It’s off to work I go…
I have just finished up two straight weeks of blissful vacation, where I rambled and roamed to my hearts content. I visited three National Parks, found ten things to love about Big Bend, climbed the highest mountain in Texas, and discovered pitfalls in the Bat Cave. I had so much fun on this vacation, yet I spent less money than any vacation ever.
At the first Friday night toast “To Being on Vacation” in the Balmorhea campground, I began to spring free like a rubber band that had been wound around and around into a knot. Now, as I drive toward my next destination, Hueco Tanks State Park, I can feel the band tightening with every long, desolate mile.
It’s Sunday night, and I have a knot the size of a cantaloupe in my stomach. I have to listen to that. I know some say “QUIT NOW!” while others say “QUIT WHINING!” But it is hard to let go of a job that continues to give with my every whim.
“Of all the featherless beasts, only man, chained by his self-imposed slavery to the clock, denies the elemental fire and proceeds as best he can about his business, suffering quietly, martyr to his madness.” ~ Edward Abbey
Upon leaving Sweet Oliver Lee, I had a choice of continuing on north, or turn south and loop back toward El Paso. Hueco Tanks State Park came highly recommended, though once I arrived there, I realized the recommendation may have been geared more toward “Bypass El Paso at all costs!” rather than “Don’t miss this place!”
It took me almost two hours to make a reservation. Hueco Tanks has its own special line at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Reservation Center, because they want to make sure you understand all the “rules.” They will only allow a maximum of three nights reservation, so I will need to exit the park mid-week and return for my second reservation. All these special rules should have been an indication of what was to come, but instead I thought, “Wow, what a special place it must be to have its own reservation line! I GOTTA GO THERE!”
Hueco (pronounced “Waco”) means “hollow.” The park is a grouping of rock formations that rise above the desert floor where the hollows collect rainwater, serving as a refuge for plants, animals, and humans for 10,000 years. The site was at one time inhabited by Kiowa, Mescalero Apache, and Tigua Indians, as proven by the discovery of many artifacts and pictographs. But as much as the park strives to protect that history and emphasize the “sacredness” of the area, it is the rock climbing that is the current draw. People come from all over the world to experience the climbing, particularly “bouldering,” or climbing reverse-grade rocks with no ropes or climbing gear.
I leave the Sweet Oliver Lee Memorial State Park a little early to make sure I get to Hueco Tanks in plenty of time. One of the rules relayed by TPWS reservation agent is that I must watch a 20 minute video before I will be admitted to the park which officially “closes” at 6:00pm. If I do not get there in time to complete the video and paperwork before the park closes, I will not be admitted.
I arrive at the front gate office where I am met by a mousey brown-haired, tiny woman with a Dutch Boy haircut, who barks so many rules at me, I am overwhelmed. I ask her to please slow down and repeat, because I am not accustomed to so many rules in a park. She shoves a two piece 8 ½ x 11 inch, double-sided, single spaced document across the counter containing all the rules, then tells me if I have any more questions, to ask the man at the Interpretive Center. I try smiling as I ask her if she has any favorite hikes or things to do in the park. She shoves the printed park brochure across the counter, looks past me, and shouts “NEXT!!!”
I drive down to the Interpretive Center, where I meet Jorge, a tall brown man with a long black ponytail. I am given more paperwork, and shown a 20 minute video on the park. Jorge tells me I must have a permit to walk anywhere other than the campground, and I must carry this permit with me at all times. I am also reminded that the permit is only good until 6:00pm, when I must be back within the confines of the campground. A park official will drive around at 5:30pm blowing his horn. This will be an indication that I need to get down off the mountain, and get back to the campground.
The problem is, they only give out 70 permits a day, and they are all booked up for the week. There are another 10 “walk-in” permits issued at 8:00am if I want to try for one of those each day. Or, I can try for stand-by at 10:00am. I must go through this permit process every day I am here in order to walk anywhere outside the campground.
I try to test the boundaries a bit, asking Jorge if I am allowed to walk on the paved streets without a permit, explaining my work situation and my need to get out for exercise during the day. Jorge reminds me in a gentle but somewhat scolding tone that this is a “sacred place,” and perhaps I should do a bit of “self reflection as to why you are here.”
I pull into my beautiful campsite right at the foot of North mountain as the sun begins to cast long shadows across the park. In spite of my challenge in getting a reservation here, there are only two other residents in the campground. It is 5:30pm, because I hear the horns blaring. The gates are about to be locked. The wind is starting to howl…why can’t I breathe, all of a sudden?