Hueco Before and After

Hueco Before and After

Posted on 16. Dec, 2009 by in News

Hueco Tanks is probably the best bouldering in America, and with good reason. The rock forms incredibly solid features for steep climbing, the concentration is outstanding, the weather is dry and sunny all winter, the food is great, etc. etc. The reasons why Hueco Tanks is so popular are endless. I have had some of my best climbing memories from days in Hueco and it seems to always deliver on the highest level.

Climbers have been bouldering in Hueco for a long time. In the beginning, Hueco Tanks meant total freedom, and for a while this was totally fine. The number of climbers visiting was relatively low in the early years but as the word got out visitation soared to 150,000 people a year. From several older climbers who I know that bouldered in the Park at this time there was little regulation, social trails appeared everywhere, people camped everywhere and there was little or no observable wildlife. (I would love to hear from anyone who would like to share their experience from this time, that is the years preceding the “closure”) 1988 was one of the first years the park took serious action against climbers, by banning roped climbing for three weeks, but this ban was lifted soon after. In 1992, the Kiva Cave rock art site was vandalized and the entire park was shut down for two weeks to everyone. In the next few years, more rock art sites were vandalized (presumably not by climbers), and visitation was peaking. In 1998 things had gotten so out of hand that the Texas Parks and Wildlife heavily restricted access to the Park, all but shutting the place down. Two years later, the restrictions were revised a bit and now 70 climbers a day are allowed on North Mountain. My first visit was in October of 2003. We went on one full day tour, and one tour to East Mountain that lasted two hours, which was frustratingly short. The two hour tours have since been done away with. Slowly the word got out that the tours weren’t so bad, things had quieted down and the problems were as good as ever. I have visited Hueco on numerous occasions since then. I find the restrictions leave the place fairly quiet and I personally have seen birds of all types, javelina, kangaroo rats, fox and a Texas Horned Lizard. Climbers have acted, for the most part, well behaved and there seems to be a mutual understanding between the Park and the climbers.
Since then, the Park has seen a new generation of climbers. Massive media coverage on the internet, Dosage Movies, and an outstanding new guidebook by Matt Wilder made it a popular destination. Recently, and very surprisingly, the world famous Mushroom Boulder was closed down, indefinitely, with little or no warning from the Park. This type of action seemed to keep the fear high among climbers that such closures could and do continue.
This all raises some interesting questions. Given total freedom with a finite resource, one could conclude that the resource was destroyed or taken away by over-population, lack of direction and self-interest over interest in the area. Is this true? Are climbers capable of policing themselves (not just in Hueco, or issues specific to Hueco, but in trash clean-ups, land management issues etc)? Is it better to sacrifice that freedom of the past in order to sustain a precious place? Are the two mutually exclusive? Or is this an illusion, and now that the bureaucrats have control, do they have the power to shut down the Park at a moments whim, leaving the climbers empty handed? Is this the kind of place that is so special, that it needs special guidelines, or does it set the example for the way other areas should be managed? Hypothetically, would such a system work at an area like The Park, or Mt. Evans, and how does a guidebook effect this?

I want to thank everyone who has participated, or even taken the time to think about some of these, and other issues raised here and in previous posts. It is thoroughly enjoyable for me to be able to explore these deeper issues with such a great community, and I sincerely hope it has fostered discussions at the gym, the crag or where ever you share climbing with other climbers.
Just some thoughts as Colorado continues to dry out…

19 Responses to “Hueco Before and After”

  1. newton

    16. Dec, 2009

    i think that unchecked access to any delicate area like hueco tanks, in today’s culture of low-fi video & ease of discovery, would be a bad thing. there aren’t enough climbers out there willing to hold people who climb or even themselves accountable for access to an area. even in an area with delicate and controlled access like little rock city in tennessee, i still know first hand of climbers who break the access rules and have seen garbage around the boulders. sure, some of the garbage could’ve blown over from the golf course, but let’s not be naive.

    i’d be fine with sacrificing a little bit of freedom on public lands (controlled access numbers, etc) for a little bit of grace & understanding from the land management folks (don’t blame all issues on climbers).

