We were joined at Grants by good friends, Rusty and Lovetta Wright. Rusty had wanted to show us El Morro for years. He spent much of his youth living in its shadow.
The tall cuesta named El Morro, set among the mountains of New Mexico, is distinguishable from miles away. A cuesta is a long stretch of rocky land, sloping more gently at one end, then abruptly falling off in a cliff at the other.
As early as 1100, Ancestral Puebloan people built their home atop this bluff. From that point on, history has been literally carved into the rock.
In the words on the first informational sign you encounter:
“Carved into the soft sandstone cuesta before you is a lingering history of the American Southwest. The names of the celebrated, the infamous, the legendary and the unknown are immortalized side by side where they would otherwise be separated by time, class, and ambitions. Their inscriptions are carved alongside petroglyphs left by people who lived here more than 700 years ago.
How did this inhospitable looking place become a place to stop and rest? Because it is the location of a rarity in the high desert….a dependable source of water, a spring, the only one for miles around.
As you walk past the pool, your eyes are soon drawn to the inscriptions covering the wall. There are literally hundreds here.
The earliest date back to 1100 to 1400, with the Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs. Usually petroglyphs have been created by scraping off the desert varnish. Here they are carved into the rock. From the mid 1500’s to the late 1700’s, the Spanish were conducting expeditions into the area. The first Spanish inscription is that of Governor Don Juan de Onate in 16o5.
From the 1840s to 1906, U.S. military expeditions were in the area, soon followed by emigrants traveling to California. Many left their names on these bluff walls.
In December 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed El Morro a National Monument (one of the first areas designated a National Monument, preserving it for the coming generations).
Some of the carvings stand out boldly, while others have almost been obliterated by the years and weather. Here is just a sampling of the numerous inscriptions (I’ve heightened the contrast so that the lettering will show up in the photos- click on any image to view larger):
Some are perched so high up, you wonder how the engraver managed to get up there and hang on long enough to carve his mark.
While others are so intricate and detailed, they defy description.
As you round the corner and begin your ascent upwards, there are still more signatures to be viewed, but you eyes are now drawn to the path ahead and the surrounding scenery. It was a beautiful day when we visited Wildflowers were blooming riotously.
Every direction you turn holds another fantastic view.
Using switchbacks, the trail gains in elevation as it snakes its way up the cliff.
Our goal is to reach the mesa on top.
We stop for a rest before starting the steepest part of the climb.
Over an hour later, we have made it to the top. The view is awesome.
We spend the next hour and a half on the mesa.
What comes as a surprise is to find ruins in this high barren land. Atsinna, which means where pictures are on the rock, was occupied from the late 1200’s to 1400 by ancestors of today’s Zuni people. Eighteen rooms have been excavated here, but 875 rooms have been identified. It is estimated that between 1,000 to 1,500 people lived here at one time. Cisterns caught any runoff water or rain for use, and hand and toe holds have been discovered on the wall leading down to the pool at the bottom.
Excavation was halted in the 1960’s. The visitor center in nearby El Mapais National Monument has this artist’s conception of what such a village would have looked like.
Before long, we were making our way down the side of the mesa opposite that we ascended.
El Morro is definitely one location where history has left its mark.