Dirtbag Beta: Review of the Hueco Rock Ranch

If you’re planning a trip to climb at Hueco Tanks, you basically have two options for lodging: camping inside the park, or staying at the American Alpine Club’s Hueco Rock Ranch. Of course, you could always rent a motel room closer to town, but let’s get real.

With the park campground often being entirely booked during peak bouldering season at Hueco Tanks, your best bet is to snag a campsite at the ranch. When I visited, the park was full, but the ranch had plenty of space.

The cost isn’t the cheapest, but the fees make up for it with free wi-fi, a spacious barn to cook and relax in, hot showers, and did I mention free wi-fi? The nightly rate is normally $10, but if you are an American Alpine Club or Access Fund member, you get a discounted price of $7/night.

To the Hueco Rock Ranch!

There are also a few rooms available in the main house area, but this beta is intended for dirtbags, and I doubt any of y’all are trying to get fancy.

The campsites are well laid out, and marked with numbered stones. If you’re setting up a tent, make sure you really secure it to the ground. The desert is notorious for freakishly windy weather. Car camping is also allowed, and I’d recommend it during the winter season if you aren’t experienced with cold weather camping.

Since you’re surrounded by fellow climbers, it’s safe to leave your gear out at the Hueco Rock Ranch. Many folks left their food tubs next to their tents during the day, and we left our crash pads sitting next to the van each night.

A panoramic view of our 'camp' spot at Hueco Rock Ranch near Hueco Tanks State Park.

The real attraction at the ranch is the recently renovated barn where climbers gather each evening. There are a few couches spread out, a big picnic-type table, and a sizeable kitchen to cook in. The barn has plenty of plugs, and the wi-fi is decent (but don’t bother trying to watch any climbing videos on most days). You’ll also find a library of random books, a foos ball table, and three full bathrooms in the ranch. In my opinion, the barn is what makes Hueco Rock Ranch worth the money.

Here are a few more tips for staying at the Hueco Rock Ranch:

Important Shower Beta: Do NOT use the rightmost shower. I repeat, do not use the rightmost shower unless you want to feel like you’re getting peed on. That was the first mistake I made. The second mistake? Not realizing that the hot/cold sides are switched on the shower knob. Folks, the ‘cold’ side is hot, and the ‘hot’ side is cold. You’re welcome.

Feeling hungry? The closest grocery store is Vista Mercado, a funky little Mexican market where you are highly encouraged to give yourself a taste of local food. For the best and cheapest tacos near Hueco Tanks, stop by El Pasito Meat Market. It sits inside a little gas station-type market, but it’s delicious.

Looking for ways to get into Hueco Tanks without a reservation? There’s a blog post for that! 

A Week of Bouldering at Hueco Tanks State Park

As we entered a barren landscape from the urban wasteland of El Paso, Niko and I quickly realized what we had just gotten ourselves into: a week of true desert living while bouldering at Hueco Tanks State Park.

We arrived late on Sunday afternoon, and I totally got a little giddy as Jason Khel checked us into the Hueco Rock Ranch. We paid for four nights, then scoped out a prime parking spot close to the main climber’s barn. (For more on the Hueco Rock Ranch, stay tuned for my review tomorrow!)

Our first day of climbing was brutal, in the most enjoyable way possible. A southeastern gal, I’m used to forest trails winding to boulders scattered along a field. At Hueco Tanks, the approach is an often epic hike straight up enormous granite slabs. I was admittedly wrecked within the first few hours, and spent the majority of the day watching Niko crush hard problems. At one point, Paul Robinson walked up and asked Niko for beta – pretty incredible to have spent our time at Hueco climbing amongst some of the world’s strongest boulderers, like when Niko projected a V10 with Anna Stohr and Melissa Le Neve.

Niko and I out at Hueco Tanks State Park during the Simply Adventure trip.

The next few days really picked up, and we got into a nice groove. We woke up every morning at 5:45, drove out to the gate to wait in line for a walk-on spot, made breakfast, then climbed on North Mountain for the rest of the day. In the evenings, we ate dinner in the ranch barn while I caught up on work, then promptly passed out in the van not long after the sunset.

