The 'season is here, and it is now very difficult to just show up at Hueco on a weekend without a reservation and get in. As of 11.22.00, it is still not filling up on weekdays, but I expect that will not last. This is a frustrating time of year for locals. The weather is sharp, dry, clear and blue - perfect for climbing. The bugs are gone. This means that the park is "full" and you probably can't get in to climb. I am spending my weekends at the various semi-lame alternative sites within a 3 hour drive of El Paso.
I was not able to get in today (11.24.00), but I was able to get in the last two weekends; once by reservation and once without one. On both days the 70 user limit was reached around 2:00pm. Even when the park is supposedly "full", it feels empty and deserted. You hardly see any climbers - I encountered about 20 both days. This supports my assertion that the 70/day limit is far, far too low. North mountain alone can absorb hundreds of pad people with no problem, and the park as a whole could easily accommodate 500/day.
Summer 2000: The revised PURP-2000 is now in effect. The TPWD threw a few bones our way, but your freedom to climb responsibly is still toast at Hueco. The fact that the TPWD rejected $100,000.00 from the Access Fund is indicative of the anti-climber attitude in Austin. The El Paso Climbers' Club is still hopeful that John Moses, the new Super at Hueco, will be more reasonable than his predecessor. James Robertson has been talking with John, and reports that John wants to "work with climbers".
In the summer of 2000, the TPWD modified the PURP, naming it the "Public Use(Restriction) Plan 2000". You can download the full version (Adobe PDF format) if you would like to examine it. Here are some highlights of the new plan:
* Overnight camping is allowed, limited to 3 nights-six bodies per campsite, camp host must be on-duty or no camping occurs. The park will not accept reservations if a camp host is unavailable. Currently (11.30.00), there is a camp host, and the park expects the host to stay for at least the next month. Campground reservations DO NOT include North Mountain reservations.
* Pets are now allowed in the park, but must be on-leash and can only go to picnic and camping areas. This effectively means you can't take your dog with you to Hueco, because if you do, you will have to leave it baking in your car, or designate someone as a dog-sitter to stay with it at a picnic site.
* Bikes OK an paved surfaces only.
* Occupancy limits: a maximum 70 bodies/day at North Mountain, 230 bodies/day for the entire park. 10 slots per day on North Mountain are not reservable, so if you could not get a reservation, you can still get in provided you are one of the first 10 people at the gate when it opens. As of 11.11.00, the local park management had not yet been confronted with more than 10 "waiting at the gate at sunrise" climbers, so they are not certain exactly how they will handle it. There is also some question as to whether or not the reservation service in Austin at 512-389-8900 1,2 and the local park reservation service are operating by the same rules.
* Reservations require a $4.00 refundable reservation fee to be paid at the time the reservation is made. TCP holders do not have to pay the reservation fee. Others must fork up the cash (or credit card) when making the reservation. Be aware that the TPWD is requiring that each person either pay the $4.00 reservation fee or provide a TCP number at the time the reservation is made. This means that if you are making a reservation for yourself and 2 climbing partners, even if you have a TCP, they will expect either the TCP #s of the other climbers or your credit card number for the $8.00 fee for the other two people! At any one time, you may have a maximum of 10 reservations in the system. A single reservation can span more than one day. To get a refund of the $4.00 fee, you have to cancel more than 30 days in advance.
* If you are placing a reservation for a date that is more than 24 hours in the future, you must call the Austin reservation service (512-389-8900 1,2), not the park (915-857-1135). (This is a feature of the new PURP-2000, by the way. Its a good thing.) So, if on a Friday, I want to make a reservation for Sunday, I have to make a long distance call, even though I live within 25 miles of the park. The Austin reservation service cannot make any reservations that are not at least 24 hours in advance - all those have to be made locally at the park. You can call the park on a Friday to make a reservation for Saturday, since that is less than 24 hours in the future. But remember - the park does not make any reservations on Saturday or Sunday! If it is a Saturday, and you want to make a reservation for Sunday, you are SOL! It can't be done - your only option is to wait at the gate and hope to get in. The Austin service can't take your reservation, 'cause it is less than 24 hours in the future, and the park can't do it, 'cause they don't take reservations on weekends! A classic catch-22.
This is representative democracy at work.
*Snappy Tom and Bimbos are now closed to all climbing. Good-bye, Three-Star Arete. All because a bunch of damn greenie-weenies are worried about some dirt blowing away. I bet those same people live in houses, drive cars, eat beef that comes from cattle that graze on what would otherwise be "pristine" wilderness, etc. F'ing hypocrites. Send them out into the "wilderness" for a few days naked, sans equipment, and I bet they will be less worried about saving dirt for future generations.
