El Morro National Monument
One of the things I love about traveling is that there are always new places to see and experience. Making these little side trips makes a long trip so much more enjoyable for me and keeps the long drive interesting. On my way to Colorado yesterday, I took a side trip to see El Morro National Monument in western New Mexico.
On the map, El Morro is quite small and I really had no idea what was so special about it as I hadn't looked it up ahead of time. This band of rock sticks up and while lovely to see, didn't seem to warrant a National Monument as there are similar rock formations all around the southwest, many of which are far more spectacular! But on arriving, I discovered that another name for this spot is Inscription Rock.
I hiked the nice paved trail that curved along the base of these rock cliffs, watching the ravens overhead and listening to the birds in the pinon and junipers trees.
At the base of the cliffs there is a pool of still water. There is no spring here, but rather rain and snowmelt runs off the rocks above and into the pool. For hundreds of years, it has provided clear fresh water to travelers through the region.
The pool was such a peaceful spot. The water is so still that the rock walls above are reflected with pristine clarity so that they seem to extend below the water as deeply as they soar above it. This rare source of pure water in a desert region was what attracted all the people who left inscriptions on the rocks.
There are many petroglyphs including these bighorn sheep, still bearing the marks of the tools used to create them. Imagine carving the rock by hammering deer antlers as chisels!
The earliest lettered inscription dates to 1605 and was left by the first governor of New Mexico, even before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusets! The rocks have many inscriptions from the time of the Spanish conquest including the one above from 1692 which states:
General Don Diego de Vargas,
who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the
Royal Crown, all of New Mexico, at his own expense, was here, in the year of
All over the rocks are names and dates, some of the people have known historys, others do not.
Sometimes there are extra bits carved in the rock such as this curved rope-like design.
But far and away, the most elegant graffiti I have ever seen is the name of E. Penn. Long chiseled into the rock in 1857 or 1859. What is known about Mr. Long, is that he was part of a U.S. Army unit that tested the usefulness of camels in the American Southwest! The camels didn't last, but Mr. Long's insignia in the rock did!
The trail along the base of the cliffs was lovely! From the plantlife at the base of the cliffs to the lovely stone stairways on the steep bits. What a fascinating stop this was and what a wonderful look at the history of the region El Morro National Monument ended up being! So, if you ever cross New Mexico on I-40, allow time for a detour south between Grants and Gallup to see this amazing spot!