    *i differentiate between “climbers” and “people who climb”.

  2. Kevin Jorgeson

    16. Dec, 2009

    – – – Begin rant – – –

    1. Given total freedom with a finite resource, one could conclude that the resource was destroyed or taken away by over-population, lack of direction and self-interest over interest in the area. Is this true?


    2. Are climbers capable of policing themselves (not just in Hueco, or issues specific to Hueco, but in trash clean-ups, land management issues etc)?

    More importantly, are climbers capable of acting coherently, collaboratively and collectively to maintain, restore and protect our climbing areas? At some point, we each have to come to the realization that we are not alone in this sport of climbing. There are a lot of us and as our numbers increase, so must our responsibility to the places that bare the weight of our passion for climbing. One of the things that I love about climbing is the sense of community present, whether you walk up to a boulder in Colorado, California, France or South Africa. While we all share this amazing lifestyle and sport, we can’t let the sense of community get in the way of calling someone out to place principles before personality, responsibility before convenience and expense before selfishness. Just because we all climb, doesn’t mean we have to turn a shoulder to actions that damage our climbing areas. The impact in Hueco (and everywhere else for that matter) happens one climber (and hiker, tourist, etc) at a time. Working to leave nothing behind, put place before self and making sacrifice to undo damage will also happen one climber at a time.

    3. Is it better to sacrifice that freedom of the past in order to sustain a precious place? Are the two mutually exclusive? Or is this an illusion, and now that the bureaucrats have control, do they have the power to shut down the Park at a moments whim, leaving the climbers empty handed?

    I remember the meeting between the State Park officials and climbers at the Rock Ranch a few days after the Mushroom Boulder was closed. Still in shock at the closure, many climbers felt like had they been aware of the receding ground level, we would have been able to do something about it to reduce traffic. However, with no communication between the Park and climbers as to which areas were in danger of closure due to impact, we felt a bit on the hopeless side as to how to be proactive. When asked why we hadn’t been notified sooner, they simply shrugged their shoulders and said, “Our bad!” We all laughed an uncomfortable, are-you-serious, kind of laugh until we realized that they were. Who’s responsibility is it to track user impact and take necessary precautions to protect? To anyone who has been going to Bishop for even the past 5 years, let alone 10 to 15, you can’t ignore the vast changes in landscape due to user traffic. It doesn’t take a state park official pointing it out to notice, unless you really are blind and only care about getting to the next project.

    I think that the question is really about sacrificing our sense of individuality for a sense of community responsibility. I only mean sacrificing our sense of individuality in respect to the mindset that we are the only climbers around. Until we do, our drive to do whatever the fuck we want will continue to destroy the very places we claim to love.

    4. Is this the kind of place that is so special, that it needs special guidelines, or does it set the example for the way other areas should be managed? Hypothetically, would such a system work at an area like The Park, or Mt. Evans, and how does a guidebook effect this?

    Hueco is not special. All of our climbing areas are special. Do I want to see The Park managed in the way that Hueco is? No. But if it is the ONLY way to manage impact because we can’t do it ourselves, then……
    The system at Hueco is a bummer. It’s the most expensive climbing area I’ve ever been to. I hate paying to climb outside. No doubt. BUT, it works. Whether you want to pay attention or not, you are made painfully aware of user (not just climber) impact. I would like to think that as a community, we have the ability to take care of our areas voluntarily, so that we don’t need a guide holding our hands between boulders, making sure we don’t trample vegetation. Guidebooks generally increase user traffic, so unless we start taking responsibility now, who’s to say we will after MORE people start coming? It comes down to two things: education and responsibility. Without both, nothing will change. Where does that education come from though? Guidebooks? Gyms? The Park Service? As more and more climbers get into the sport through climbing gyms (and spend most of their time in gyms), perhaps an emphasis should be placed there? I believe the gym-to-outside transition is an area where more focus could be placed.

