Inside the Sale of the Hueco Rock Ranch

~Joe Sambataro, Access Director

A Texas flag hangs above the bar, beans and bacon simmer on the stove, and a crew of visiting climbers, locals, and guides gather around the table. It’s late in the season at Hueco Tanks. As the weather heats up, the youth bouldering teams head home and other climbers pack up their vans in search of cooler temps. But the Hueco Rock Ranch is still bustling as owner Rob Rice catches up with old friends. After moving to Arkansas full time, Rob has found it difficult to manage the Ranch from a distance, and he has invited me out to discuss the start of a new legacy and owner for the Ranch.

Hueco large
As the day wears into evening, Rob and I sit down over a glass of gin and lime to discuss the future of the Ranch and how the Access Fund can help him find a new climbing friendly buyer. But he can’t resist delving into the past, and the stories begin to roll….

Rob tells of how Fred Nicole held the trunk of a tree as another climber sawed a branch off to fit under the support beam in the kitchen, giving the place a unique centerpiece. He visibly cringes when he talks about how close that saw came to the climbing legend’s world class fingers.

Reflecting on a conversation he had with Fred, who had just left the Ranch the week before: “In the mid-90s, Todd and Amy Skinner, along with John and Carole Gogas, and Scott Milton and Sandra Studer, decided to build a house close to their favorite winter playground: Hueco Tanks,” recalled Fred. “The idea was to create a nice house, built on the climbing and bouldering lifestyle...it was a time of sharing, discovering and great motivation. Many people came from all over the world, Mary and I included,” says Fred.

Finishing his drink, Rob explains how he came to Hueco shortly before the park rules changed, closing access to classic boulders and setting up a new process for permits and guide-only access. “It was important for me to honor Todd’s home and dream of a climbers’ hub,” explains Rob. He shares how he became the first commercial guide under the new public use plan, built a campground, and started a business of lodging and guiding, opening the Ranch up to the broader climbing community. “New generations of climbers have flocked to Hueco, and thousands of new stories have been made, year after year, here at the Ranch,” says Rob. “I want this legacy to continue in climber-friendly hands.”

Later the next day Rob, Penn Burris of the American Alpine Club, and I walk into the Hueco Tanks State Park headquarters. Warm welcomes are exchanged amongst Rob and the staff. Superintendent Wanda Olszewski beckons us into her office. For Wanda and her staff, the Rock Ranch is the meeting place to discuss bouldering access with the climbing community. It is a central stage for gathering climbers to give back to the Park during the Hueco Rock Rodeo where climbers volunteer to clean up chalk, maintain trails, and assist with restoration projects. When the campground inside the State Park fills up, Park staff regularly send eager climbers on the short 5-minute drive to stay at the Ranch.

Back in Boulder, I reflect on my time with Rob, and it’s clear that the Ranch has been a critical component of access to the Park. And here at the Access Fund, we make the decision to rally and help Rob manage the sale of the Ranch. We immediately look to our partners at the American Alpine Club (AAC), whose growing role in climber logistics and lodging make them the perfect fit to take over ownership. The AAC was eager, and we set up a four-way partnership with two landowners and our two organizations.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that phone calls led to Memorandums of Agreement, 60-page property appraisals, lodging proformas, inspections, repair estimates, title review, real estate contracts, loan documents, legal review, board votes, and letters of support. Hundreds of hours went into kicking off this new phase of the Hueco Rock Ranch, and we are grateful to the efforts of everyone involved.

My work in the legacy of the Hueco Rock Ranch is just a passing moment in time compared to the thousands of people that have built, operated, volunteered, and visited the ranch season after season. It’s humbling to see and hear the rich history. With new ownership under the AAC, it’s encouraging to know that the Ranch will continue as a central hub for climbers visiting Hueco, including myself, for years to come.


Blog Comments

Seems a shame to have to selling this when it is such a passion. But passions dont always pay, and whaen you are trying to run a long distance business this can add to the strees of it all. Well done to all those who have helped out.

Posted by: Skip Hire Walton On Thames | July 23, 2012 at 12:52 AM

I'd just like to say a big THANK YOU! to the Access Fund for every thing you do, including seeing that Hueco Tanks is in the hands of people that will care and cherish for many years to come.

Posted by: Thomas | July 24, 2012 at 07:03 PM

This is hopefully a great step forward for the ranch. I stopped by the other day and it looks like you are cleaning house a little. I would only hope that it keeps the same spirit, while still allowing the AF to work some magic in Hueco. I want to make sure my kids can climb there one day and this bodes very well for that.

Posted by: Eric Reeves | September 23, 2012 at 02:29 PM

This place is awesome and better to pass your time with friends.Really I want to go there.It's my dream.

Posted by: nickel | January 27, 2013 at 04:01 AM

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