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An area’s infrastructure – its water and energy supplies, parks and transportation systems – can determine its economic viability. This is certainly the case in the Upper Rio Grande region, with an arid landscape that provides unique challenges and advantages for its inhabitants.

The Upper Rio Grande is part of an important trade corridor between Mexico and the U.S.

The Upper Rio Grande is part of an important trade corridor between Mexico and the U.S. While it has little traditional energy production, it has a strong potential for alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy. And its impressive array of parks and recreational facilities attract visitors from around the world. All of these resources give the economy of the Upper Rio Grande region a unique dimension.

The six-county Upper Rio Grande region, from Brewster County and Big Bend National Park in the Southeast to El Paso County in the Northwest, is a land of stark beauty situated on the northeastern edges of the mountainous Chihuahuan Desert (Exhibit 15).

Exhibit 15

Chihuahuan Desert, Upper Rio Grande Region

The map shows the location of the Chihuahuan Desert in the Upper Rio Grande region. These counties include: El Paso County; Hudspeth County; Culberson County; Jeff Davis County; Presidio County; and Brewster County.

Source: The University of Texas at El Paso.

Exhibit 16

Texas’ Highest Mountain Peaks

Name County Elevation
Guadalupe Peak Culberson 8,749
Bush Mountain Culberson 8,631
Shumard Peak Culberson 8,615
Bartlett Peak Culberson 8,508
Mount Livermore (also called Baldy Peak) Jeff Davis 8,378
Hunter Peak (also called Pine Top Mountain) Culberson 8,368
El Capitan Culberson 8,085

Source: Texas Almanac 2008-2009.

While primarily desert, the region also has the state’s seven highest peaks, all rising above 8,000 feet, giving the area the widest climatological variety in Texas (Exhibit 16). The lower desert elevations receive an average of 10 to 15 inches of rainfall annually with average maximum daily temperatures up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while the mountainous areas can average 20 inches annually with average maximum daily temperatures of 72 degrees.1


Water is an extremely precious commodity in any desert. The Rio Grande River is the region’s only source of surface water, providing 56.6 percent of all the water it consumes. El Paso County is the largest consumer of water from the Rio Grande, using it primarily for municipal and irrigation consumption. Because the region has no lakes, its citizens rely primarily on groundwater for all uses except irrigation (Exhibit 17).

Of the region’s total water usage, irrigation accounts for 71 percent, with municipal use at 26.2 percent. Manufacturing uses 1.7 percent, slightly more than half of the remainder, while steam electric generation, livestock and mining uses account for the last 1.2 percent (Exhibit 18).

The Upper Rio Grande’s only significant crop, as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, is irrigated cotton, both upland and American pima varieties. Since 2000, the region has averaged 2.8 percent of the state’s planted acreage of irrigated cotton, 3.1 percent of the acres harvested and 4.2 percent of the state’s production of both varieties combined.2

Exhibit 17

Upper Rio Grande Region Water Sources, by Sector, 2006

see alternative
In acre-feet:MunicipalManufacturingSteam ElectricIrrigationMiningLivestockTotal
Surface Water 43,022 1,670 0 215,524 0 185 260,401
Ground Water 77,45 6,027 3,120 111,244 99 1,914 199,861

Source: Texas Water Develoment Board.

View Upper Rio Grande Region Water Sources table.

Exhibit 18

Upper Rio Grande Region Total Water Use, 2006

71.0% of the water used is for irrigation. 26.2% is for municipal use. 1.7% for manufacturing. 0.7% for steam electric and 0.5% for mining and livestock.

Note: Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Sources: Texas Water Development Board and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Exhibit 19

Upper Rio Grande Region Total Water Consumption, by County, 2006

El Paso county used 68.3% of the water in the region. Hudspeth county used 23.2%.  Culberson county used 4.6%. Presidion county used 1.8%. Brewster county used 1.1% and Jeff Davis county used 0.9%.

