Photograph by Bobby Model, National Geographic
It’s the climber’s equivalent of Mecca: Every winter, between November and March, thousands of climbers from across the world make the pilgrimage to Hueco Tanks, an 860-acre (348-hectare) bouldering area outside El Paso, Texas, with more than 2,000 problems—and counting. It’s renowned for its dry, sunny weather, bombproof igneous rock, and fantastical rock formations that make for endlessly challenging climbing.
Though the problems get as hard as V15—picture holds the size of a housefly on an overhanging rock—the beauty of Hueco Tanks is that there’s such an abundance, variety, and concentration of problems that a veteran and a newbie can challenge themselves within spitting distance. The atmosphere, therefore, is decidedly inclusive and laid-back. Whether you arrive with friends or solo, seasoned or brand-new, you’re virtually guaranteed a personal cheering section.
A large part of the experience is staying at the ten-acre (four-hectare) Hueco Rock Ranch, a campground, guesthouse, pro shop, and gathering spot where climbers often camp for months. It’s an immersion into come-as-you-are climber culture: Each night climbers of all stripes break out instruments, fire up the grill, and gather around a bonfire. Keep an eye out for familiar faces: Here, the woman who just offered you a beer could very well be climbing legend Lynn Hill.
Need to Know: Hueco Rock Ranch (www.huecorockranch.com) offers camping for $5 per person per night as well as services like a kitchen, showers, and guided bouldering tours. Private rooms are $30 per person and shared bunks are $20 per person. Discounts are available for extended stays.