*Park hours: 8-6 Oct.1 ... April 30; 7-7 Friday-Sunday May 1 ... Sept. 30; 8-6 Monday-Thursday May 1 ... Sept. 30.
In other news ...
The Access Fund's offer of $100,000.00 was recently rejected by the TPWD! For more details, see the links in the main News page. What more proof do we need that the TPWD is not being reasonable? How about this: The TPWD just completed a one MILLION dollar (yes, kids that is 10^6 dollar bills=$1,000,000.00) project to renovate the Ranger Peak Aerial Tramway in the Franklin Mountains State Park. Mind-boggling, isn't it? The TPWD has tons of $$ to get fat-ass tourists to the top of the Franklins, but when it comes to hiring a few more rangers to properly patrol the "backcountry" of Hueco, which is supposedly so wonderful and important, we are SOL. Just think about what could be done with a M$ at Hueco. Think about the trails that could be built. Think about the interpretive center that could be constructed. Think about all the internships that could be sponsored. Think about the advanced security and monitoring that could be installed at the rock art sites. You wanna know one of the reasons the TPWD is so hot to get the tramway operational? It will allow the Franklin Mountains rangers to ride in comfort to the ridge, so that they can patrol the park without having to hike up. Of course, this is just a temporary need, since I am sure they will eventually figure out a way to convince the sheep that the entire FMSP should be surrounded by an electrified razor-wire fence. Can't have those El Paso residents entering the park at non-designated entry points!
Speaking of the Wonderful New Tramway, (scheduled to open in the spring of 2001) here is an excerpt from a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the El Paso Times on 5.18.00:
... " As a frequent hiker on the ridge line, I can tell you that the tramway is not on track, as far as hikers are concerned. The present construction on the KTSM/Tram station completely blocks access to the ridge-line Hikers who wish to hike the ridge line are forced to cross the dangerous scree fields generated by the construction to get around the station. ... I spoke with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and was told that there is no definite plan to provide hiking access around the station ..."
This is another example of the disingenuous hypocrisy of land managers in the U.S. It's OK for State or Federal agencies to blast, drill, pave, chop, and burn (ala Los Alamos) as much as they want - but let a climber drill a bolt or step on a lichen and it is a world-ending crisis.
Welcome to Amerika.
Earlier in 2000...
On March 23, 2000 in El Paso, the TPWD held a hearing on the proposed changes to the Public Use-Restriction Plan for Hueco Tanks. The few climbers that did show up - only seven that I counted - were outnumbered by the anti-climber forces. You can find a complete report and analysis of the meeting in the Spew section of huecotanks.com.
The American Alpine Club submitted it's public comment on the proposed modifications to the Public Use-Restriction Plan (PURP) for Hueco. Its a beautifully written, logical presentation of facts and great suggestions. Therefore, it will be ignored. You may read the letter in the Spew section of huecotanks.com.
For over 10 years the El Paso Climber's Club and others have tried to reason with the TPWD - does anyone really expect that the TPWD will suddenly listen to reason now? Know this: the TPWD's ultimate goal is to turn Hueco into a pure historical park - ZERO recreation, access only via guarded tours. The current restrictions represent an incremental step in that direction. Over the last 10 years, the TPWD has steadily eroded the rights of climbers at Hueco Tanks. The TPWD and its cohorts are masters of incrementalism. Climbing at Hueco is effectively dead. 70 people a day on North Mountain. Whoop-de-do. Gates always close early. No people. No energy. An empty, unused fairyland of problems going to waste.
Make no mistake, some key TPWD personnel have a profound dislike for climbers and are determined to keep us out.
BTW ...Isn't it sad how all those <censored>, rock-art <censored>, lichen-<censored> extremists who think YOUR presence in the park is so damn harmful - isn't it tragic how rarely they show up to appreciate the place they have "saved"? Those of us who love Hueco for what it is - beautifully shaped rocks - are banned. The tallies for the 1999 "guarded tours" were interesting - 117 for climbing, vs. a handful for all other activities.
The El Paso Climbers' Club is against most of the new restrictions in the PURP-2000, and still opposes most portions of the original PURP that the TPWD stuck us with in 1998. The EPCC is baffled by the TPWD's refusal to cooperate with climbing organizations such as the Access Fund and American Alpine Club.
