A new two-year survey for Native American rock art is now underway at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site. The park is a significant cultural site and home to a variety of rock imagery, some of which may be several thousands of years old. It is also known as a destination for rock climbing and bouldering.
“The world class cultural resources of Hueco Tanks compels us to seek out and use the best available technology to protect this site,” said Brent Leisure, Texas State Parks Director. “There is one thing that all people can agree upon; the expressions of people on the rocks at Hueco Tanks and the deep and meaningful connection we all have for this site demands our full commitment as guardians and stewards. I am excited that we can apply this new technology to achieve this standard.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has devoted considerable efforts to document the cultural resources at Hueco Tanks. Past projects include a comprehensive ground survey for archeological deposits around the base of the mountains by the TPWD Archeology Survey Team in 1999 and 2001, and a large rock art inventory project by outside contractor, Rupestrian CyberServices, in 1999 and 2000.
The results of the rock art inventory, which incorporated the findings of several previous investigations at Hueco Tanks, helped determine where climbing activities could occur at the park without impacting identified rock imagery.
However, technologies are constantly emerging and a new image enhancement program called DStretch will be used during the Hueco Tanks survey project
Although NASA had used a similar program for analyzing aerial photographs, the program was not modified for use in rock art investigations until 2005 and has undergone further refinements since that time. This technology, which has now been used on a number of rock art sites around the world, greatly improves on previous techniques for detecting faint pictographs that may be nearly impossible to detect with the unaided eye. Recent use of DStretch at Hueco Tanks has already led to the discovery of previously unknown rock imagery at the site.
The need to identify potential faded imagery on or near climbing routes at Hueco Tanks and the availability of an effective tool to address this need, helped spark the present project. The project began at the end of March and is scheduled for completion in late 2017. Findings will be used to help monitor any newly discovered rock imagery and help manage activities that have the potential to impact these resources.
Versar, Inc., a nationally known cultural resource management and engineering firm, has been enlisted to complete the survey. Versar has also recruited the help of local climbers to locate and access the nearly 2,000 climbing routes at the park.
“Hueco Tanks is steeped in over 60 years of climbing history,” said Ian Cappelle, chairman of the Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition (CHTC). “Climbers travel from every corner of the world to experience and connect to the recreational, cultural and natural resources that Hueco Tanks provides.”
CHTC’s mission is to preserve rock climbing and its history at Hueco Tanks by working cooperatively with TPWD to proactively assist in the management of climbing areas while conserving cultural and natural resources of Hueco Tanks.
“The new survey and use of the Dstretch technology will provide TPWD a definitive accounting of any previously unidentified rock art in conjunction with climbing routes in the park,” said Cappelle. “As a result, climbers can be educated as to where they are able to climb without harming the cultural resources of Hueco Tanks all the while preserving the history of everyone that passes through this park.”
The park has been an important asset to the El Paso area as a place to recreate and a significant cultural resource that reflects at least 10,000 years of area and regional history.
“People have been drawn for thousands of years to the site’s diverse plant and animal resources, and especially the natural rock pools of water, or huecos, for which it is named and which inspired others to settle in the Chihuahuan desert oasis of Hueco Tanks,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez. “This is more than just a wonderful natural playground — this is sacred ground. I appreciate TPWD’s efforts to recognize its unique place in the parks system and to work toward greater community inclusiveness in its operation.”
“I am pleased to see TPWD begin to use cutting-edge image enhancement programs in the conservation of cultural resources at Hueco Tanks,” said Rep. Mary E. Gonzalez. “Programs like these help us document and share our story with the world. I look forward to the results of this project, and to continuing our work for a Visitor’s Center and World Heritage Site designation.”
For more information about Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, visit the park’s page on the TPWD website.