Note: Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Sources: Texas Water Development Board and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Every county in the Upper Rio Grande region produces cattle, although herd numbers for beef and dairy cattle combined have declined from 177,000 in 2000 to 110,000 in 2008, due in large part to a bovine tuberculosis eradication effort in El Paso County. Starting in 2002, the USDA offered a dairy cow buy-out program to producers to eliminate bovine TB in the county. The program had enough success by 2006 to lift dairy restrictions placed on Texas by the USDA.5

In 2006, El Paso County consumed 68.3 percent of the region’s water. Hudspeth County followed with 23.2 percent; Culberson County used 4.6 percent; Presidio County, 1.8 percent; Brewster County, 1.1 percent; and Jeff Davis County used less than 1 percent (Exhibit 19).6

The Upper Rio Grande area comprises almost all of the Texas Water Development Board’s (TWDB’s) planning Region E. Region E also includes Terrell County. According to TWDB, in the next 50 years Upper Rio Grande counties should expect to see a decrease in irrigation water usage, no change in livestock use, a small increase in mining and manufacturing use and a significant increase in steam electric and municipal water use (Exhibit 20).7

Exhibit 20

Upper Rio Grande Actual and Projected Water Use by Sector 2000-2060
(in acre feet)

Sector 2000 Actual 2020 Projected 2040 Projected 2060 Projected
Irrigation 508,186 471,833 452,079 435,587
Livestock 4,536 4,536 4,536 4,536
Manufacturing 7,750 10,000 11,373 12,861
Mining 2,256 2,275 2,290 2,309
Municipal 139,221 183,314 217,433 251,740
Steam Electric 2,962 6,937 9,541 13,410
Total 664,911 678,895 697,252 720,443

Source: Texas Water Development Board.

Exhibit 21

Upper Rio Grande Region Water Sources

The map of the region shows the location of major rivers and aquifers in the Upper Rio Grande region. These are: The Pecos Valley Aquifer; The Hueco-Mesilla Bolson Aquifer; The Edwards-Trinity Plateau Aquifer (outcrop);  The Rio Grande River.

Source: Texas Water Development Board

The Rio Grande

Texas shares the Rio Grande River with the states of Colorado, New Mexico and the Republic of Mexico (Exhibit 21). Its waters are controlled upstream of the long-abandoned Civil War-era Fort Quitman in Hudspeth County by the Rio Grande Compact Commission (RGCC), and downstream of Fort Quitman by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), comprising representatives of the U.S. and Mexico. Because the Rio Grande accounts for almost all of the region’s surface water, decisions by these two authorities can have great influence on the region’s economy and way of life.

The Rio Grande originates in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado, flowing south for 175 miles until it reaches New Mexico, where it continues for another 470 miles until reaching Texas.8 The Rio Grande Compact, an interstate agreement approved by each of the three U.S. states, ratified by Congress and signed by the President in 1939, apportions water equitably among the states. The RGCC, which administers the compact, has one representative from each of the three states in addition to a federal representative. RGCC’s headquarters is in El Paso.9

Although the Upper Rio Grande region of Texas has no reservoirs on the river, New Mexico has two, Elephant Butte and Caballo, plus several smaller dams that direct its waters into canals. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manages these reservoirs to provide water for municipal use and crop irrigation to about 178,000 acres of land, including 69,000 acres in El Paso County, the latter under the jurisdiction of the El Paso County Improvement District. Another 18,000 acres in Hudspeth County receive water as available.10

Founded in 1889, the IBWC was established to assist the U.S. and Mexico with determining national boundaries and managing common waters from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas. The 1944 treaty “Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande,” plus several earlier treaties and subsequent amendments (called “minutes”), is now subject to IBWC management.

Under that treaty, the U.S. is entitled to all the water flows reaching the main channel of the Rio Grande River from several specific creeks on the U.S. side; one-third of flows from six different Mexican tributaries; and half of all flows south of Fort Quitman in Hudspeth County.11


According to TWDB, 75 percent of Region E’s groundwater comes from two major aquifer systems – the Edwards-Trinity (Plateau) and the Hueco and Mesilla Bolsons – and six smaller ones (Exhibit 21).

Salinity control is a challenge for both ground and surface waters in this area. The Hueco and Mesilla Bolsons provide groundwater with relatively high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) that give the water a brackish taste and, over time, can be detrimental to humans, plants and wildlife. (“Bolson” is a Spanish word meaning purse, or pouch; these two aquifers overlay each other but have little hydrological interaction.)

