This open letter was sent in August 1998 to various state and local officials, urging a halt to the implementation of the Public Use Concept for Hueco Tanks State Park, and requesting consideration of the recommendations of The Access Fund and the climbing community. At the time the letter was sent, the EPCC had already realized that all was lost and that the PURP was about to be forced on us. In the original, the green text labled "Forward" appeared at the end of the letter.
How can one relate in a few words the experiences of more than a thousand visits over a period 25 years? If I were to make a mental movie, and picked just three seconds from each day, the movie would be an hour long.
So many beautiful memories of climbing on the worlds best rock…the "yes!" of finally getting that problem you have worked on for so long…a bat in a crack…lunch at a belay…freezing in the shade on a winter morning on Indecent Exposure…meeting Fred Nakovic for the first time at Mushroom boulder in the late '70s.. meeting Mike Head for the first time, and listening in amazement while he climbs the air with his hands as he fires off beta on all the frontside routes - at the time, my partner and I still regarded most of the classic lines as unclimbable!…a golden beam of lazy afternoon sunlight in the Round Room…the joy in the face of my three year old as she scrambles up a Hueco-studded boulder that looks as if it were designed for training kids to climb…Bob Miles…Patrick Edlinger at the Mushroom Boulder, near the El Murrays, responding placidly to another climber's heated complaint about the unleashed dog that just bit him, " But eet eees not mah dog."…( I guess you had to have been there !) Gary Ryan ~ 92?, pulling a nameless V8 roof in the West Mountain in a cloud of sunlit chalk dust…"local boy" Albert unroped solo of Wyoming Cowgirl in pink Lycra…the shock and surprise as the bomber hold breaks off in my hand and I plummet backward off of Lunatic Friends, watching the rock stream upwards faster and faster till the rope comes tight with a surprisingly gentle tug…the first sighting of the Devil's Butthole…the feeling of pride when I finally led after many years of psyching, the second pitch of Purple Microdot…Dick Cilly hawking his wares from his van in front of Mushroom Boulder…The wonderful, fluid feeling you get when you do the "Twisted" problem on the south side of Mushroom boulder…running out the first pitch of Sea of Holes…the soft touch of her hands and body, as gentle as the breeze that sighs through the secluded sunlit grotto…soloing cakewalk on a sunny afternoon, for the zillionth time…Finally! (YES!) getting the guts to do the easy jug-haul on Scary boulder unroped…explaining to interested tourists "how do you get those ropes up there in the first place?"….the &^%$^%$ rope is snagged again in this f'ing wind….a day spent wandering with only shoes, shorts, and chalk bag…the Frontside on a perfect spring morning, every route in action, the air filled with happy shouts and good-natured banter, music playing from boom-boxes below, the smell of BBQ drifting up to me at the belay from a family below at a picnic table… Mark Pearson, taking advantage of an unattended (so he thought) picnic table to scoop a giant chunk of birthday cake with his hand as he walked by en-route to the next climb - only to be caught in the act by the VERY unhappy Mexican patriarch of the family…top ropes everywhere on Rock Rodeo day…Tequila, Guitars, and bongo drums late at night in the Cueva de Leon…finally sending Three-Star Arete …stumbling upon the entrance to Cueva De Leon, quite by accident, on my very first visit to the 'Tanks in 1974, marveling at the way the light dripped down the walls in a liquid, bluish way…
Does anyone understand what is being lost here? Does anyone care?
Good-bye, Beloved Hueco Tanks. Never again to watch the setting sun in July from atop the West Mountain. (Because the in July the sun sets at 9:00p and the Park closes at 7:00) Never again to gaze skyward in amazement in October as a huge spiral of vultures does the yearly day-before-migration dance, circling high above the rocks in a vast vortex. Never again to watch the sun peek over the top of the Big Buttress on a spring morning. Never again to hear the happy sounds of laughter and success of a Dragons Den full of happy boulderers. Gone will be the pleasure of meeting climbers from all over the world. Never again to enjoy a picnic lunch in the Gold Mine with my little one, just "Daddy and Me". Never again to be languishing in the heat and humidity of El Paso only to spot a thunderstorm forming over the 'Tanks and rush out there on short notice, to marvel at the waterfall that forms on Cakewalk - to huddle in a cave, dry and snug while the rain and lightning rage outside…
All this will be no more.
