Remember how we were sort of bummed that we hadn’t called early enough to reserve our entry to Hueco Tanks, back in January? (Okay, you probably don’t remember that. It did happen though.)
The system, as it was described in magazines and on official websites, was this:
Hueco consists of four mountains (or three mountains and a spur). Only one mountain is open to what they call “self-guiding”, which means you can go without a guide, and that’s North Mountain. But there are only 70 spots every day to get into this part of the park. So there’s a reservation system, with 60 reservable spots. When I called back in January, all those spots were already reserved. According to the stuff we’d read, they keep 10 spots for walk-ups, and at 10 o’clock, they start giving away the reservations that were no-shows.
So the first day he arrived, a Monday morning, J got to the park entry at 7:45. He was the fourth car in line, but discovered that, unless you have a reservation, you can’t get in before 10. At 10, the park ranger started letting people in.
J soon discovered that there was no reason to get there before 10. The next few days he arrived around 10:30 and got in about fifteen minutes later.
We didn’t even try to get into the park on weekends, and the following Monday, we waited in the car till 10:40 when we were let in. Every other day, there doesn’t even seem to be a line of cars at the barrier, but farther down the road, at the office. Yesterday (Wednesday) we pulled into the office, put our name on the waiting list, and got in, again, around 10:45.
If you do reserve, you do indeed have to get to the park before 10 o’clock to claim your reservation, or they give it away. Don’t show up at 10:04—a group we knew from the ranch showed up at 10:07 and had lost their spots, and had to wait with us.
In general, it seems there’s no real problem getting in if you don’t have a reservation, except maybe for the weekends. People must reserve and then not come to the park at all. And if we’d really been blocked, we got the sense that, if you stay a week, you get to know the guides and can maybe get one to take you elsewhere.
We didn’t do any guided tours. Guides can take you to the other three mountains, and it’s only $7 (same as park entry fee) if you get on a park-run guided tour. Commercial guided tours seemed to cost much more ($20?). We don’t really know though, because we stayed on North Mountain, especially because J missed so many climbing days due to his wrist.
Monday he tried to get me to climb a little, but it was pretty sad. I have no upper body strength and my right foot is still not up to snuff (there was no question of putting on climbing shoes!).
We stayed at the Hueco Rock Ranch, about a mile from Hueco Tanks, and it was perfect. They have a campsite with a “barn” (kitchen, couches) as well as a guest house, where we stayed, with bunk rooms and double rooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and a living room with tv/dvd player. Reservations for the house apparently fill up quickly, but fortunately we called back in December. They also sell and rent crashpads.
There were plenty of things to see in El Paso, too. We did the Mission Trail and White Sands in New Mexico, but there’s El Paso’s downtown to see, plus a few different museums, and other parks around the area. Carlsbad Caverns is about a 2 and a half hour drive away as well.
Anyway, we’ll probably come back, since J missed so much climbing because of his wrist. Hopefully next time, I’ll actually do a little climbing myself.