Hueco Tanks State Park, Historic Site Designated as National Historic Landmark

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EL PASO – After many years of work and a long application and nomination process, Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site was recently designated as a National Historic Landmark. The federal designation, as recognized by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, acknowledges that the site holds cultural and historical significance to the entire United States.

“Hueco Tanks is one of the most unique and special places in Texas,” said Rodney Franklin, Director of Texas State Parks. “It is an honor for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to care for a place with deep connections to so many people. I appreciate the hard work and persistence of the truly dedicated team of professionals that made this important designation possible. As a National Historic Landmark, Hueco Tanks will be afforded access to resources, opportunities and additional protections that will further enhance our ability to steward this cultural icon for many years to come.”

The process to receive the National Historic Landmark designation for Hueco Tanks began in 2014. The nomination preparation, along with gathering more than 100 pages of supporting documents, took approximately two years.

“It’s estimated that there are between 3,000 and 6,000 pictographs at Hueco Tanks, including the largest concentration of painted masks or face-like figures in North America,” said Tim Roberts, a Cultural Resources Coordinator for TPWD. “There are also extensive archeological deposits across the 860-acre property. It is the combination of these resources, as well as the oral histories and traditions of modern tribal communities, that help tell the story of those that have lived and traveled through the area for more than 10,000 years.”

A big part of Hueco Tanks’ story focuses on the Jornada Mogollon people, early farmers that lived in the area 550 to 1,800 years ago. They considered Hueco Tanks to be a sacred place within their spiritual landscape and the images that they painted on the rocks there represent the beginnings of the Southwestern Katsina belief system that still guides Puebloan societies today.

The National Historic Landmark designation allows the park access to grants and other federal funds that will continue to help honor and protect the history and culture of Hueco Tanks. The Kiowa, Mescalero Apache, Comanche, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the people of the Pueblo of Isleta consider the site to be a meaningful part of their heritage.

Roberts said that the importance of these cultural resources and the stories they represent has long been recognized, which is why Hueco Tanks was acquired by the state in 1969, opened to the public in 1970 and subsequently placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Hueco Tanks was designated an official State Antiquities Landmark in 1983.

“Designation of the site as a National Historic Landmark raises that recognition to a new level,” Roberts said. “As a National Historic Landmark, Hueco Tanks is in good company, sharing this designation with such places as the Lower Pecos Canyonlands Archeological District and the Alamo in Texas, Taos and Acoma Pueblos in New Mexico and other landmarks in these states and across the country.”

In order to protect the park’s fragile resources, access to certain areas is restricted. However, the park offers several activities to visitors including self-guided tours, guided tours, camping, world-class rock climbing and more. Guided tours by park staff offer the public a chance to view some of the site’s pictographs and other historical resources. Group tours are given Wednesday through Sunday for up to 10 people and should be booked at least a week in advance. The park issues permits for 70 people to access the North Mountain area each day for self-guided tours. Permits can be booked up to 90 days before visiting.

Those hoping to visit Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site can make reservations for day use visits, campsites and tours by calling (512) 389-8911. Advanced reservations are recommended since Texas State Parks are operating at a limited capacity.