All things must pass. Hueco is relatively young in geologic terms - only 30+ million years old. It will probably be gone in 100 million years, either buried or eroded away. We should enjoy it while it exists. Too bad my little one won't be able to experience it as I have. I at least have happy memories; all she will have is the heartbreak of not being able to climb with Daddy when she is big, as I have been promising her.
She will get over it.
I just returned from a Working Committee Meeting hosted by the TPWD in El Paso, TX on July 22, 1998. The stated purpose of the two day workshop was to "assist the TPWD staff as they work through the details necessary for development of operational instructions and procedures that reflect the public use concept." Two" identified and sanctioned" representatives from "previously invited" interested organizations such as the Franklin Mountains wilderness coalition, Friends of Hueco Tanks, The Tigua Indians, The Mescalero Indians, The Access Fund, and the El Paso Climbers' Club were present for the first day of the workshop. Agenda items for Day One included Special Use Permitting, Commercial Use Permitting, and Volunteer/Orientation/Education Programs.
Before I get into the details, I must confess that participating in the Working Committee was one of the most frustrating, depressing, and unpleasant experiences of my adult life. This entire situation should be documented and become a standardized case study in bureaucracies out-of-control and the failure of Representative Democracy to preserve fundamental, Constitutionally guaranteed, liberties.
I apologize for not getting the full names of all the participants. I am sure that the attendee list will be available from the TPWD if anyone cares. I remember the following people:
David Ing, TPWD archaeologist, Pat (a lady from the Historical Commission??) , Dwight ?? - headed the meeting - he is a regional TPWD director, I think, Delton Daugherty, a high-level TPWD executive, Bill Silver from FOHT (I think), John Sproul from the Sierra Club and FMWC, Ray Sierra , Hueco Tanks Park Superintendent, a lady from the El Paso Archaeological Society, Norma Chavez (Texas State Representative) two officials from the Tigua Tribe: the War Chief - I think his name is Manny, and another guy who I believe was the actual Chief of the tribe, a Dr. Greenberg (he is a Cultural Anthropologist - I am uncertain what group he was with, but he sat at the Tiguas' table), the El Paso City Director of Parks and Recreation. Climbers were represented by Dave Head, James Robertson (President of EPCC), Jason Spier, Steve Crye, Dr. Jeff Drucker (UTEP Physics Prof.), and Greg Burns. The access fund was represented by Scott Jerger and a lady lawyer who works for the local DA's office prosecuting child abuse cases.
Dwight of the TPWD started the meeting by stating that we had to stick to the agenda, try to cooperate, not discuss the merits of the plan, but instead focus on the details of the agenda items. He read a letter from TPWD Executive Director Andrew Sansom that had the same unyielding theme: "…There is nothing to be gained…by arguing the merits of the Public Use Concept.". He then opened the meeting to discussion of the first item, the Special Use Permits.
Disagreements started right away. Several climbers' representatives, including me and representatives of the aboriginal peoples, objected to the tone of the letter, because we still have BIG problems with the "Public Use Concept". The TPWD representatives did not like our challenges to the plan in general, and kept trying to restrict the debate to the agenda items, but that was impossible - there are just too many problems with the plan!
The proposed changes to the Special Use Permit system would still require that the members of the aboriginal tribes phone in for a reservation; in effect, this means asking for permission to worship. Dr. Greenberg spoke up right away on this issue, taking exception to the entire concept of the Tiguas having to get permission to go to Hueco.
Dr. Greenberg is a well-spoken person with interesting views, some OK, some very disturbing. I found this on the Internet, and I am fairly certain he is the person described:
Adolph M. Greenberg, professor of anthropology, affiliate professor of botany
Phone: (513) 529-4282
Office: 202 C JHN (M)
Ph.D. (1978) Wayne State University
Dr. Greenberg's research interests include ethnoecology, natural resource anthropology, and ethnomedicine. He has extensive fieldwork experience in northern Ontario and central Mississippi, and has served as a research consultant to various indigenous and governmental agencies. A central theme in Dr. Greenberg's research is developing methodologies to investigate resource management practices of resident populations in conservation areas.
Publications in Ethnohistory,Journal of Family Relations, Central Issues in Anthropology, and Cultural Survival Quarterly.