Hey, kids! Hueco is now infested with a new kind of litterer - the park staff, armed with bits of blue plastic ribbon, are busily marking all the popular trails. Its one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. The bushes near the edge of the popular trails are covered with blue ribbons tied to the branches of the bushes. Some individual plants have as many as 10 ribbons tied to them! The ribbons are deteriorating in the UV and falling of the bushes. They are, effectively, a form of trash. They are UGLY. They detract from the 'wilderness experience' at Hueco, far more than a few unneeded foot paths do. Photos of this stupidity can be found in the Gallery section.
Contrary to the propaganda put out by the TPWD, FHOT and others, Hueco has at least as much litter and trash now, than it had prior to 9/1998. Look in the Gallery for some photos. I saw plenty on my last visit (11.12.00). It is obvious what is happening - there are now fewer climbers at Hueco; climbers tend to be pro-ecology and pick up trash, and they keep others from littering. Without plenty of climbers in the park to help act as the eyes and ears of the TPWD, the trash from the family groups and teenage party-crowd is slowly accumulating.
There is a new Superintendent at Hueco. His name is John Moses; he seems to be a reasonable, unflappable, neutral kind of guy. James Robertson reports that John wants to work with climbers, within the constraints of his masters in Austin. Perhaps he will be amenable to the "trustee" concept that would let people who have demonstrated that they can be trusted with unlimited access to the park, without having to guide people or do other duties. They would simply be "trustees", nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps he will understand that the PURP restrictions are immoral in that they punish the innocent (for example, my daughter) and myself for the crimes of others (assholes who trample, dig, spray, litter, etc.). Perhaps he will not spout the TPWD party line that the mere presence of people, regardless of how experienced and careful they are, is somehow harmful to the "resources" at the park. Perhaps he will be willing to admit that if you let people like me into all areas of the park (not as guards (a.k.a. guides), but as Trustees), the result will be a cleaner, safer, better-preserved Hueco. Perhaps he will acknowledge the obvious - that a large part of the attraction of Hueco is just wandering alone in the rocks (ala Bob Murray) - and work with us to Free Hueco. Remember, not everyone who works for the TPWD is a morally bankrupt bureaucrat, so lets give John a fair chance!
Related older Y2K News ...
The Franklin Mountains State Park has a new Super also. Located in the center of El Paso, FMSP is pretty cool for a desert high altitude park, as long as you accept the fact that all the rock in the park is useless, suicidal choss and one should only hike or mountain bike. The new Super's first action after taking the job was to start the process of restricting access to FMSP.
For example, the TPWD observed that many El Pasoans go hiking in the part of the Franklins that are outside the FMSP, but on military land. At times, these hikers enter the FMSP (unknowingly), as they go up the mountain and cross the boundary. Those of you not from El Paso need to be aware that this has been happening for decades, and the military never cared, even though there is supposed to be dangerous unexploded ammo all over the place up there. There has never been an injury resulting from unexploded ammo in the Franklins. So, is it just a coincidence that the Army is now suddenly patrolling the mountain, busting hikers?
Also, a large group of mountain bikers and hikers have developed a beautiful network of single-track biking and hiking trails on the West Side of the park, partly on private land, partly on FMSP land. The area is about 8x18 miles in size, and was already crisscrossed with old jeep trails. The new single tracks are gorgeous - contoured, winding, and are a joy to travel over. Naturally, this makes the trails and those who use them a target for the TPWD. The TPWD's official position is that the trail users are damaging the environment and trespassing on private and State land. Insiders know what the REAL problem is - the people are not paying the entrance fee! Not that they can't afford it or don't want to pay, but the park closes at 5:00 p.m., despite years of protests that closing at 5:00 PM keeps most working El Pasoans from using their park. So, the rangers sit on Trans Mountain road, looking at all the happy riders far below. Since the rangers are loath to stir from the comfort of their trucks, nabbing the nimble bikers is problematic. Frustrated and feeling powerless, one Ranger decided to confront the riders as they departed the parking lot the bikers use. Rumor has it that he exceeded his authority by detaining some bikers even though they were not on State land. Riders were forced to sit, and in some cases were forced down, on the chilly ground without proper clothing and were not permitted to move around for about 45 minutes while the Ranger did his SS impersonation. Several of the riders are filing official complaints, and other riders who happen to be in law enforcement - Border Patrol, FBI - are itching for their own chance to be "detained" by this particular Ranger. Now, "Keep Out" signs are being put in, doing more damage to the environment than the trails did.
But - Always Remember ... remember, government is your friend!