    – – – End rant – – –

  3. glclimber

    16. Dec, 2009

    I always beleive the mand comes before anyone…with that said climbers need to find a way to have positive lights shine on them, as a group, and even a way to market these good deeds. Our crag was almost closed in 2003 b/c it was pointed out all the damage that came from the climbers including trash, rope marks on the rock and some other destruction. This last spring CLIMBERS built a new walk way, put in erosion control barriers and even added a substantial amount of fill…this work killed my climbing for the day, but who cares. The non-climbers have noticed and it seems some pride and friendships have bridged that gap.

    We as community need not only police ourselves but should strive to set the example of how an area can be used responsibly. Climbers have a horrible reputation for many negative things. In the Alpine post there was the idea to develop a trail network before creating a guidebook. if we work w/ the land managers and attempt to add small signs on a good trail system, leave no trace and even keep some areas completely restricted this can accomplish a lot….then again there are the good ole system in land managemnet that will always give us the finger. All we can do is try, but these efforts must be sustained and spead to cover the bad apples out these…you nevre know the seeds we plant in others minds.

  4. glclimber

    16. Dec, 2009

    I meant LAND, not mand, or man or whatever……….

  5. Andy

    16. Dec, 2009

    Generally I don’t believe there can be a universal view of how climbing areas can be managed. From what I have observed it appears there are a number of criteria that dictates what kind of management is needed within an area and the location that it is within.

    Climbing areas appear to fall into several categories that I feel naturally dictate how a climber will treat an area. I feel they fall into four major categories being Areas near population centers, areas not near population centers with Destination Climbing spots and Local Climbing Spots.

    Destination areas will always attract more people and will attract a lot of traveling climbers. Because it is a destination area people feel less like they are the “Locals” and therefore may make it harder to organize clean-ups, establish a Climbers Coalition, etc. Traveling climbers also may not treat the area as well because they are not familiar to the local ethics. These climbing areas pose the highest access and damage risk which may be exemplified by the type of environment it is located in.

    Destination areas near major population centers may have a better chance of policing themselves because there may be a lot of local climber activity that can potentially organize, dictate the ethics, and publicize the ethics. Destination areas far from population centers may see less traffic but if they are in a sensitive environment they will be the highest at risk areas and least likely to police themselves.

    Local Climbing spots near population centers are most likely to have a very core group of climbers that visit the area often and can easily understand impact over a long period of time. It seems like it is a lot easier for groups to organize and police themselves. There is also significantly less traveling climbers and therefore if someone causes an issue the whole community may quickly find out regardless of its size. Local climbing spots outside of destination areas see a lot less traffic and therefore generally do not have issues unless it is in a highly sensitive area.

    Just looking at the numerous climbing management that is in place it is obvious that the above factors help dictate the management with the important aspect of “Sensitive Environment” that is usually the cause of most problems.

    For example if Hueco didn’t have a historical significance (Native American art), sensitive wildlife, and erosion issues that area probably would never have been managed by Texas State Parks. Or if Rocky Mountain State Park wasn’t located in an sensitive Alpine Environment (which I venture to guess 90% of visiting climbers don’t understand what that means) would there be any issues with the rangers?

  6. Crafty

    16. Dec, 2009

    Lots of good questions, but for the moment I’ll just focus on one.

    Above, you ask if it’s possible for climbers to self-regulate and “police” within their own community. While I’d love to say that this could work, I’m skeptical and a bit cynical.

    Take, for example, how one’s roommate may react when you ask him/her to be more dilligent about doing the dishes/cleaning the bathroom/etc. After one or two mentions of said problem, if it’s addressed, then no big deal. But what happens if the problem isn’t addressed? People get frustrated/hurt/defensive and the situation gets bitter. Eventually little problems can get blown out of proportion and people get defensive.

