posted by dpm on 12/28/2013
Old school climbers remember "Pete's" Country Store as one of the most iconic dirtbag campgrounds in American climbing history. Located just outside the park entrance at Hueco Tanks, Texas, the Country Store was where bouldering pioneers stayed during the years that Hueco transformed from a little-known rock pile into one of the world's premier bouldering areas.
It was Todd Skinner that started the bouldering revolution in Hueco way back in 1982, and it was he that approached Pete Zavala, owner of the Country Store, asking for a place to stay. Pete let Todd and his friends crash upstairs and within a few years, climbers were flocking to Hueco and pitching tents in Pete's parking lot. The Country Store, affectionately referred to simply as "Pete's," became THE place to stay during Hueco's golden years from the late 80's to the late 90's. During those years, the park was wide open to climbers and visitor use in the park, and at Pete's, grew each year.
Hueco Tanks' Country Store. All photos courtesy of Lowell Stevenson
In 1998, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department imposed the now well-known restrictions at Hueco Tanks that forever changed the landscape of carefree bouldering at Hueco. That year marked the beginning of the end for Pete's Country Store. Business declined and, eventually, Pete closed the doors of the store. Pete Zavala passed away in 2006 leaving behind a large community of climbers that share fond memories of Pete, his campground, and the glory days of Hueco.
This year, local climber Lowell Stevenson has breathed life back into the old Country Store and reopened the campground. Lowell is a long time Hueco climber that grew up in nearby El Paso and remembers the early days of climbing during the Todd Skinner and John Sherman era. We checked in with him to hear about the good old days and find out his plans for restoring a priceless part of the Hueco Tanks experience.
Lowell Stevenson climbing in Hueco.
DPM: Tell me about the significance of Pete’s Country Store. When did climbers start coming there?
Pete's is the closest store to the park entrance. Back in the day, Pete's was the place to hang out going to or from Hueco Tanks. Pete started working with climbers during 1982, when Todd Skinner asked Pete if he could turn the upstairs hut into a crash-shack. Todd and Amy Skinner became good friends with Pete and (his wife) Queta over the years. Climbers continued staying at Pete's frequently from 1986 to 1998.
The Hueco Rock Rodeos were originally held at Pete's (Hueco Mountain Country Store) for many years. Today the store still has the notorious wooden Shillelagh (pull-up bar) which was used for tie breakers in the Rock Rodeos, where the two competitors would hang off the bar one armed. The one who held on the longest won. We've also put the original slackline up that was featured in the film “Free Hueco.” The place needs tons of restoration, but for some reason it has a really cool rustic southwest flare to it.
DPM: Tell me about Pete, his family, and the original Country Store.
Pete and Queta were known for their generosity. Several climbers were allowed to stay, and even eat, without being charged during tough times. Pete and Queta's cooking was simple but tasty traditional Mexican food – tamales, burritos, gorditas. The family still makes tamales on request for climbers.
The Hueco Country Store maintains its Southwestern flair.
DPM: Why did the Country Store eventually close?
Business declined after 1998 when Hueco Tanks State park briefly closed and later changed its visitor capacity. Once the Hueco Tanks State Park changed their polices in 1998, the store lost much of its business. Pete's health began to decline and the family's focus was on his son's death. Pete Zavala passed away on Aug. 2, 2006 after years of heart problems.
DPM: How many years has the place been closed? What inspired you to reopen it?
It's been closed for about 10 years. I'm a veteran climber at Hueco and have known Pete and Queta for years. I was inspired to re-open it and bring it back to life by local Guru Jamie Robertson. We both want to help the family re-open it.
The store offers camping and supplies for climbers.
DPM: Now that the Country Store is back up and running, what service do you offer climbers?
After 10 long years “Pete’s” Hueco Mountain Country Store has re-opened its doors to climbers. Visitors are more than welcome to stop by and hang out, do pull ups on the notorious Shillelagh, brave the well-known slackline, kick around the hacky sack, car camp, tent camp, land the RV or just meet up with climbers.
I run VCRUX a small company that manufactures and rents crash pads out of the store. We also have basic supplies for climbers.
- Industrial Sewing Repair Services
- Bouldering Crash Pad Sales & Rentals
NOW IN STOCK
- Bouldering Crash Pads
- Chalk Bags & Chalks
- Climbing Supplies
Mountains Guides hang out at the shop and camp at the Country Store frequently. There's also information on the park's policies and access.
Tent – Car – RV Camping
The store is open during odd hours for the following months of rebuilding. If the store isn't open campers can pay using the Iron Ranger pay station located near the store entrance.
DPM: What are your hopes for the future of the business?
Rebuild the original base camp to Hueco Tanks. We have great plans for the future.
A lobby for climbers to get out of bad weather which will have a TV, Microwave, Toaster oven, and Wood burner.
Electrical RV hook-ups, Wifi, Solar Power charging stations, water and showers.
More info can be found at:
Hueco Mountain Country Store
6011 Hueco Tanks Rd.
El Paso, Texas 79938