Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hueco Tanks State Park, Texas

Morty left Balmorhea this morning, after a brief stop at the ranger station WiFi to upload yesterday’s blog. Then it was straight through for about 250 miles, not all of them West, to take us to today’s destination, Hueco Tanks – about 30 miles East of El Paso, far into west Texas. Today Morty celebrates rolling over 10,000 miles with us since May. We drove scenic route 1111 about 40 miles North from I-10 which gave us quite a few memorable mountain views.

The trouble with the back roads is that you never know how far you are from fuel. As we were approaching both our destination and that problematical fuel gauge “E” I asked Miss Garmina where the nearby fueling places might be found. Fortunately, she knew that we had to drive past the Hueco turn-off about 5 miles and then backtrack. The last prior gas station we passed was over 90 miles back. I would have been really uncomfortable setting up camp with too little fuel to run the generator. So another word of praise for Garmin and the credit card company that gave it to us for opening a new account that hasn’t been used since.

We were surprised at the amount of Saturday truck traffic on I-10 – much more than we had experienced recently. Again on this drive we saw snow remaining from the storm two nights ago, but as the day wore on the temperatures did climb into the upper 50s and if you were in direct sun you were plenty warm. The wind out of the North dying down was probably the biggest factor in becoming more comfortable – all a combination of the storm moving further east while we drove further west.

As we crossed over the Sierra Diablo Mountains we entered the Mountain Time zone. Unbelievably, this is my first experience in Mountain Time – Lynne says it is like most other time zones -- give or take an hour. That was a little unexpected bonus to lengthen our day. This means that it took us two weeks to cross the Central Time zone -- for those playing along at home.

Hueco  [say Waco and be done with it] Tanks is both a unique archaeological site and a magnet for rock climbers from all over the country. On weekends year-round, the park fills up with climbers and many are turned away or sitting on the side of the road waiting for others to leave. Camping also requires a reservation, and many of the motor home/trailer sites are filled with tent campers intent on maximizing their climbing experience.

A pretty big show is made of having a ranger on the road several miles before the park entrance turning away all without the proper advance arrangements by radioing “headquarters.” Headquarters is staffed by one ranger gal who handles the phone inquiries and reservations, climbing inquiries and passes, registering new campers, and singing up participants for the park tours as well as tracking the work of the ranger out on the road and responding to his queries – I guess having a list out on the road would get out of date or something else bad. This is probably why it took us about five tries to get through on the phone yesterday.

Not to underplay the archaeological rock art and artifacts, this was also a station on the Butterfield Overland Mail in the 1860s between St. Louis and San Francisco. The ruins of that building are next to the 1898 adobe Escontrias Ranch house that serves as the park’s interpretive center. All visitors must watch a 15-minute video explaining the significance of the park’s treasures and delicateness of its environment in this center. You are issued a wallet card good for one year meaning that the video requirement is waived if you return in the next year.

There is an abundance of contrails in the sky, indicating that we are under a major east-west high altitude jet route [my flight training is failing me as to the proper term].  Lynne has been fascinated with the cactus colors and flowers – we will need to learn a little more about them. Tomorrow morning we will be joining a ranger to walk through the rock art of the mountains here – perhaps then we can get our questions answered.

As amenities go, this park has electric and water, extremely quiet and picturesque sites, recent plumbing, though no soap in the restrooms, one shower per gender, WiFi only at the Interpretive Center and ranger station, Sprint on analog roaming, and no television.

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