    Now trade out dirty dishes for sensitive rock climbing areas. There’s a whole lot more ego involved in this situation. I hate to bring it back up, but remember how big of an issue the whole pad stashing thing was? That got to the point that threats were made and fists were almost thrown. How many times have you heard someone say, “nah, I don’t think I’ll climb on that boulder today. The base is getting hella eroded and there are mad social trails in that area, brah. Plus, without the 5 stashed pads we used to be able to use, I don’t feel safe above that sketch landing. I’ll just take one for the team and shred the gnar somewhere else.”

    No one says that. It sucks, but people are selfish, and, until the ugly head of access issues rears itself, then people really truly don’t care.

    Side note: I think the above is more applicable to closures and access restrictions, not so much trail building days and cleanups. People generally are eager to get involved in those cases.

  7. Noah Kaufman

    17. Dec, 2009

    Great post.

    I have spent 3 seasons at Hueco, my first was before the closure in 1998. I have also been there for a week-at-a-time several other years (eg. medical school years.) In fact, I gave a speech at the town hall meeting that was attended by many climbers and El Paso citizens in support of alternatives to “closure.”

    We all stayed at Pete’s back in those days, and this was the year that the ground-breaking “Free Hueco” was mostly filmed.

    Those days were undeniably better.

    Climbers were constantly packing out trash, broken glass and reporting ilicit behaviors. The park was much the same as it is today, in terms of wildlife: the foxes on North, the Havalinas, the myriad species of birds, the life in the tanks… All in abundance. I haven’t noticed a marked increase in wildlife, and I am very sensitive to nature; always looking/taking photos.

    The trail system was getting pretty bad at that point in time; an anastamosis of meandering trails that did detract from the asthetic of the place.

    The park staff was mostly friendly with the climbing population back then, there were notable exceptions and negative interactions…

    But today, the spark staff, headed by Wanda, is mostly opressive towards climbers. They feel, rightfully so, that climbers cause other user groups to suffer and not be able to enjoy the park. Strength in numbers… We are a powerful lot, us climbers. We have all the spots and usually the walk-ins too. Random families that show up because they saw the state park on the map are routinely turned away and told (I have overheard Wanda say this numerous times) “There are no spots left because all of the rock climbers have taken them up.”

    The place is undeniably more beautiful now, and they have done a fantastic job of ameliorating the crazy trail system that naturally developed with free reign.

    The climbing is, as usual, sublime.

    The several seasons that I have had since the park restrictions took effect have been wonderful from a climbing perspective, but the tangible loss of freedom makes it much more difficult to enjoy Hueco the way I used to.

    Now I just go there for the climbing, and I put up with the constant BS so I can tackle my project du jour (I have so many stories.)

    It’s a great reason to go, but the nearly ineffable substance of the place that made it originally magical for me has faded.

    It probably needed to happen, but I do believe there were better ways. I still have projects there, we all do, and I will never do everything I want to do there… Part of the reason is that I will spend more of my time developing local spots where the magic still exists and where I am free to go where I want and to do as I please.

    Thanks for another great post.

    Climbing has grown so much since I started 17 years ago!


  8. marlon

    17. Dec, 2009

    ” today, the spark staff, headed by Wanda, is mostly opressive towards climbers.”

    I don’ t find this to be remotely true. They are state workers who are trying to enforce the rules handed down by their superiors, and by and large they are courteous if not friendly in doing so.

    Showing up with a negative attitude about the park staff isnt going to get you anywhere. And pretty much everything you’ve heard (except with regards to the quality, of course) has been embellished.

    Sorry if that was slightly off topic i just find it unfortunate how many people have such negative views of the staff when they are based largely (if not exclusively) on anecdotal evidence.

  9. mervo

    17. Dec, 2009

    Climbers don’t ‘police’ themselves, they berate each other on internet forums and decide this is their mode of policing.

