To: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
States Parks Division
Policy and Planning Branch
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
Re: Proposed new rules at Hueco Tanks
July 1997, The Round Room, Hueco Tanks, TX:
The air is electric and dry in the sharp afternoon heat. A whisper of a breeze brings with it the drone of a cicada, outside in the mesquite below. A wide beam of sunlight almost solid in its brilliance slants down to spotlight a patch of mint, wildly green and resplendent in the corner of the Room. The emerald glow from the mint softly illuminates the underside of the huecos on the wall above. Dust motes soar through the pillars of light, surging upward in the current above the warmth of the plants, then back down in the waterfall of cool air that flows into the room from the northwest crevice.
I sit in the center of a flat, chocolate-brown hardpacked dirt floor that resonates with a basso-profundo boom in response to a footstep or the slap of a palm, hinting at unseen darkly subterranean spaces. Steadily, the solar spotlight traverses the floor and then the wall, climbing slowly and inexorably upward, focusing ones attention on the ponderously smooth rotation of the Earth. On the wall in front of me, a mud dauber is building her nest. She flies to the patch of wet mud under the drip from the NW crevice, eats a bellyful, and then flies back to the hueco where the nest is under construction, making about one trip per minute. The light rising up the wall beats time with the growth of the nest.
...a long ...short... amount of time.... passes.
(Soon / Much later / An Instant Later?) the light has risen past the top of the room and the darker cobalt blue of the sky tells me it is time to go. On the walk back, I note that the only footprints I encounter are my own, from previous trips to the Round Room in June and July. Today I have seen no other humans, the bugs and heat being too intense for both the climbers and the naturalists.
I am a network supervisor working for a local school district, married with one kid, a UTEP graduate and I am 42 years old. I have been going to Hueco Tanks since 1974 when my family moved to El Paso from Alaska. I am not exaggerating when I state that Hueco is the only thing that allows an ex-Alaskan stranded in El Paso to retain his sanity. Yes, I am a "climber", but in recent years I tend to do more hiking and bird watching than climbing. Although I am an active member of the El Paso Climbers Club and fully endorse the EPCC's official position opposing the new regulations looming over my head, I want to make it clear that the opinions expressed in this letter are my own and are not representative of the EPCC or its members.
I am deeply opposed to the proposed regulations on a fundamental philosophical level.
The new rules will be evil and immoral because they will punish the innocent, specifically me and my 3-year old daughter, for crimes committed by other people. Julie and I are not trampling the bushes, defecating in the park, defacing the rocks or climbing in closed areas. I am completely disgusted by prevalent attitude in government that the only way to control the actions of the criminal few is to restrict the freedoms of the masses. Not only is it immoral and arbitrarily autocratic, it is stupid and ineffective. From my point of view, the regulation states: "By keeping Steve and Julie away from the West Mountain, we will stop people other than them from doing bad things to it."
This is ridiculous!
And PLEASE don't whine to me that the only way to "preserve the resource" is to restrict access by everyone. - an absurd position. Hueco is unique in that 90% of the park is solid rock, impervious to erosion or other damage. To control erosion, all that the TPWD had to do was let the EPCC and the Access Fund put in the hardened trail system, and establish a firm rule that restricts all traffic to either trails or solid rock. This is the system I use now - I never step on a living plant while I am at Hueco - in sharp contrast to the careless footsteps of the park staff, who regularly trample vegetation in their ignorance of where the trails are.
It is clearly disingenuous to claim that the park has to be kept empty in order to preserve it for people to enjoy. Which people? Some future population? Why are they more deserving than me and my daughter? And of course, if the rules go into effect, there will be "user groups" who will still have full access:
* The local park staff
* The elitist anthropologists and "cultural botanists" who want it all to themselves
* any TPWD brass or 'Friends of Bill' who get special permission to play there
Lets face it: the historical and cultural aspects of the park are the least important to the vast majority of visitors. Most visitors are there to enjoy the infinite variety of shapes and visual delight that the rocks offer. They want to picnic or climb or explore or find a quiet place to snuggle. Why should a small group of whiners who rarely visit the place have the power to rob so many people of the simple pleasure of being able to wander alone through the park?
