Heritage, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 1988 Page: 18
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Treasure House of Yesterday
by Alex Apostolides
Granite formations rise from a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet above the
surrounding plain and are covered with huge boulders, piled up in every
L ooking eastward from El Paso, you'll see the long, low
line of Otero Mesa broken by a hump. This is Cerro Alto. Below
it to the west is Hueco Tanks, an oasis in the desert.
Man has been coming to Hueco Tanks for years beyond
counting-10,000 of them as far as we know, and probably for
long before. There's water here, you see-and water is the
magnet in all our desert places.
Each traveler who passed this way has left traces of his passage,
from Folsom points to rusted tin cans to the plastic debris of
today-the junk-food cartons, the bottles and the trash.
Man is a trash-producing animal, and for this the archaeologist
gives thanks. Except that yesterday's trash is more interesting.
I'd much rather run across an old wagon wheel than a tire
from one of Detroit's disasters, rather encounter a shard of
ancient pottery than a fragment of plastic flicked from a car by
a careless hand. The state park rangers at Hueco Tanks work
fulltime keeping the campground clean.
The tanks attracted people in the days before history, even as
they attract them now. And water is the key. Why do we find
water here, when most of the land around is dry? The huecos.
The speaking of only one language gives rise to redundancy.
Hueco means "tank," a hollow in the rocks where water can
collect, so saying "Hueco Tanks" is like saying "The El Patio." Go
out and learn some Spanish-hey, it's the only way you'll ever
get along in our part of the Southwest.
The Hueco Bolson which lies just east of El Paso was an inland
sea once upon a time. Otero Mesa is made of layers of limestone
formed from the tiny skeletons of billions of animals who lived
in the ancient sea. They died and their shells and skeletons
drifted to the sea bottom, turning to stone as the slow, slow years
There was a roaring sound one day from the bottom of that
ancient sea, and sudden flame leaped from the surface. The
waters heaved and parted as volcanos were born. Lava pushed
insistently upward against the overlying limestone.
We're talking about some 34 million years ago. You're looking
at an ancient landscape when you look east or west-or north
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 1988, periodical, Spring 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45435/m1/18/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.