    Policing requires that someone be held accountable for their actions. Climbers are incapable of doing this, and use ostracizing someone as a form of policing. This doesn’t work, nor does it solve the problem.

    I think the pad stashing in the park and evans illustrates my hypothesis.


  10. campusmang

    17. Dec, 2009

    I think climbers are usually smart and strong people.
    We berate one another online when we don’t know who we are talking to, everyone does that online.

  11. peter b

    17. Dec, 2009

    Jamie, a timely and thoughtful post. In my view Hueco, while an amazing climbing area, is simply no fun to visit unless you have a substantial amount of surplus cash, time, and patience. The need to reserve spaces even to enter the park, the guide system and related expense, and the restrictions while on the guided tours create a peculiar environment that is contrary to the spirit of climbing as I understand it.

    An analogy, I hope not too pretentious, is the Uffizi Museum in Florence Italy. There, to get in during peak times, you must either reserve spaces well in advance or wait in long lines for hours.The tickets are expensive. The experience itself is typically that of shuffling along with a herd of tourists who know next to nothing about the works on display. Any sense of freedom, solitude, or beauty is inevitably undermined by the crowds, the noise, and the sense that this is not what viewing great art is about. It’s a shame and just another sign of the impact of travel and cultural tourism on once-great place.

    Given the current popularity of bouldering, Hueco will always be a contested area. There is little doubt that many boulderers do not have the deepest interests of the environment in mind when they are out in the field.. Dr Kaufman’s point about non-climbers just wanting to see the park but being locked out by climbers is just plain sad. I know that I feel uncomfortable about the way that climber demand and conduct have created the current situation, especially during peak season.

    In my many years of climbing, I have always been dismayed to see the pack mentality take over a place. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) there will likely be no more Hueco Tanks or RMNPs found for climbers to congregate at and inexorably degrade by their presence. It doesn’t have to be that way but the track record so far has been less than stellar.

    I agree again with Dr. Kaufman; it is probably better to climb locally and leave a low impact than to drive or fly long distances to join the herd at star destinations like Hueco. Would I like to climb there? You bet. However there is more to the climbing than the sick proj and the scene and I hope that someday the masses would understand that. But that’s why they call them the masses.

  12. kevin murphy

    17. Dec, 2009

    Tough call. I went to Hueco a couple years ago and it was a joke. Unless your spending the season there, or were part of the “in” crowd, it was a big freakin runaround. Which left a real yearning for the “old days” of Hueco. Part of climbing for me is the “aimless” wandering” around in the beautiful desert. But shit was getting stomped and eroded. So instead of working with the community, they just shut it down basically. So it goes. Well, we better follow there rules, or they’ll shut it down completely.
    Although I’de give my left nut to be there right now. Yeah, its that good.

    Happy Holidays

  13. sidepull

    17. Dec, 2009

    I think kevin hit the nail on the head:

    1) A surge in climber population brought about by prevalence of gyms
    2) Leading to a general reduction in the historical mentorship/apprenticeship that passed ethics between generations of climbers
    3) Compounded by a general abdication by gym owners, managers, gym culture, to teach people how to act outside

    It will get worse before/if it gets better.

    I can’t help but think if people were taught to treat gyms in a sustainable way, if your belay test included a test on Leave No Trace ethics, if membership dues were reduced for Access Members, if gyms did more trail clean up, if between techno tunes a voice said, “don’t bring your boom boxes to the boulders,” ….

  14. Peter

    18. Dec, 2009

    “don’t bring your boom boxes to the boulders” ~ sidepull. Yes! This has happened only twice (thankfully), and both times (one in the Park, one in Eldo) my entire enjoyment of the climbing experience was lost.