I voiced support for the Tiguas position on this issue, for completely different reasons than theirs - I feel that ALL persons deserve unrestricted access to all public land, period. This right is basic, is not "granted", but can only be infringed, and has nothing to do with who ones ancestors were or the country you happen to live in. I kept my mouth shut about my objections to another key aspect of the Tiguas' position - their insistence that after a "cultural landscape" study is done and all the sensitive cultural sites identified, that some areas would be close to non-aboriginals, i.e. Anglos need not apply, nor Hispanic, or Asian, etc. Representative Norma Chavez, and indeed most of the people in the room seemed to support this goofy idea, or if they disagreed, seemed to not want to get bogged down on the issue.
It was at this point, very early in the day, that I began to have a bad feeling about the workshop, and the philosophy of some of the participants, Representative Chavez and Dr. Greenberg among them. That anyone could seriously entertain the concept that it is valid to restrict access to public land based on a persons ancestry - in effect condemning a person for a variation of original sin - is completely outside my capacity for empathy and understanding. Don’t they see that this kind of race-based discrimination is never right? How can they tell me that my little four year old girl should not go to a particular place, because her mere presence is somehow offensive to them? Even when they are not physically present at the same time? This is bigotry, pure and simple, and any arguments that try to justify the bigotry by conjuring up past injustices to aboriginal people are irrelevant and invalid. The silly idea that the "rock gods" are somehow displeased by the presence of a non-aboriginal is a good example of why we need separation of church and state! If, in the 20th century, people still want to believe that there are Rain Gods and Wind Gods and Gods that control every other well-understood phenomenon, that’s fine with me, but don’t tell me that I can't travel freely over public land, assuming that I don’t unreasonably impact the land as I travel over it, just because a group of people have fantasies about supernatural beings that object to my presence. I say "prove it". It seems obvious to me that denying access to a piece of public land based on a persons race or religion is clearly unconstitutional, and all such closures must be temporary or voluntary. I made this point several times, and I could tell it did not sit well with Dr. Greenberg or the Tiguas.
But, having said that, I actually feel friendlier toward the Tiguas than I do the TPWD. I am seriously considering joining the campaign for the Tiguas to gain full ownership of the park, if for no reason other than to spite the TPWD.
After much argument, the group more or less agreed to some points regarding the Special Use Permits: 1.) No restrictions or notifications will be required of aboriginal people using the 'Tanks for religious purposes. Such persons will be required to present a BIA identification card to prevent fraudulent access 2.) Access is first come, first served. 3.) Fees will be waived for Special Use Groups.
The Tiguas and Dr. Greenberg repeatedly made the assertion that "Anglo archaeologists are not qualified to identify sensitive cultural sites", and that a "Cultural Landscape Study" should have been done long before the draft of the Public Use Concept was formulated. They also don't like the term "rock art" to describe the symbols of their religion that were painted on the rock by their ancestors. They could not offer an alternative term, obfuscating about how any term would be in the native language of the particular aboriginal tribe involved with that symbol, and that not all the symbols are from the same tribes, so there are many different words for them.
It became apparent that the TPWD representatives were not really listening and understanding our points. Jason specifically chided Delton and Dwight for interrupting him, for formulating his reply before hearing all that Jason had to say, and not answering his questions.
Dwight constantly objected to our raising the issue of numerical limits during the Special Use Permit discussion period. Even though we explained it using short, simple, sentences, he just could not understand that the two were tightly linked. They are related because if the overly restrictive numerical limits were raised (by at least an order of magnitude) to reasonable levels, there would be no need for most of the special use permits in the first place!
David Ing responded to a question by Dr. Greenberg about why the cultural landscape study had not been done. Ing responded by saying he had wanted one for some time but had been unable to obtain funding.
Pete (Hueco Pete) and Queta were also there, not as participants, but in the back of the room listening. Pete piped up with a complaint that the local business community and the El Paso Tourism people had not been invited. Pete correctly pointed out that the constant threats by the TPWD to completely close the 'Tanks in effect were threats to put him out of business. Dr. Greenberg was kind of freaked out by Pete, and was skeptical when Pete talked about his international fame. What is funny is that I bet Pete is more famous than Dr. Greenberg! To test, I did a quick Internet search comparison. To find Dr. Greenberg I had to hunt for about 5 minutes, but when you search on "Hueco Pete" you get dozens of valid hits for Pete! Hee hee….