According to TWDB, the Hueco Bolson ranges from less than 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams per liter (mg/l) TDS. The upper limit of Mesilla Bolson waters is closer to 10,000 mg/l TDS. Experts consider water above 10,000 mg/l TDS to be salty; seawater typically is above 35,000 mg/l TDS.14

Future Needs

To prepare for future population increases and constrained water sources, the Upper Rio Grande region intends to increase municipal conservation; recover, clean and reuse municipal water for municipal purposes; and increase imports of desalinated water.15 The city of El Paso has an active municipal conservation plan in place with an eventual use goal of 140 gallons per resident per day, down from the present 170-180 gallons per capita.16

The city of El Paso has an active municipal conservation plan in place.


The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) builds and maintains the Texas highway system through local offices and alliances with contractors located around the state. TxDOT serves the Upper Rio Grande region from office locations in East El Paso, West El Paso and Alpine.

In all, the region has 1,927 centerline miles (miles traveled in a single direction regardless of the number of lanes) and 4,799 total lane miles of state highways. It has about 593,000 registered vehicles that travel about 12.8 million miles daily. The state as a whole contains 79,975 centerline miles, 192,542 total lane miles and more than 21 million registered vehicles that travel nearly 490 million miles each day (Exhibit 22).17

Exhibit 22

Highway Miles, Vehicle Miles Driven and Registered Vehicles, Upper Rio Grande Region, 2008

County Name Centerline Miles Lane Miles Daily Vehicle Miles Registered Vehicles
Brewster 290 591 250,341 10,003
Culberson 322 748 683,479 2,315
El Paso 477 1,621 10,276,798 566,539
Hudspeth 340 826 1,223,637 3,566
Jeff Davis 227 469 193,263 3,198
Presidio 272 545 182,369 7,469
Region Total 1,927 4,799 12,809,887 593,090
Statewide Total 79,975 192,542 488,790,361 21,171,729

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

TxDOT has prioritized the following repair and expansion projects in the region:

  • I-10, running southeast through El Paso county and continuing east through Hudspeth and Culberson counties;
  • U.S. Highway 67, running northeast from the U.S.-Mexico Border at Presidio to Marfa in Presidio County;
  • U.S. Highway 62, running west to east across El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties, and then up into New Mexico;
  • State Highway 54, running south to north through Culberson County;
  • U.S. Highway 90, running southeast through Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Brewster counties;
  • Loop 375, a partially completed loop around the city of El Paso; and
  • State Highway 20, running parallel to I-10 through El Paso county and part of Hudspeth County.18

Ports of Entry

The Upper Rio Grande region serves as an international gateway between Texas and Mexico. The region is home to seven of the state’s 26 border crossings between Texas and Mexico, four of which link the city of El Paso to the Mexican city of Juarez.19 These crossings, all of them bridges, receive a mix of commercial, passenger and pedestrian traffic. The Bridge of the Americas receives the most use of any crossing in the region, with more than half of El Paso’s border traffic flowing across it.20

In 2008, more than 765,000 trucks, 14 million personal vehicles and 8 million pedestrians passed through the seven ports of entry in the Upper Rio Grande region.21

Point-of-entry operations at these border crossings, such as vehicle inspections, are a primary cause of traffic congestion. TxDOT is exploring methods to reduce wait times at the area’s various crossings, and the city of El Paso has proposed expanding one of its bridges, the Ysleta Zaragoza, to accommodate more traffic. TxDOT, the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization and the city of El Paso are also jointly considering the construction of two additional commuter bridges in the region to mitigate traffic congestion.

A new point of entry, the Guadalupe Tornillo International Bridge, being built in the city of Tornillo, Texas is expected to be completed by 2015.22

Trade Corridors

As a center for interstate and international trade, the Upper Rio Grande region must maintain healthy trade corridors. Its most important trade corridor, Interstate Highway 10, runs parallel to the Rio Grande River in El Paso County and breaks away from the Rio Grande in Hudspeth County to head east across Texas and several other southern states. In all, I-10 stretches across eight states, originating in California and heading eastward all the way to Florida. These states depend on I-10’s continuing smooth operation to transport high volumes of goods.