    I climbed in Hueco before the closure, and after. Before was by far better, for the reasons people have stated above: freedom, adventure, less people, and less cost. Again, as Noah said, “Those days were undeniably better.” Sure, the place still rocks, but for me, I would rather find a new gem in Eldo, or a remote sandstone roof outside Santa Fe, or another stellar line in the alpine granite then pay money to hangout waiting in line (that is what the gym is for…)

    I think this is a great post, and very timely as Peter B. said. All these points need to be taken into consideration for the Park and Evans, especially with a guidebook and all. National Parks, and other areas of similar designation/management must take into account all their users, unlike the BLM or Forest Service which seems to have a much less pro-active approach to users and over-use. Joes will probably keep some of the magic, and so will many other areas on BLM or Forest land. But will the Park? Hard to say. You’ve put in more time then anyone, how much has it changed? I’ve been climbing in one form or another in the Park for 18 years (more if you include hikiing) and I would say it has drastically changed. And not just from climbers, but from everyone: more photographers, more weekend fly fishers, more hikers, way more climbers, etc. If we can be pro-active with the Park and Evans and other such areas, then we have a very good chance of avoiding a Hueco and allowing both people who are hell bent on sending only “sic projs” and those who are more interested in enjoying a day moving over stone to co-exist.

    Again, as with the guide and the concerns over the environment, how to do this in any meaningful way that actually works is the hard question. I don’t know, it seems as we age as individual climbers we realize the importance of nature, the setting, the birds, the movement, the stone. But there will always be those younger climbers just getting into the sport who really only care about making the numbers. Can we instill in them what we have learned over our years?

    Maybe some father climbers can speak to this better, but I have no clue. Flyers, tests, small lectures, rants on the web, etc. seem to never work. I think we need to really think about leading by example: if we leave no trace, don’t pull up the small tress at the base of a problem, don’t sculpt the landing, don’t leave our toprope attached to the tree and decaying, etc. then we might have a chance. Are we really doing this yet? I can think of several positive examples, but I can also point to several negative ones involving those very people who should be setting the example.

    Thank you for posting these questions/posts. If nothing else, readers of your blog know where you stand and where this little community stands. Makes me happy and want to climb!

  15. sock hands

    18. Dec, 2009

    to throw a stone from my glass house… one issue with mitigating climber impact is communication. communication with the agencies responsible for the land and with the myriad of ‘types’ of climbers who visit. ok, so every one know that.

    another issue that seems pretty basic is volunteerism.

    climbing coalitions vary greatly in their activities and their head counts. it seems like access sensitive areas have been very successful in recruiting a larger percentage of the local climbing user groups to participate in stewardship events.

    it is true that many colorado volunteer initiatives have been shot down by a lack of support from land managers, (mainly due to their internal protocols for trail maintenance, etc, and not due to actual ill-will). however, in the admittedly few non-festival-type stewardship events i have attended, it is painfully obvious that a hundred-fold more folks are intent on bickering on-line about climber impact than actually showing up to engage in productive work.

    clearly, we are all busy and when we have a free moment, we typically want to go climb on something rad to harvest those dopamines that have become so depleted in our daily lives… but if every climber on the front range could make and keep a resolution to sling a shovel during at least one hands-on stewardship event per year, there would be MASSIVE gains statewide.

    and this is not to pull any punches on any particular pro climbers… especially not those to have commented here, but while participation in charitable slideshows and charitable events thrown by sponsors are extremely important, it is not remotely the same as a pro showing up on clean-and-climb day with a trash bag or shovel and demonstrating that he or she actually cares enough to put in the blue collar elbow grease for a climbing area.

    for all climbers, rememeber that your donation to the access fund is a great start… it helps fund the effort to communicate with land managers and hopefully orchestrate some positive policy changes, including allowing climbers to participate in trail building exercises, erosion control, and other proactive measures otherwise blocked by union concerns and governmental protocol…. however, when events are actually organized, do not let them fail for want of labor.

    no matter how much you may say and believe you care about access and stewardship, we all need to walk the walk much much better.

    i’m not certain how what is put in or left out of a guidebook will impact this issue, but it is germaine to the question of impact and stewardship and perhaps a less frantic mind than my own can shed light on how to bring this plea naturally into the context of a map to our wonderland.

