Texas Highways Cover Story – Hueco Tanks

I am way behind on posting recent works. In fact, I am so far behind that some of that work can no longer even be called “recent”. But rather than dwell on that personal failing, I am just going to pretend I have my act together and start posting some of the work anyway, no matter when I did it.

One recent assignment I had for Texas Highways magazine made it into the  April 2020 cover and cover story, A Rookie Climber Ascends, by Sarah Hepola. For the article, my editor sent me out to Hueco Tanks in far west Texas to photograph the writer, Sarah along with her climbing guide and instructor, Jacob Garza as Sarah challenged herself and her fears as a rookie climber. Sarah is a great writer and her article is great. You can read it here.

Hueco Tanks is 20-30 miles northeast of El Paso. Relatively few Texans know about it, even though it is a sacred location for many. I had only been there once before, long ago and only in passing, so getting to explore the place for a few days was quite a thrill. It was a fun assignment that carried a few challenges for me, as well. I thought I would share a few random thoughts and facts about Hueco Tanks as well as a few more images:

For more of my favorite images from Hueco Tanks, check out HUECO TANKS SLIDESHOW

If you are looking for more images from Hueco Tanks, go to my HUECO TANKS ARCHIVE



Years of Human History

Rock Paintings

Mask Paintings

Geologically Unique

The syenite pluton at Hueco Tanks was formed 34-38 million years ago, as part of the larger Hueco Mountains, which range in age to over 320 million years ago when the area was covered by an inland sea. The pluton was eventually exposed through weathering to form the jumbled rock formations visible today.

Rainwater pools in natural rock basins, or huecos (“whey-coes”) to provide needed water supplies for humans and wildlife, as well as habitat for tiny creatures like fairy shrimp.


A Sacred Place

Hueco Tanks has attracted people into its mad tumble of rocks for over for over 10,000 years. From Jornada Mogollon to Folsom to Kiowa, Mescalero Apache, Comanche, Tigua and the people of Isleta del Norte Pueblo, Hueco Tanks has attracted native peoples to its abundant shade, water and game. More mystically, the shaded rock walls at Hueco Tanks provide an excellent canvas for rock art, especially painted pictographs. Over 3000 paintings have been found at Hueco Tanks. At least 200 of those are unique painted masks, the largest collection in North America.

Texas Beyond History has an excellent article about Hueco Tanks. For more information on the pictographs, check out this article – Rock Paintings at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site by Kay Sutherland, Ph.D.

World Class Bouldering

The unique geological jumble of rocks at Hueco Tanks is also sacred to a modern band of people called “boulderers” who come from across the world on a sacred pilgrimage. I am just kidding, but only a little. Many climbers do point in fact to Hueco Tanks as the birthplace of the sport of bouldering and it is still considered one of the best bouldering sites in the world. Access is strictly limited to protect the fragile environment and historical sites, and every morning, cars full of eager climbers from all over the world queue at the front gate hopeing to get access to the park.

Professional climbing guides can also bring in guests, and we worked with an excellent guide named Jacob Garza. Jacob is a friendly and talented guide and fortunately for me, also quite stylish. His red scarf added just the perfect splash of red for my photos of him! You can book a tour with Jacob through Sessions Climbing.

Fun Photography

The Hueco Tanks present a wonderland of shapes, colors and forms for any photographer to play with. Boulders, caves, huecos, sky, climbers, pictographs, water, wildlife, and more present relentless photo oppoortunities. The biggest challenge for a photographer on a deadline is working with the huge contrast range between the bright sunlight and the cool shadows and finding ways to make those images work. I shot much of the time in shadowed areas to keep the light soft and consistent. When I had to overcome a huge contrast range, I often shot with one or two flashes to help fill in the shadows and even out the light.

I went to one spectacular little cave called the Cave Kiva to photograph several mask paintings. In order to light the paintings, I used several small LED lights that allowed me to vary the intensity and choose a warmer or cooler LED color temperature. That let me add some really subtle lighting effects to those images.