Pete Zavala aka "Hueco Pete" 1940 ... August 2, 2006
We are sad to report that Pete is no longer with us. Pete, (Pedro Zavala Jr.) died on August 2, 2006, on a day when El Paso experienced record rainfall and widespread flooding. Aside from a tour of duty in the United States Navy, he spent all 66 of his years on this planet in El Paso, much of it near Hueco. His parents were Pedro Ramos Zavala & Paula Amaya Zavala, both deceased. His wife Enriqueta Herrera Zavala aka "Queta" still lives in the trailer beside the infamous, now closed, Hueco Tanks Country Store.
Pete had several children. His eldest son, Pedro Martin Zavala, died in 2005; this tragedy hit Pete very hard. His surviving children are his son Sergio Andres Zavala and his daughters Maria Leticia Colfer & Sandra Zavala- Brabandt. He had 10 grandchildren & 2 great grandchildren.
Pete was buried with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, at Fort Bliss National Cemetery on Monday, August 7, 2006. His pallbearers were Michael Zavala, Christian Zavala, James Colfer, Ray Brabandt, Jessie Sarmiento & Fernie Herrera III.
Queta told me that Pete wanted "all the climbers to know that he loved them all, they were special to him, and that the best part of his life was the years he ran the store for them". Queta said that he often referred to us as "his climbers", and was truly interested in each of our climbing successes. He never stopped being amazed at the the feats of strength and bravery that occurred daily at Hueco, and was proud to do his part to make it possible.
In contrast to the day he died, Monday was fabulously clear and beautiful, a typical El Paso day with a brilliant blue sky sprinkled with a few snow-white clouds.
The Fort Bliss National Cemetery in North East El Paso is a quiet, beautiful place where the grid formed by the rows of thousands of headstones creates patterns that blur into the distance. After his headstone is in place, Huecotanks.com will provide a photo and locator map for climbers desiring to pay final respects when visiting Hueco.
Only a few climbers were present for the ceremony - Greg Burns, Jaime, Chris and Hanna Robertson, and myself. We understand that the hundreds of climbers who would have liked to attend (and would have been there had this sad event occurred back in the heyday of climbing at Hueco) had no way of knowing about it.
Pete's health deteriorated after the ill-conceived 1998 PURP ruined his business, leading to the closure of the Hueco Tanks Country store in 2000. He had at least one heart bypass surgery and was also diabetic. Despite his health problems, he remained cheerful and irascible to the end.
Huecotanks.com and local El Paso Climbers are appealing to everyone who knew Pete to donate money. Queta is struggling financially and her property is in danger of being seized by the County for taxes due; her trailer home is on the property of the Hueco Tanks Country Store. We are in the process of setting up an official bank account with her son Sergio as the trustee, but you can donate immediately by sending your check to:The picture on the right was taken in 1999, during an interview where we talked about the affect of the PURP on his business, and the reaction of climbers to the new rules. Here's an excerpt from that conversation:
"So - no tents at all in parking lot? No one staying here?"
Queta: "Not even one!"
"Tell me what this has done to your business."
Pete gave a wry chuckle and said, "I figure I am going to have to close it down or sell it or something - there's no business."
"Can you give me any kind of numbers - 50%, 10%, 5% of last years? What would you say?"
He paused and with that special subtle tone Pete reserves for stupid questions, answered "Zero percent of last years business - zero percent!" Queta chimed in , "It's terrible! We have been struggling a lot, we have been selling our equipment, to keep going."
"Pete, I have heard the TPWD claiming that they are getting a lot of reports that the climbers are happy, that they like the new system, that the reservations are the way to go. What have you heard from climbers that you have talked to?"
Queta jumps in forcefully, "They don't like it any way!". Pete adds with a disgusted look, "I talk to all kinds of climbers. Foreign Climbers. They don't like it - they can't get in. They can't get reservations. They are very unhappy. I've talked to American climbers who have come in, they have been here before, and they don't like the new system. They can't get in, they won't let them in."
He continues, "I talked to the…used to be "snow birds" coming in for winter, and they don't like it cause they tell me, they tell me that the uh … people at the park, they are not the same as before, they're not really friendly like before."
"What do you think about the current efforts to try to get some or all of the park transferred to control by the Tiguas?
Pete then gave me another one of his famous looks - the "OK, you are still wet behind the ears, but because I like you I will explain it to you one more time instead of just grunting and turning back to what I was doing", look.
Its like any other bureaucracy in this world" he says, shaking his head. "When they have a need, they make a lot of promises, and then after it is said and done, they shaft you!"
Queta sighs, "We just don't know what to say anymore. We don't think much … we just don't know what is going on."
Pete's involvement with climbers started around 1982, when Todd Skinner approached him about using the upstairs portion of the hut as a crash-shack. According to local climber Don Morril, "Skinner offered to clean the place in return for free use of the upstairs. Story has it that Todd got some cats from the El Paso Humane Society and let them loose. They disappeared down a hole in the floor and ate rats for a month."