To help maintain this critical trade route, TxDOT has initiated a number of projects to resurface and repair damaged portions of the highway in the Upper Rio Grande region.23

In addition to sustaining the current benefits of I-10, TxDOT and local transportation stakeholders also plan to provide alternatives for I-10 commuters in case of traffic delays or natural disasters. For example, the city of El Paso has undertaken a large-scale project to build Loop 375 around the city so that travelers have an alternative route if I-10 access is blocked. Some portions of Loop 375 are completed; the El Paso Regional Mobility Authority is collaborating with TxDOT to secure additional funding to complete other portions of this project. Another proposed I-10 alternative is the Northeast Parkway, a 21-mile stretch of highway to connect El Paso’s Loop 375 with Highway 404 in New Mexico, thereby mitigating congestion at the border between the two states.24

Exhibit 23

Upper Rio Grande Region Trade Corridors and Rail Lines

see text description.

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

View a text description of the trade corridors and rail lines.

Yet another proposed corridor that could benefit the region is La Entrada al Pacifico, a highway that would start at the Mexican port town of Topolobampo, cross the border at Presidio, and continue northeast all the way to Midland and Odessa. The original proposed route would run parallel to U.S. Highway 67, cutting through Presidio and Brewster counties; several alternative routes have been discussed as well (Exhibit 23).28

The intent of the corridor is to increase traffic passing through currently under used ports of entry, such as the border crossing at Presidio, thus relieving traffic congestion at border crossings in El Paso.

TxDOT is conducting a feasibility study of the proposed La Entrada al Pacifico route and its impact on traffic flows at the Texas-Mexico border. In February 2008, TxDOT released preliminary results forecasting the number of freight trucks that would come through Presidio as a result of La Entrada construction; the study projects that by 2030, the point of entry would receive between 186 and 587 additional trucks per day, depending on when Mexico portions of the highway are completed.29

TxDOT has conducted public meetings to collect input from local stakeholders in affected regions. Although its study is not yet complete, there is evidence that La Entrada al Pacifico could significantly improve traffic conditions at the El Paso-Juarez border crossings. A corridor study conducted by transportation authorities in Mexico indicated that La Entrada would cause significant improvement in trip mileage and travel times, with commuters going from Chihuahua to Dallas saving 134 miles or six hours of combined drive time and border crossing wait time.30


The region is home to seven of the state’s 26 border crossings between Texas and Mexico.

Three railroad companies operate in the Upper Rio Grande region. Two are Class I railroads (classified as such for their large annual operating revenues), the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Company and the Union Pacific Railroad Company. Union Pacific has a more significant presence in the region, with lines running through all six counties. Burlington Northern has one line running parallel to I-10 through El Paso County (Exhibit 23).

A third railroad company, Texas Pacifico Transportation Ltd., operates a line that runs southwest through Brewster and Presidio counties to the Mexico border. In addition, the Amtrak Sunset Limited passenger train services the region, with stops in Alpine and El Paso (see sidebar).31

Public Transportation

The city of El Paso is by far the region’s largest urban area. Sun Metro is the city’s mass transit department. Sun Metro began operating a new bus rapid transit system in March 2009.37 Aside from El Paso, most of the region is rural; citizens in rural areas of El Paso County can use El Paso County Rural Transit.38


The Upper Rio Grande region contains one commercial airport in El Paso and six non-commercial airports.39 El Paso International Airport, the region’s sole commercial airport, reported 1.67 million boardings in 2007, about 1 percent more than in 2006. Eight commercial airlines provide service to El Paso International – American Airlines, US Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, United and New Mexico Airlines.

In addition to traditional air transportation services, El Paso International owns an industrial park and a cargo center, both located next to the airport. Industrial businesses use the park’s 900-acre space for transportation infrastructure operations, and commercial businesses use portions of the property as well.40

Parks and Recreation

The rugged mountains and desert plains of the Upper Rio Grande contain more public parkland than any other region in Texas, providing ample recreational opportunities to the public.