One the third day, I found my muse: Lobsterclaw (V5). Easily my favorite route at Hueco Tanks, this Hueco-filled line sat in a small cave area secluded from everything else around it. While climbing it, we met a great couple from Minnesota, Emily and Zach, who were on a three-month trip. We instantly connected, and spent the next few days climbing together. Zach and Niko are on the same level, as are Emily and I, so it created a perfect group dynamic.

Emily cranks out of the tricky cave section on Lobsterclaw (V5) at Hueco Tanks.

The boys led the next day, egging each other on during burly climbs and crushing incredible routes. Zach shared my sentiments about Hueco being a bit polished, which was slightly disappointing but to be expected at such a popular destination. Once we started hitting more obscure climbs, the rock quality was superb.

After days of projecting Lobsterclaw, I found myself on our final day at Hueco Tanks with less than an hour before we had to leave the park. Emily and I made a lot of progress on the crux, and I finally stuck the hardest move just as time ran out.
Niko falls into the sweet undercling move on Adjust Your Attitude (V8) at Hueco Tanks State Park. Niko working Adjust Your Attitude (V8) at Hueco Tanks State Park during the Simply Adventure trip.

It wasn’t a send, but I felt fairly satisfied having at least broken through the seemingly impossible crux – I honestly hadn’t believed I’d be able to stick the move.

Moving towards the crux move on Lobsterclaw (V5) at Hueco Tanks State Park.

We celebrated the last night of our trip, which happened to be on Valentine’s Day, with authentic Mexican food at El Pasito’s Meat Market. The meal was shared with our newfound climbing couple friends, and a dude we met in line at the gate one morning, who happened to have gone to the same high school in Miami as me!

Niko and I considered a quick morning session the next day before heading to Phoenix, but when our alarm went off at 5:45 the next morning, we shut it off and went right back to sleep.

Hueco, we’ll be back.

And when I go back, I’m going to crush Lobsterclaw. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Trekking through the desert landscape at Hueco Tanks State Park during the Simply Adventure trip.

Stay tuned for more Hueco Tanks blog posts this week!

I’ll be publishing the first post in my new series “Dirtbag Beta” – the inaugural piece will give climbers the beta on how to get into Hueco Tanks without a reservation. I’ll also have a review on the Hueco Rock Ranch comin’ up soon.

Exploring Texas’ Best Outdoor Spots: Reimer’s Ranch, Pace Bend Park, and Hamilton Pool

After a short detour in Austin, we planned to meet our climbing buddy, Teresa, out at Reimer’s Ranch on a Friday morning – so Niko and I took a few rest days at Pace Bend Park during the week. This friendly slice of exceptional Texas landscape is a miniature peninsula that sits on a steep cliff line above the water. Folks kept referring to it as Lake Austin, but it looked much more like a river if you ask me.

When Teresa finally escaped Houston to join us for a weekend of climbing, we set off towards stunning, and short, sport climbing. The Reimer’s Ranch climbing crag is located about 30 minutes away from Pace Bend Park, but it’s the nearest campground to the climbing – and the drive isn’t bad. Another great aspect is that once you pay for your camping ($5/night) and day use ($10/day), your parks pass is valid for Pace Bend, Reimer’s Ranch, and Hamilton Pool.

After less than awesome bouldering at Bull Creek Run in Austin, I wasn’t expecting very much from the climbing at Milton Reimer’s Ranch Park – but I was instantly blown away. You pull up to a rather dry parking lot area, which is equipped with immaculate rest room facilities. A few yards down the trail, the scenery switches: suddenly, you’re knee-deep in what can only be described as Fern Gully. The approach to the crag takes you skipping along a little creek, which opens up into a lush area alive with ferns and thick tree trunks. I was in heaven.

Niko climbing at Reimer's Ranch park in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The climbing compliments the dreamy surroundings with pleasurable routes, unbelievably well maintained bolts and anchors, and a great climbing community. The only foreseeable compliant is in regards to the length of the routes – most are only about 40 feet tall, with four or five bolts. As a big chicken when it comes to lead climbing, I was totally content with the short climbs.