For the last ten years I have tried to be reasonable, even when dealing with people who by their own admission, do not hold reason to be the sole means of acquiring knowledge, but instead believe in insupportable nonsense like " the rocks feel pain when the climbers desecrate the Holy Sanctuary of the park". I have tried to give the TPWD the benefit of the doubt, tried to respect the bizarre and useless regulations like the prohibition of bicycles on asphalt, or the closures of boulder problems that are NOT near rock art, etc. etc.
All that I have gotten for my efforts is more restrictions on my inherent right to move freely over public land. This fundamental right is not granted by the government - it, like the right to have and bear arms, is a basic irrevocable right that precedes the existence of the State. As long as I do not cause damage by my presence, damage being defined as that which an average person would reasonably agree is damage, then I must be allowed to travel over public land. Such travel includes climbing, hiking, biking, skiing, para-sailing - whatever.
The bottom line is this: If the TPWD is so worried about damage at the 'tanks, then the TPWD should get busy and hire enough rangers to enforce the current regulations. If the TPWD does not want to spend the money to do so, then it will just have to live with the consequences. Lack of funds on the part of the TPWD does NOT give them the moral right to punish me for the crimes of others, in a stupid effort to "preserve resources". The same applies to archaeologists and anthropologists - if they don't have the time and the funds to go now to Hueco and excavate and study then I guess it's just not that important to them.
Another misguided effort at Hueco is the recent "erosion control" project. Someone has decided that perfectly natural, beautiful arroyos that form as a result of the wind and rain (and yes, to some extent, foot traffic) have to be stopped! Now, instead of cool little miniature arroyos, we have ugly and ridiculous piles of rocks and railroad ties - totally out of place and a complete waste of time and money. Mark my words, 20+ years from now those silly attempts at erosion control will still be there, right next to the new channel the water will cut to avoid the ugly little attempt at a dam! But the bigger issue is: so what if the dirt blows or washes away? This is the desert! Arroyos are great! Don't fight it; observe and learn.
After reading the proposed rules (a painful and depressing task) I ask myself: why have I wasted my time and energy picking up trash, scrubbing graffiti, and patrolling the backcountry for miscreants? Why have I endured derision and insult for chastising people for breaking park regulations such as unleashed animals or use of colored chalk? In exchange for my efforts, I am now being denied access in order to "protect the resource". What a fool I have been!
"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me".
I am not going to be fooled twice.
I now realize that there are people within the TPWD, both local and in Austin, that do not care about my rights. The fact that top TPWD brass in Austin were advised to "ignore and endure the flood of protests from climbers" and were told that the proposed rules had been developed in conjunction with the EPCC (a bald-faced lie) is evidence to support my contention. Even if the forces of good overthrow the current evil plan, the evil ones will not go away; they will not give up, and sooner or later, Hueco will be closed to me.
I used to think that recreational use of Hueco could coexist with the activities of the mystic rock-god worshipers and tree-hugging extremists. I assumed (silly me!) that they would share my attitude of tolerance. Because they have now proven they cannot be trusted and are incapable of sharing Hueco with normal people who want to use it recreationally, I realize that the designation of a Historical Park is incompatible with the real value of Hueco, which is recreational.
This Saturday I am going to take Julie to the Round Room for the first time. I had planned to wait until she was 5 or 6 and could climb up there unassisted, but since we will be denied access to it starting in November, it's now or never. I will rig a system of fixed ropes to get her in there safely.
As parts of the Park close one by one, I will continue to fight back via official channels such as letter writing and political maneuvering. Once the entire Park is closed, what should I do then? Should I meekly accept the boot of the oppressor on my neck, and unquestioningly acquiesce to a life of slavish obedience? Or should I do the right thing, and violate the closure over and over, risking arrest, jail, poverty and ruin for my family, but at least be able to look at myself in the mirror and see a man and not a caged animal?
I wish to leave you with a quote:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety
deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)
Stephen T. Crye
cc: William Palmer
States Parks Director
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744-3292
cc: The Honorable Eliot Shapleigh
800 Wyoming, Suite A
El Paso, TX 79902
cc: Representative Paul Moreno
District address: 2314 Montana Avenue
El Paso, TX 79903
cc: Representative Norma Chavez
6070 Gateway East, Suite 508
El Paso, TX 79905
778-9960; fax 778-4065
cc: Representative Patrick Haggerty
4849 N. Mesa Street #206
El Paso, TX 79912
cc: George Bush