After returning from lunch the first topic was Commercial Use Permits. Dwight read the proposal and opened the floor for discussion; I immediately objected that the entire concept and need for permits and guides is the result of the flawed plan to close most of the park to unescorted access. I could sense and hear the irritation on the part of the TPWD and Ms. Chavez when we attacked the plan. They just don't understand that the plan as a whole is totally flawed and should be scraped, and that it is impossible to try to fine-tune any portion of the plan, since it is so bad.
John Sproul asked about guide permits for nonprofit groups. He was informed that would fall under the volunteer guide portion of the plan, to be discussed later in the afternoon.
I proposed that what was needed is a category of user called "trustee" - person who is trusted to not harm the park, and should therefore be granted unrestricted access for himself only, but not have the ability to guide others or be required to do service such as trash pickup, etc. None of the TPWD people liked that idea very much. This led to a heated exchange between Dwight , Delton, Ing and I - they insisted that my mere presence in the park was a drain on precious resources, no matter how careful I was. When I asked them what specific resource I would be depleting, they first tried to tell me I would cause erosion. They were baffled initially by my insistence that I don’t cause erosion because I stay on marked trails or rock surfaces only. They lamely claimed that the "rock erodes also", so I asked them to show me some studies documenting erosion of rock at Hueco due to foot traffic, and to also show me where that had been identified as a problem. They grudgingly admitted that they could not do so, but kept insisting, without being able to give an example, that I would still be "using resources". They tried to tell me I would be using park water - until I reminded them that there was no water in the park!
The underlying theme becomes more and more apparent - they just don’t want people in there who don’t "think right". As long as you don’t want to climb, but instead are a fat tourist that wants to marvel at painting by an aboriginal or gaze at a bird, that's fine. They certainly don’t want young, happy, in-shape climbers having fun there - that's just not a respectful use of the resource.
Dave Head asked if it would be possible for a guide service, that employs more than one guide, to train those guides en masse in a single two-day orientation session, and for one fee, instead of having to pay separate fees for each guide. The benefit, Dave went on, would be that a guide service could then offer more guides per person in a group, improving the control over the group, etc. Once again, it took a while for Delton to comprehend what Dave was driving at, and then once they understood, they did not like the idea of waiving the fees. They suggested that there was a slim chance that a reduced fee (from $250/year to perhaps $100/year) might be possible, but it would have to be reviewed, and would not be fair to the equestrian or mountain biking guides, etc. I pointed out that if they don’t implement Dave's suggestion, there would be nothing to prevent a guide service from sending one guide to the orientation, even though the service employs more then one guide. As long as the group is guided by one guide that has paid the fee and been trained, the other guide employees of the guide service could sign on the group as "clients", then once they were in the park, could still work as assistants to the "real" guide. They bristled at my suggesting such a "loophole". I responded that I thought the purpose of these workshops was to work out the details of the plan.
Dave Head objected to the arbitrary numerical limits on the size of a group based on the "purpose" of the group's visit - a max of 25 if the group was there for educational purposes, 10 if they were there for recreational purposes. Delton said that the TPWD felt that it would be possible to control a larger group of birdwatchers or rock art tourists than climbers or hikers, and that they based that judgment on experiences at other Texas parks. We again reminded them that Hueco is unique in the world, not just Texas, and it needs unique solutions. Dave offered that he had guided groups of 20 in the past with little difficulty. It was pointed out that training people to climb is a form of education, and that it is impossible to precisely classify activities at Hueco, offering as an example the fact that birders have to hike and scramble to get to where they watch the birds, and that in fact, everyone at the park has to hike, and there is much overlap.
The TPWD and others are so confused about what climbing at Hueco is all about, that they just can't see the points we are making. There was animated discussion about what climbing is, how it is indefinable, why Hueco rock is so unique, why the TPWD seems to constantly single out and discriminate against climbers as a group. No agreement could be reached. The Tiguas and Dr. Greenberg were mostly silent during the entire discussion of Commercial Use Permits.
I asked if there was a minimum group size for commercial tours, for example, would a group size of zero be permissible? They blinked and gave us that confused puppy-dog look. I elaborated, saying that could I get a Commercial use permit, and make a reservation to guide a group of size 0, (i.e. just me) to the Round Room?