Teresa throws for a jug at Reimer's Ranch in Texas.

We hopped on a number of routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12a throughout the two days we were able to climb, and I had a blast on every line I touched, including a great 5.10 b/c/d (?) called Prototype – which I top-roped twice, “red-pointed” the second go, and really regret not leading.

The most memorable route was a 5.10a called Fat Chicks Trying To Look Sexy. It was Teresa’s unfinished project, so we both worked it until she snagged the red-point. We also gave a go at a sweet 5.12a Niko was working, named Yertle the Turtle. Neither of us ladies made it past the third bolt, but it was a nice challenge.

Most importantly, I took my first lead falls, ever. Yes, that’s right, I had never taken a fall while sport climbing before. I had a pretty good run of on-sighting every 5.10a (and below) I got my hands on, but the time came for me to put on my big girl panties and take a fall. And you know what? It ain’t so bad, y’all!

This is me, not taking a lead fall, but rather successfully climbing at Reimer's Ranch in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The plan originally included three days of climbing, but our final day was rained out, so we packed up early on Saturday evening and finished our adventure with dinner at Emcee’s Eatery – which was good, but took way too long. Fortunately, I was pretty down to have some extra time hanging out with Teresa, so I didn’t mind the monstrous wait to get my spaghetti. (If you eat there, get the burgers, so good!)

This incredible cave at Hamilton Pool Park in Texas is mind-blowing. How does it not collapse?!If you’re ever in the Austin area, Riemer’s Ranch is a must. Right up the road, you’ll find Hamilton Pool, one of Texas’ magnificent wonders. Comprised of a looming cave that hovers over an emerald pool, this destination is a popular spot during the summertime. When we visited, the water was a balmy 53º, but I was filthy so I took a quick dip to rinse my oily hair anyways.

Once again, Texas surprised us with an unexpected adventure. We weren’t very fond of our few days spent in Austin, so it was especially pleasant to discover a rolling hill country with classic climbing just outside the city.

Extra Beta: We’d highly suggest paying a visit to Bump ‘n Grindz coffee shop. A hospitable man, Marco, who welcomes you into his café with open arms, runs the joint where you can fuel up on everything from homemade soup to gelato. The coffee is strong, the outlets are plentiful, and the wi-fi is free.

Satisfying my Inner Latina at Houston’s Finest Mexican Markets

I’ve been in Texas before – too many times, if you ask me. My visits to the Lonestar State are usually long stretches of driving during hauls across the country, most noteably my May journey where I struck a black bear with my hatchback at 2:30 AM while driving in the middle of nowhere.

Really, Texas and I don’t historically get along.

The first leg of the Simply Adventure trip called for a few weeks traversing new parts of Texas, but my excitement for places like Hueco Tanks was combated by the bad taste Texas tends to leave in my mouth.

And then I got to Houston.

Niko and I stopped in the city for a day on our way out to Reimer’s Ranch near Austin. We weren’t expecting much from the day, but ended up knee-deep in an incredible culinary journey.

The first stop: Canino Produce Co.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables at Canino Produce market in Houston, Texas.

This bustling Houston hotspot is an absolute must for anyone into farmers markets. I haven’t been to all of the farmers markets in Houston, but I’d be willing to bet that this one is the best. Crowded rows of merchants line a narrow corridor where you can find everything from prickly cactus pears to thick bundles of fresh cilantro.

The best part? I didn’t speak a lick of English during my encounters with the farmers and veggie peddlers. I somehow summoned up my inner Cuban, and discussed everything from corn prices, avocado readiness, and pepper sizes entirely in Spanish.

We loaded up on multi-colored bell peppers, tall stalks of green onions, fat cherry tomatoes, and a wealth of vegetable before heading over to our next stop, which sits conveniently across the street.

My tray of goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas.

El Bolillo Bakery is the kind of place that makes you question whether you’ve been teleported into the heart of Mexico.