  16. Dave Aubrey

    18. Dec, 2009

    It seems a little unfair to me to suggest that “the word getting out” has caused these problems. Why should the regular climbers be allowed more access than those who just want to sample the climbing – as you said, “the best bouldering in America”. As a Brit, I don’t see why I should be restricted if I want to visit the great climbing spots in the US, as long as I act responsibly

  17. B3

    18. Dec, 2009

    You shouldn’t be restricted, but as more people become aware of the area, there is going to be a greater impact, like we saw in Hueco Tanks. It seems to me that climbers were not capable of policing themselves unfortunately. As I said, Hueco was nearly empty and that visitation rose to 150,000 people a year in a matter of a few years. The park and the climbers went through a difficult period trying to figure out how to manage all those visitors and protect the resource so that climbers like your self can come and visit.

  18. casting

    19. Dec, 2009

    It’s not that boulderers are incapable of policing themselves – it’s that there is no way to mitigate the soil-erosion impact they create. Trail building and trash clean-up does not address this in any way; trail building just creates an easier and more efficient path for more boulderers to beat the hell out of the base of the boulders, and the land managers know this. Combine an extremely impactful activity with the typical boulderer’s new-to-the-outdoors mindset, and the logical conclusion any mindful land manager would be to severely restrict access or completely shut it down.

    I’ve been on 3 trips to Hueco – all in the 1980’s, ten years before crash pads. I can’t imagine how beat-to-hell the bases of the popular boulders must be now.

    The bottom line is, the amount of quality rock suitable for hard sport climbing and bouldering in the U.S is extremely limited. Sport climbers figured out decades ago how to address this problem – create (as in, literally, with glue and chisel) sport crags from aesthetically unappealling and otherwise unclimbable choss that no one in authority cares about, and treat them like Fight Club (as in, Don’t Talk About Them).

    I’ll be spending my Christmas vacation at the best winter sport crag in the U.S. – and yes, it’s manufactured, and no, I’m not at liberty to tell you where it is. Maybe it’s time to start considering “working” the choss for boulder problems, kids, as a way of mitigating impact on the better areas, instead of beating the Huecos and Buttermilks to death. Pick your poison, cuz you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  19. Matt

    22. Dec, 2009

    One thing I think missing in this discussion is the fact that not all the impact issues at Hueco are climber-caused. The graffiti, trash, broken glass, etc, and rock-art defacement that came up in the 1990s had much more to do with the park being close to an ever-expanding urban area than they did with climbers. There’s no doubt we’ve had our impacts, too — more climbers, larger posses, and crashpads changed things — but I never saw climbers spraypainting their names on rocks or leaving behind garbage or getting shit-faced drunk at the picnic tables.

    I started going to Hueco regularly in 1986, and it stayed all but empty, even at high season, through the early 1990s. Even with Rock Rodeos, John Sherman’s first guidebook, articles in the mags, etc, things didn’t really pick up until the “bouldering revolution” hit. The main issue that quickly emerged IMO was social trails – the desert environment wasn’t well-suited for the increase in numbers and the way climbers move from rock to rock. Seeing this and the other issues (spraypaint, broken glass, etc.) closer to the road, the park reacted, and things changed in 1998.

    I went twice under the “new rules” — in 1999 and 2000 — and had an OK time, but it wasn’t like before, and that was pretty much it for me. But that’s the nature of life, right — change? We’re certainly lucky that Hueco is still open at all. It’s sad that the new generations won’t have the chance to roam the park freely like we used to, without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops, but I don’t think climbers self-policing (or not) have entirely informed the way this played out. There are many, many other factors at work here. The disease is overpopulation, and this is just a symptom.

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