The rugged mountains and desert plains of the Upper Rio Grande contain more public parkland than any other region in Texas, providing ample recreational opportunities to the public. The region features five units of the National Park Service – Big Bend National Park in Brewster County, Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Culberson County, the Fort Davis National Historic Site in Jeff Davis County and Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso County, as well as the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. A national park unit can be either a congressionally-designated national park or another designated area such as a national monument, national seashore, national historic site or national recreation area.

In addition, the region also hosts several state parks, including Big Bend Ranch State Park and Fort Leaton in Presidio County, the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center in Brewster County, Franklin Mountains State Park and Hueco Tanks State Historic Site in El Paso County and Davis Mountains State Park and Indian Lodge in Jeff Davis County.44

National Parks

Big Bend National Park is one of Texas’ most famous natural areas. At 801,163 acres, the park is the largest public area in Texas and the eighth-largest national park in the continental U.S. In fiscal 2008, Big Bend National Park welcomed more than 362,000 visitors.45

Big Bend National Park is often referred to as “three parks in one” because it features three unique environments: the alpine terrain of the Chisos Mountains in the center of the park; the arid climate of the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert; and the river ecosystem of the Rio Grande along the park’s southern border with Mexico.46 The park has three developed campgrounds, at Rio Grande Village and Castolon along the river and Chisos Basin in the mountains.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to Guadalupe Peak, which at approximately 8,750 feet is the highest point in the state.

In addition, numerous backcountry campsites are available for those seeking even more solitude, with desert sites accessible to those with off-road vehicles and mountain sites available only to backpackers. The park also has a lodge and restaurant located in the Chisos Basin for those who prefer amenities such as a hot shower and a warm meal.

Big Bend’s southern border also contains 118 miles of the Rio Grande. This includes 69 miles of the 196-mile stretch of the river running from the Chihuahua/Coahuila state line in Mexico to the Terrell/Val Verde county line in Texas. This section was designated a Wild and Scenic River by Congress in 1978.47 Big Bend National Park manages the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River as a unit of the National Park system.48

The Rio Grande’s course through Big Bend is famous for three spectacular canyons, Santa Elena, Mariscal and Boquillas. Several outdoor outfitters serve visitors to the Big Bend region. Most of these companies are located in nearby Terlingua and Lajitas. They offer activities such as mountain bike rentals, guided rafting trips, shuttle service for backcountry hiking and four-wheel-drive jeep tours.49

Situated along the Texas-New Mexico state line in Culberson County, Guadalupe Mountains National Park boasts a mountainous environment that has more in common with the lower Rocky Mountains of New Mexico than with the rest of Texas. The park is home to Guadalupe Peak, which at approximately 8,750 feet is the highest point in the state. In fiscal 2008, Guadalupe Mountains National Park had 163,709 visitors.50

Guadalupe Mountains National Park has more than 80 miles of hiking trails that cut through its remote wilderness, including some of the nation’s most challenging trails.51 The trail that scales Guadalupe Peak gains a staggering 3,000 vertical feet in just over four miles and provides access not only to the highest point in the state but also the state’s highest camp site. Another popular route passes through beautiful McKittrick Canyon alongside a spring-fed mountain creek. This scenic yet strenuous trail is especially popular in the fall when the leaves of its big-tooth maples change colors.52

Fort Davis National Historic Site in Jeff Davis County offers both attractive scenery and a history lesson on the Western frontier. From 1854 to 1891, troops stationed at Fort Davis protected settlers from Apaches and Comanches. Now the site is a living monument telling the story of this dramatic period. The site has a visitor center and five other restored buildings, as well as dozens of ruins dating from the fort’s time as a federal outpost.53 In fiscal 2008, Fort Davis National Historic Site had 49,290 visitors.54

Exhibit 24

Economic Impact of National Parks, Upper Rio Grande Region

Name Number of Visitors 2008 2007 Total Economic Impact on Sales 2007 Spending by Visitors
Big Bend National Park 362,512 $8,220,000 $16,040,000
Guadalupe Mountains National Park 163,709 $7,380,000 $12,530,000
Fort Davis National Historic Site 49,290 $1,060,000 $2,100,000
Chamizal National Memorial 197,767 $11,210,000 $16,550,000
Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River 1,606 $90,000 $180,000

Sources: U.S. National Parks Service and Michigan State University.