Picture this: You walk into a cute bakery, pick up a giant metal tray, arm yourself with a pair of tongs, then wander through a maze of cabinets, displays, and countertops littered with a dizzying amount of freshly baked goods. It is absolutely incredible.

I felt like a little girl visiting my family in Mexico City as I explored the rows of skinny churros, plump bollilo rolls, and hundreds of unidentifiable treats. While I attempted to seek out familiar confections, Niko let his curiosity take control, and loaded up on whatever items tempted his appetite. We filled our tray with a heap of sweets, and grabbed a bag fullTeresa and I show off our goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas. of the best tortillas I have ever eaten.

And it all came out to just $8.25 (including my gigantic bottle of Mexican cola). Culturally-rich, loaded with flavor, freshly baked, AND budget-friendly? Yes, please!

Afterwards, we retreated to Teresa’s house, where she cooked up an incredible taco dinner unlike any taco concoction you could imagine: I’m talkin’ tortillas filled with butternut squash, whole roasted beets, quinoa, kale, fresh arugula from her garden, and shredded queso blanco. Needless to say, I was a very happy camper after that meal.

While our stop in Houston was short, and focused largely around these two destinations, my experiences exploring the culture and food of the city’s Latino community totally changed my attitude towards Texas – an perspective that has only grown more favorable as I spent more time in this state.

Road Trip America Day 1 – Five states, three heaping plates of barbeque, one sunrise, and too many cheez-its

As I write you, it’s 9:33 PM on May 9, 2011, and we’re trudging through Texas towards the outskirts of New Mexico after a tasty pit stop at Taco Bueno just outside of Dallas. The bulk of our day has been spent in the Pilot, which has already proven itself to be a worthy road trip vessel.

The morning began with a blur; I was too caught up in my residual freelance work to catch any sleep before our 5:30 AM departure from Tallahassee. Niko promised me bacon for breakfast, but all I got were two soggy hash browns from McDonalds – yuck. Every time we eat fast food, we vow never to touch it again, and yet somehow convenience always sucks us back in. Fortunately, the scenic sights on the road offered an easy distraction from my greasy belly.

Our route today was an exhausting maze. We started west on I-10, meeting Steve at the DeFuniak Springs exit to snag some ropes and draws. After that we popped through Alabama, traversed Mississippi, skirted past Louisiana and rode towards the pink hued sun as it set over Texas. Have I mentioned how amazing this Texas air is right now? It’s warm, but dry, and breezy and cool, but not chilly. It’s perfect.

For this trip, I decided to dedicate myself to two little projects to help preserve thus experience: First, I am diligently tracking our route on the enormous atlas my dad donated to the trip. Our path is brightly highlighted on both state pages and the big country map. Second, each blog post will have a short list of 5 daily experiences (sights, sounds, tastes, random billboard quotes, etc.) – hell, the entire post for some days may just be a list like this.

Here’s your first top 5 of the day:

  1. The crazed wild dog sitting in the thick thistle and wildflower patches between the east and west bound lanes on the interstate in Texas. His patchy-colored fur complimented his wicked eyes that pierced the lanes of traffic in defiance, “yeah, I crossed all those lanes, and I’ll do it again!”
  2. Lunch at Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Que in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Quite possibly the best baked beans I’ve ever had, this place will be getting its own blog post next week!
  3. Niko spotted an enormous 13-foot Santa figurine peeking out of the woods off the interstate in Texas. – Who put him there?
  4. Little fields, patches and sprouts of skinny golden sunflowers and bushy purple blossoms lining the edges of the roadways throughout the southeast. It’s the floral personification of Brooke and I, and it made me miss my roommate terribly.
  5. The quirky cashier from Taco Bueno near Dallas, who chatted up every single customer and walked around the dining area to continue conversations left discarded at the register. She has a bright future in sales if she ever ditches the taco biz.

Next up: We’ll be finishing this first big haul through the tip of New Mexico and up southern Colorado, then we’ll time in Denver with old Tally Rock Gym friends, for a few days of bouldering, microbreweries and delivering the huge wooden wine cellar we drove up from Tallahassee.