El Morro National Monument

Well, it is the middle of November now,  which means we need to begin making our way east in earnest in order to make a few scheduled stops to visit with family, and then home for Christmas.  We don’t plan to give up seeing the sights along the way, though, so today we spent the day at El Morro National Monument in New Mexico.

El Morro is a small park near Ramah, NM with a visitor center, tiny campground, and two hiking trails that explore the main features of the park (more on those in a minute).  That’s it.  It is in a fairly remote location, so the drive to and from may take this into slightly more than a half-day trip, but you can easily see the features of the park in a few hours.  We were there a total of four hours, and that was even with us stopping many times for photos and video.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stay in the campground on site.  It is limited to RVs less than 27 feet, which the Bigfoot alone is, but in this campground they say you must measure from the front of the truck to the end of the trailer.  We drove through while there, and it is very small.  We definitely made the right call to not try to push the limits in this campground, but it added a couple of hours onto our day just getting to and from the park.  This would be a great place to stay for those in tents, truck campers, and vans, though…and it is free!

Now, what makes El Morro worth the drive, you are asking?  Let’s start with “El Morro” itself.  It is a cuesta, or a long rock formation that gently slopes forward and then abruptly drops off at one end.  We would describe it a mesa of sorts, with its tall cliff face being very imposing and a definite landmark to the people of the area, both past and present.  This particular cuesta curves around creating a box canyon in the center which the native people used for corralling livestock and trapping wildlife.  There is also a pool created by runoff on one side of the imposing cliff face that has been a reliable source of water for the people of the area all the way back to the indigenous people who made this their home hundreds of years ago. 

In addition to the Puebloan people who have been here for many years, El Morro was also a popular stop for European (specifically Spanish) colonizers and American settlers.  The reliable water source drew in weary travelers making their way across the arid landscape, and many of them left their mark in the form of inscriptions along the sandstone walls of the rock faces.  There are over 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions along what is now dubbed “Inscription Rock.”  It is amazing to see petroglyphs from the 1300s, alongside Spanish inscriptions from the 1600s and 1700s, alongside settler’s names from the 1800s.  Some folks really went all out, too, making their inscriptions deep and fancy!  There is even a poem inscribed into the rock! We can’t imagine how long some of this took!  The park service has a really great trail guide that talks about many of the inscriptions and gives some back story behind them, so if you are going to walk the Inscription Rock Trail, be sure to stop in and get a guide!

If you choose to do the longer trail in the park, the Headland Trail, it will take you up a set of switchbacks to the top of the cuesta and around on the rocks.  It is a phenomenal hike with amazing views in every direction, including down into the box canyon, and at 2 miles and just a little over 200 feet of elevation gain we found it to be a pretty easy hike!  The highlight along the trail, though, has to be the Atsinna Pueblo.  This dwelling measures about 200’ by 300’ and would have housed between 500 and 600 people at its peak.  While only a few rooms have been excavated, you can look around the area and easily see how far the pueblo would have extended when inhabited. 

Between the gorgeous scenery and the varied and rich history, we are so glad we made the trip to visit El Morro.  While it is a little off the beaten path, we thoroughly enjoyed the easy hiking and learning so much about the area’s past inhabitants and visitors.  Definitely take the time to stop in if you are in the area!

Hike the Inscription Trail and Headlands Trail with us here!

Until next time!

2 thoughts on “El Morro National Monument”

  1. Did you have that place all to yourselves?

    I would have loved investigating Inscription Rock. Looking at the intricate carvings that people produced, just to leave their names behind, makes me even sadder when I think about my poor excuse for handwriting!

    1. We weren’t completely alone, but there were not a ton of people there. November seems like a great time to travel! The weather is still decent, but crowds are pretty light!

      Inscription Rock was fascinating! It was hard for us to wrap our minds around how long some of those petroglyphs and inscriptions have lasted in sandstone!

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