Visitors can drive the “River Road” (FM 170), one of Texas’ most scenic highways, which hugs the Rio Grande between Presidio and Lajitas.

Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso commemorates a 1963 treaty between the United States and Mexico that settled a border dispute between the two countries. The memorial is adjacent to the El Paso-Juarez port of entry. Chamizal National Memorial regularly offers art exhibits, cultural demonstrations and educational programs and also contains a bookstore featuring items unique to the El Paso-Juarez region.55 In fiscal 2007, Chamizal National Memorial had 197,767 visitors. Exhibit 24 summarizes the economic impact of the Upper Rio Grande’s national parks.56

State Parks

In southern Presidio County, the 301,319-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park encompasses the Bofecillos mountain range and 23 miles of frontage along the Rio Grande. Added to Texas state parks system in 1988, this massive park makes up more than half of the state’s park land.57 Big Bend Ranch State Park had 3,181 visitors in fiscal 2008.58

Big Bend Ranch is a distinctive natural resource, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has adopted a unique management style to allow for visitors’ maximum enjoyment, including 44 miles of trails for four-wheel drive vehicles. Activities include horseback riding, mountain biking, river rafting, hiking, camping and bird watching. The park’s Sauceda Headquarters provides accommodations for visitors at a group bunkhouse and at the “Big House,” a remodeled ranch house built in 1908.

The park has more than 200 miles of hiking trails, some passing by isolated desert springs that provide oases for overnight backpackers. The park also has several miles of primitive roads that offer access to isolated backcountry campsites. Visitors can also drive the “River Road” (FM 170), one of Texas’ most scenic highways, which hugs the Rio Grande between Presidio and Lajitas.59

Situated in Terlingua, between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center is a 100-acre facility that offers archaeological, historical and geological information about the region. Visitors can purchase backpacking and river use permits for Big Bend Ranch State Park and learn about the region from park staff. The 80-seat auditorium hosts educational events, while a recently opened Interpretive Center provides information about both the Mexican and U.S. sides of the Rio Grande. The center also has a bookstore and gift shop featuring maps, guides and books about the Big Bend region, as well as postcards and souvenirs.60

Fort Leaton State Historic Site, just west of Big Bend Ranch in Presidio, features historic ruins from an adobe trading post established in 1848. The site is a day-use park with picnic areas, and offers guided tours and historical exhibits about the Border region. In fiscal 2008, Fort Leaton had 3,538 visitors.61

Near the town of Fort Davis and adjacent to Fort Davis National Historic Site, the 2,709-acre Davis Mountains State Park offers beautiful views of the Davis Mountains, the largest range in Texas. McDonald Observatory (see sidebar) and Mount Livermore (Texas’ fifth-highest peak) are both visible from the park’s Skyline Drive, where nighttime stargazing is a popular activity. Also within the park are the Black Bear Restaurant and Indian Lodge, a recently remodeled adobe-style hotel built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.62 In fiscal 2008, Davis Mountains State Park had 62,640 visitors.63

Franklin Mountains State Park is entirely within the city limits of El Paso. At 24,247 acres, the park holds the distinction of being the entirely largest urban park in the nation. Franklin Mountains State Park is a popular destination for camping, hiking and mountain biking. It also features the Wyler Ariel Tramway (see sidebar).67 In fiscal 2008, Franklin Mountains State Park had 28,131 visitors.68

Exhibit 25

Economic Impact of State Parks, Historic Sites and Attractions,
Upper Rio Grande Region

Name Number of Visitors 2008 2006 Total Economic Impact on Sales 2006 Spending by Visitors
Big Bend Ranch State Park 3,181 n/a n/a
Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center 16,193 n/a n/a
Fort Leaton State Historic Site 3,538 n/a n/a
Franklin Mountains State Park 28,131 n/a n/a
Wyler Aerial Tramway 31,148 $730,000 $20,000
Hueco Tanks State Historic Site 28,892 $580,000 $110,000
Davis Mountains State Park 62,640 $2,180,000 $1,530,000
Indian Lodge 65,545 $3,700,000 $2,000,000

Note: Economic data was not available for Big Bend Ranch, Fort Leaton, and Franklin Mountains.

