles east of El Paso, is named for the "huecos," or hollows in the syenite rock, a course igneous rock that's fantastic for climbing. When rain falls in most of our western deserts it percolates almost immediately through the porous soils. But here, where the rock has worn in dips and hollows, the water gathers, sometimes in relatively deep pools. Here microclimates support life that is unusual in most of the desert, and wildlife gathers to take advantage of the abundant vegetation and water.
The place had become incredibly popular with hikers as well as visitors in search of Native American artifacts and pictographs. But popularity comes with a price. In recent years, the majority of the park has been closed to the general public except by guided tours. There is also a daily access limit for the rest of the park (only 70 visitors per day). Before accessing the trails, visitors must watch an introductory video that explains the history of the region and its peoples as well as current rules and park uses. The video probably puts off some visitors, but I didn't mind the time out that gave us some insight to the area. The kids (and moms) had a great time exploring the park, and particularly following the treasure-hunt-like route on which rangers directed us up North Mountain, past a giant stone "rubber duck," a "crocodile" and into an enormous stone pedestal for fantastic views.