As time went on, more and more climbers "discovered" Pete's - it was hard to miss, on the left about a mile outside the entrance. Legendary for squalor and lack of amenities and sanitation, it was nevertheless "the" place to stay from 1986 to 1998, in large part because of Pete's personality and generosity. Many an impoverished climber was allowed to stay, and even eat, without being charged - "pay me when you can". Pete's cooking was simple but tasty traditional Mexican food - tamales, burritos, gorditas and the rest. For years and years, it was the tradition to stop by on the way back to town for beer and food, capping off what seemed like a never-ending stream of satisfying climbing days. His business really took off in the early 1990's with the annual Hueco Tanks Rock Rodeos that were held each spring on the last Saturday in February.
Many now famous climbers wintered at Pete's; some worked in the store and kitchen to pay for room and board. In the late 1990's, Dean Potter was camp host and backup cook, long before his name began appearing regularly in the climbing rags. Bobbie Bensman, Lynn Hill, Jim Karn and Tim Toula were just a few of the other "big" names that braved the lice and bacteria of the "upstairs" at Pete's.
Pete did what he could to fight the 1998 PURP, attending most of the useless "planning" meetings that were held in El Paso, including one of the last in July of 1998. Pete and Queta were there 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 (a high-priced consultant that was on the payroll of the Tiguas) was kind of freaked out by Pete, and was skeptical when Pete talked about his international fame. What is funny is that Pete was more famous than Dr. Greenberg, as evidenced by a quick Internet search. To find Dr. Greenberg required hunting for about 5 minutes, but a search on "Hueco Pete" yielded dozens of valid hits!
We will miss him terribly.
The remainder of this web page is devoted to the various tidbits of Pete's-related information that appeared on Huecotanks.com over the years.
1997 Rock Rodeo - the last of the "original" Rock Rodeos sponsored by the EPCC
Below: Pete never recovered from the 1998 PURP
The Park rangers reported that one of Pete's sons passed away recently. His place is permanently closed. Pete can occasionally be seen delivering water and supplies to his trailer.
Local climbers are investigating the possibility of helping Queta re-open the HuecoTanks Country Store & Restaurant. Will have additional information ASAP.
Pete can be seen in his blue truck every once in a while. His place is still closed.
Pete's seems to be closed. No tents or cars have been sighted at his place for over 5 months. He is unable to take any catering work and is no longer cooking on Sundays. We had hoped he could supply tamales for the November 8 "Red Bull Rock Jam", but the most recent reports are that he had to decline.
I spoke with Queta in early November, but the news was not good. Pete continues to have heart trouble, and the doctors have essentially thrown up their hands and told him that there is not much they can do. Queta is trying to keep the store open for the season, but she is taking things on a day-day basis. You can still camp, and she may have been able to stock some basic staples, but you should call first to get the latest. Her phone number is 915-857-5467. Any business you can send their way will be greatly appreciated!
Business at Pete's went through a peak around the end of February and has started to taper off. However, he had a much better season this year than last year. Climber visitorship is up at Hueco, and while it is still about a tenth of what it was in the pre-PURP days, there are noticeably more climbers at Hueco, and thus at Pete's. Competition from Robert Rice's Hueco Rock Ranch has probably affected Pete's numbers, but Pete's also tends to attract the more impoverished, squalor-tolerant climbers (such as myself) so there is not as much competition as you might think.
Pete's seems to be making a comeback! I saw at least 15 tents and 10 vehicles there today, and John reported that Pete was selling gordita plates for $5.00 on Friday.
I heard secondhand that Pete is making tamales on the weekends, and that some climbers are pitching tents at his place.
Pete is still in business, partially. The store is only "open" on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and there is no interior dining, etc. Pete has had more heart problems, and was in the hospital in February. I have not seen Queta for some time, and I heard from Jamey that she also is ill and having to care for her mother in El Paso. This Sunday the door was locked when I went by to visit around 3:00pm, but there were several tents in the lot and the place did not look deserted. Please send them donations - the TPWD's oppressive policy has effectively shut them down. He was there for us for so many years - let's try to help him now. He is too proud to take a handout. You will have to figure out creative ways of getting the cash to him. I suggest putting some $$ in an envelope and sending it to: Huecotanks Country Store, attn. Pete Zavala, 6011 Huecotanks Road, El Paso TX, 79938. If you don't include a name or a return address, then he won't be able to send it back to you!
You can still camp at his place, and while the energy of the past is not there, it is still a much better place than camping at the 'Tanks themselves. Camping at Pete's is not for prima-donnas. You must accept squalor. At least you won't have the guilt of knowing your camping fees are aiding the bureaucracy that thinks your very presence in the park is harmful. Pete asks for a $2.00/night donation (give him more!), but he never turns anyone away. There are no facilities - that includes water, electric and sanitation, although you can get water and use the bathroom when he is there cooking tamales.
As far as food goes, Pete is focusing on his famous tamales, which are available on weekends for $7.00/dozen. I can personally testify that they are some of the most wonderfully delicious, fattening objects you will ever consume. Pete has started to stock some basic items such as dark beer and rice.
From late December 2000 to mid-January 2001, there were at least six tents every day at Pete's. Over a dozen were pitched on 1.1.01, and there seems to be a small community forming. WARNING: Sanitation is a BIG problem. The trash barrels are overflowing (someone get a truck and make a run to the dump!), and the feces-zones are disgusting. Campers are urged to bring self-contained toilets if possible; if not please bag all waste and dispose of it properly!
On 11.21.00, there were several tents & campers sighted, and a small but merry group of climbers were observed enjoying the evening campfire.