Sources: Texas A&M University and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Thirty-two miles east of El Paso, Hueco Tanks State Historic Site features ancient pictographs from native peoples who were attracted to the region by the presence of water that pooled in natural stone basins in the Hueco Mountains. Hueco Tanks is also widely recognized as one of the best sites in the world for “bouldering,” a challenging variation of mountain climbing done without safety ropes. TPWD strives to balance recreational use with historic preservation at the 860-acre park, and access to parts of the park requires a guide. Reservations are recommended for those interested in visiting or climbing.69 In fiscal 2008, Hueco Tanks State Historic Site had 28,892 visitors.70

Exhibit 25 summarizes the economic impact of the Upper Rio Grande Region’s state parks.

Fishing and Hunting

Due to the region’s largely desert character, fishing opportunities in the Upper Rio Grande region are limited. Big Bend Ranch State Park allows free fishing on the banks of the Rio Grande, primarily for catfish.71

Every county in the region offers some sort of legal hunting, with variations in permit requirements for antlerless deer, bag limits for deer and squirrels and the availability of turkey hunting.

In 2007, hunting and fishing enthusiasts in the Upper Rio Grande region purchased more than 14,000 licenses from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, at a cost of more than $311,000. All revenue collected from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses goes to a dedicated state fund supporting the protection, regulation and conservation of the state’s fish and wildlife.72

Exhibit 26

Bag Limits and Other Applicable Hunting Regulations, Upper Rio Grande Region, 2008-09

Animal Season
White-tailed Deer Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties allow white-tailed deer hunting. Open season lasts from November 1 until January 4. The bag limit is four deer and no more than two bucks.

Archery season lasts from September 27 until October 31. Antlerless deer may be hunted without a permit unless TPWD has issued antlerless managed land deer permits to help control the deer population. Muzzleloader-only season is from the first Saturday following the closing of the general open season for nine consecutive days.

A special youth-only season occurs twice a year, on October 25 and 26 and January 17 and 18.
Mule Deer General season: November 29 – December 14, with a two deer bag limit (limit one buck).

Archery only season: September 27 – October 31, with a two deer bag limit (limit one buck).
Javelina No closed season and a bag limit of two per license year.
Squirrel No closed season.
Turkey Jeff Davis and Brewster County allow hunting of the Rio Grande turkey, with a bag limit of four. The season is from March 21 – May 3, 2009 (gobblers only).

Special youth-only season: March 14 – 15 and May 9 – 10.
Pronghorn Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio, Culberson and Hudspeth allow pronghorn hunting by permit only from October 4 – 12.
Quail October 25 – February 22. Daily bag limit: 15; possession limit: 45.
Dove Central Zone (South of I-10): September 1 – October 30 and December 26 – January 13 with no limit.

North Zone (North of I-10): September 1 – October 30.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The area has high potential for the development of solar and geothermal energy.


In earlier epochs of the earth’s history, volcanoes covered much of what is now the Upper Rio Grande region. This activity was in part responsible for the area’s mountains and its wide variety of mineral deposits, including silver, mercury, copper and zinc.

Later, shallow seas encroached, but little of the area was submerged long enough for carboniferous life forms to settle on the sea floor – and ultimately develop into oil and gas deposits such as those found to the region’s east in the Permian Basin.73 On the other hand, the area has high potential for the development of solar and geothermal energy.

Exhibit 27

Areas in the ERCOT and WECC Electric Grids

The map of the region shows the which counties are served by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Electric Grid and  Western Electric Coordinating Council (WECC) electric grid.  ERCOT serves Culberson County, Jeff Davis County, Presidio County and	Brewster County. WECC serves El Paso County, Hudspeth County  and
Culberston County.