Ooooh, they did not like that! They excitedly accused me of trying to subvert the system, saying that this kind of wrong-thinking would be identified and quashed when the plan was reviewed in a years time. I responded that it was the TPWD causing all the problems by banning me from the West Mountain in the first place. That led to another round of arguing about how the working committee was not here to debate the merits of the public use concept, etc., etc.
Pat voiced concern that looters and tomb robbers could masquerade as guides to do their evil deeds. She is also concerned about the damage and erosion from crash pads. I agreed that some climbers might trample the vegetation, and that is a reason why trustees like myself should be allowed unrestricted access, since the trustees act as volunteer Rangers, and can help prevent rule violations like throwing a crash pad on a bush. They just rolled their eyes, again not willing to concede that the mere presence of a responsible climber could be beneficial.
I was sorely tempted to argue the entire point that human erosion is bad, but natural erosion is good - I am definitely in the camp that believes that man's impact on the environment is frequently smaller than nature's, and can offer examples where rockslides have taken out major sections of trail - trail that the USFS would not let us ride mountain bikes on because of "erosion danger". In a few seconds, the rockslides took out hundreds of feet of trail, denuding square miles of terrain of all vegetation. I could have ridden that trail for years, and all my "erosion" would now be buried under rock.
I kept my mouth shut about that.
Jason said that the requirement of 72 hours notice for bringing a group to the park could be a hardship for local guides, and offered examples.
After a break, the topic was Volunteer Guide Permits. Bill Silver (of FOHT, I think) started the session by describing volunteer services currently in place at Hueco. He talked about the Interpretive Fair, the Buffalo Soldiers, dancers, people who pick up trash, work behind the counter, start gazing, birding and rock-art tours, etc.
As we discussed the details of the proposal, the climbers and Norma Chavez, to give her credit, let the TPWD know that the proposal was not similar to what had been previously agreed - that the Volunteer Guide System would be to enable noncommercial guiding by having the volunteer guides be trained in the same manner as the Commercial guides, subject to all the same rules and privileges, but not permitted to charge for their service. The proposal on the table was different - Volunteer guides would be expected to work and would only be allowed to go to a specific site as designated by the park staff. This again led to discussion of how the presence of responsible users in the park is a benefit to the park, with the TPWD again not getting it.
Jeff Drucker kept trying to pin them down, and they pretty much admitted that Volunteer Guides would not be allowed to go to closed areas to climb, just to pick up trash or do whatever work that Ray has for them. They tried to tell us that they were going to define "climbing" to be any travel off of a marked trail route, even if the rock was horizontal! Preposterous!
In an attempt to change the subject, I raised my hand to offer a suggestion about the content of the both the mandatory orientation and the 2-day training for the guides. I asked that in addition to cultural history, visitors should be taught the history of rock climbing at Hueco, the international importance of it as the best bouldering area in the world, the unique quality of the rock, etc. This resulted in expressions of scorn and exasperation from Ms. Chavez and the TPWD representatives ( Dr. Greenberg and the Tiguas kept their poker faces). It was obvious that they intended the orientation to be an attempt to ram their cultural views down the throats of the visitors, and the idea that there was any valid history other than that of the aboriginals had either never occurred to them or had been discounted. They dutifully noted my suggestion.
As the discussion grew ever more heated, the TPWD and Bill Silver kept hinting that "we could just close the park again", and that the TPWD was being so nice to try to keep it open for the climbers, and that we should quit fighting them, and that if we keep bringing up problems with the proposals they might just get dropped altogether, and that sleeping dogs should just be left lying, etc. This really stirred things up - we exclaimed that the TPWD had invited us here for the express purpose of hashing out these kind of details, and how we deeply resented being treated like children and being threatened with the closure of the park when we complain!
Norma Chavez accused the EPCC of "stacking the spring Public Hearing with hundreds of climbers" and she said that that the time being wasted today was another example of the political efforts by the climbing community to derail the public Use Concept. We hotly objected to the use of the term "waste of time" in referring to the workshop, and also pointed out that the purpose of the public hearing was to solicit input, (that was completely ignored anyway by the TPWD), and that the hundreds of climbers from Hueco Tanks had showed up because they heard about the meeting and wanted to attend, not due to any "stacking" on our part.