Sources: Electric Reliability Council of Texas and Western Electric Coordinating Council

Oil and Gas

Culberson County is the only one of the region’s six counties that produces oil and gas, with 23 natural gas wells and 82 oil wells operating as of February 2009.74 The natural gas is produced from the Barnett Shale, the same formation that produces large quantities of natural gas in the Fort Worth area, although in Culberson County the Barnett Shale gas is found at a greater depth, making it more difficult and more expensive to produce.75

One of the region’s largest landowners is the University of Texas System. In the nineteenth century, the Texas Legislature dedicated millions of acres of West Texas lands, including some in El Paso, Culberson and Hudspeth counties, to the Permanent University Fund for the financial support of a state university.

University lands in Hudspeth and especially Culberson counties have produced some natural gas in years past; current leaseholders, however, are paying “shut-in royalties” to keep their leases active.76 These royalties are producer payments to the landowner in lieu of actual production for non-producing wells. Wells may be shut in due to inadequate prices or infrastructure.77

About 97 percent of the region’s population receives electricity from the Western Electric Coordinating Council.

Other Minerals

Several mines have operated in the Upper Rio Grande area, some dating back to the 1880s, producing a wide variety of minerals including cinnabar (mercury ore), copper, tin, lead, zinc, molybdenum, bentonite (a type of clay), sulphur, talc, marble, gypsum, stone, sand, gravel, silver, feldspar and zeolite (a mineral useful for removing odors, toxins and chemicals).78

Copper minerals once were mined throughout Culberson and Hudspeth counties, although none are operating today. The largest mine was the Hazel copper and silver mine in Culberson County. From 1891 to 1947, the Hazel mine produced more than one million pounds of copper.79

Exhibit 28

Percentage of Electricity Generated by Fuel Type, ERCOT and WECC, 2008

Fuel Source ERCOT WECC
Natural Gas 43% 42%
Coal 37% 18%
Nuclear 13% 5%
Wind 5% 1%
Hydroelectric/Other 2% 34%
Total 100% 100%

Note: Fuel source percentages are rounded. For WECC “Natural Gas” includes “dual fuel” generation.

Sources: Electric Reliability Council of Texas and Western Electricity Coordinating Council.


About 97 percent of the region’s population receives electricity from the Western Electric Coordinating Council (WECC).80 The council, one of eight “reliability councils” in the U.S. that manage electricity flows, serves El Paso County and parts of nearby counties (Exhibit 27). WECC serves all or most of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota.81

Most of the region’s land area, however, lies within the jurisdiction of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). ERCOT is the only U.S. reliability council located entirely within the boundaries of a single state; it covers 75 percent of Texas’ land area and administers 85 percent of the state’s electric load, serving some 21 million customers.82

Exhibit 29 lists the electric providers that serve the Upper Rio Grande Region. The largest electric utility is the El Paso Electric Company, an investor-owned utility serving 361,000 customers in the Upper Rio Grande region of Texas and New Mexico.83

The largest electric utility is the El Paso Electric Company, an investor-owned utility serving 361,000 customers in the Upper Rio Grande region of Texas and New Mexico.

Exhibit 29

Municipally Owned Utilities and Member-Owned Cooperatives Upper Rio Grande Region

Entity Name Service Area
El Paso Electric Company El Paso County and parts of Hudspeth and Culberson counties
Rio Grande Electric Cooperative Parts of Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Brewster counties
WTU Retail Energy Parts of Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Brewster counties
Lower Colorado River Authority Parts of Culberson County
Oncor Parts of Culberson County
Texas-New Mexico Power Company Parts of Culberson County

Source: Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Wind Energy

Culberson County is home to two wind farms, the Wind Power Partners ’94 farm and Delaware Mountain, with a combined total of 147 turbines capable of producing about 68 megawatts (MW) of electricity – enough to power about 15,640 average Texas homes.84

American National Wind Power operates the 30 MW Delaware Mountain wind farm, installed in 1999 on a ranch near Van Horn. Customers purchasing power from this facility include the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) in Austin and Reliant Energy in Houston. The LCRA and the state’s General Land Office joined private industry partners to develop the almost 35 MW Wind Power Partners project, which began generating electricity in 1995.85

Paso del Norte International Bridge border crossing in El Paso, TX.

PHOTO: Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University


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