Jason reminded them that the actual plan, released after a period of public comment on the draft plan (comment that was overwhelmingly unfavorable) was MORE restrictive than the draft plan, and therefore what was the value of cooperating with the TPWD?
Chavez and Dwight again told us that if we kept pushing, it would just go harder for us.
That was the last straw for me. I mumbled something like "It's obvious that the TPWD doesn’t want my opinion, and does not want me at the park", gathered my papers, and quietly walked out. It was 4:00p, so I missed the last 1/2 hour of the meeting.
Loosing a loved one is always painful, particularly when the death is long, slow, and lingering.
The TPWD is a cancer eating the life from Hueco Tanks. The cancer was first detected in 1987, and was treated aggressively by the EPCC and The Access Fund, resulting in it going into remission. The period from 1988 to the early 90's was the Golden Age of Climbing at Hueco Tanks - bolts were allowed, you could drive right up to the frontside, it stayed open till 10:00p - there was camaraderie and good feeling like no where else in the world.
Then the cancer came out of remission. It was treated, but the patient was permanently injured - silly, useless rules went into effect, like the backcountry use form, the fee to "climb" (never defined), the 60 car limit, the ban on use of bicycles on paved (!) surfaces, closing before sunset, etc.
Now, the 'Tanks are terminally ill. The end could come any day, or she might linger for a few more years. It is very sad. Visiting the patient nearly breaks my heart, knowing that death is so near.
What does a person do while a loved one slowly slips away? It is only human to cling to hope - grasping at any straw that seems to offer a chance. That is why I agreed to attend the working committee meeting - it was the equivalent of that clinic in Juarez that Steve McQueen went to for the coffee enemas that did not work. When one is terminal what is there to loose?
But eventually, one has to let go - accept defeat, and face the Reaper. Oh sure, I will probably continue to go out to Hueco after the damn plan is in effect, play the silly reservation game, maybe even get Volunteer and Commercial guide permits, if for no other reason than the look for loopholes in the stupid rules.
But my heart won't really be into it. As wonderful as Hueco is, it is not worth a man's slavish submission to arbitrary edicts from control-freaks.
So…. Touché! Touché, all you rock-god worshiping, tree-hugging mystic subjectivists - you have won! You have succeeded in effectively eliminating climbing (for all but the few willing to put up with the over-regulation) at the best bouldering spot on planet Earth. You preyed on the apathy and ignorance of the population with enviable skill and success. You carpet-bombed the uninformed with red-herring issues like chalk and erosion, and succeeded in portraying climbers as only slightly less evil than tomb robbers. What is your next goal - to eliminate climbing on the rest of Terra also? The new ban on use of fixed anchors in the wilderness by the US Forest Service is a good start! Keep it up! Full steam ahead…….
Because I am convinced that the only way justice will prevail is for the Evil Ones to succeed in closing everything - just rope it all off - it will take that to wake the people up and make them realize that we have become slaves to those charged with managing our public land, and that we must rise up and take back our freedom.
Even if a miracle were to happen - Even if Governor Bush were to do the right thing, fire Sansom and halt this nonsense, it is only a matter of time before the cancer would be back, perhaps in the same form, perhaps new…
Until society as a whole realizes the folly of sacrificing the rights of individuals in favor of the "rights of a group" (by definition, rights cannot be granted to groups), the trend toward less freedom in the name of "group rights" will continue.
Throughout the meeting, it was painfully obvious that no one wanted to see and treat me as an individual - I was classified by some as an Anglo, by others as a climber, by still others as a member of a mainstream Western religion (until I pointed out that I belonged to no religion, whereby I was then reclassified as an Evil Atheist). No one seemed willing to acknowledge that each of us is unique, and might not share the opinions of any larger group.
Even worse than this attempt to pigeonhole me was the subsequent effort to deny or grant rights based on my classification - for example, no Anglos allowed at Tigua religious sites, climbers needing more supervision than birders, etc. This is un-American! We are supposed to be all equal! Have I woken up in an alternative Universe? I thought this was the United States!
But…I keep forgetting. It is time to let go. I have probably been spoiled by the closeness of the 'Tanks - how many times have I blown off that road trip to UT or CO or CA in favor of sleeping at home each night and bouldering all day? I guess now I will have to go check out those cool-looking places I see in the magazines.