“Steller” Birding Days Plus at Kaibab Lake

Excuse my absence, we took to the road after my last post and it has been sporadic internet coverage since.  It’s been almost impossible to post and read blogs; I had to give up, hoping our next destination’s coverage would be better.  It’s not and feels like landline.  Argh!  That hourglass!!  I’ll try to catch up on your blogs but excuse me if I’m not able to comment much.

So yes, we’ve relocated twice since my last post.  We left Williams, Arizona, for Lake Powell in Page, Arizona, and then moved on a week later to here in Bryce Canyon.  I’ll be ‘hoodoo’ sight-seeing these next few days!

Now a little catch-up back-tracking, back to Kaibab Lake just outside Williams where I enjoyed a some great birding and wildlife a few hours over several days.

It was always a pleasure to check up on the Osprey family.

 

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Momma Osprey coming in for a landing

 

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Momma Osprey and one of her chicks (I saw two total)

Hearing the telltale sound of tree drilling, I was always looking for Woodpeckers.  I finally sighted this Hairy Woodpecker.  He refused to come out of the shade.

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Hairy Woodpecker

 

When I saw this second woodpecker, it appeared to be a Flicker, but the red markings were different than the Northern Flicker.  I was excited to discover later that it was a Gilded Flicker, a new “lifer” for me.

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Gilded Flicker

 

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Gilded Flicker

Another “lifer” for me is this Canyon Wren.  He flew from rock to rock, singing his little heart out.

 

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Canyon Wren

 

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Canyon Wren

I’ve captured Eastern Bluebirds back home on the East Coast, and I was hoping to add the Western Bluebird to my “lifer” list.  I did!

 

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Western Bluebird

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Western Bluebird

In abundance was a loud bird making it easy to find and follow, and I worked on photographing them each time I visited.   It was the Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety) and another “lifer” for me.

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Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety)

There is also a Steller’s Jay (Pacific variety), the difference being the Rocky Mountain variety has the white ‘eyebrow’ where the Pacific variety does not.

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Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety)

I just love this next capture.  The wind was blowing, flaring the Steller’s Jay crown as he turned towards me.

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Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety)

There was plenty of wildlife that meandered around during daylight.  The Rock Squirrels could keep you busy all day with their photogenic cuteness.

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Rock Squirrel

There were also Prairie Dogs, Jack Rabbits, Mule Deer, and lizards who saw me before I saw them.

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Jack Rabbit

 

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Jack Rabbit

 

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Lizard

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Mule Deer with a mouthful

 

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Prairie Dog

 

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Prairie Dog

 

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Prairie Dog

 

It was a lot of fun birding and wildlife watching at Kaibab Lake.  And if you enjoy dry-camping in our National forests, the large paved campground sites there are awesome.  The wildlife increases dramatically at dusk I was told by some of the campers.

Thank you for stopping by, I appreciate your visit and hope to catch up with your posts real soon!

(I’m a little apprehensive on whether this post gets “published” with the slow connection.  Fingers crossed!)

 

Shorebirds At Kaibab Lake

I’ve enjoyed Kaibab Lake, outside Williams, Arizona, for several visits now.  It quickly became my go-to for little birding excursions.  In addition to the Osprey, I found the lake also offers wonderful summer shorebirds to watch and photograph.

I almost didn’t catch the flight of this Great Blue Heron as he soared high over my shoulder and down to the shoreline.

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Great Blue Heron in flight

He is a regular, but prefers the far side of the lake.  Far enough away to make it hard in getting any sharp detail due to heavy cropping.  But he is still a beauty and nice to see here at the lake.

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Great Blue Heron, Kaibab Lake

 A Cormorant is also a regular and keeps his distance from everyone as well.  He was along the shoreline I was walking and was quick to take flight to the other side to join the Great Blue Heron.

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Cormorant, Kaibab Lake

It was on another visit that I got closer to that driftwood above.  I really liked it and thought how neat it would look in a garden or on a porch.  I took several photos at different angles and caught the sight of a heart in the center.  Cool!  (Hey BeckyP, I found a heart!)

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There are two sets of Momma ducks with her ducklings.  I did not capture a good enough photo to post of the Momma with five ducklings, but here’s the other Momma with her three.  They also stay on the far side of the lake.

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Maybe a Mallard Duck and her three ducklings, too hard for me to ID

Not necessarily a shorebird, but soaring all over the lake and around me were swallows.  They are a fun challenge to try and catch in flight, and I trashed a ton of photos just to get these two decent ones.  The coloring had me thinking it was a new “lifer” for me so I spent a good 15-20 minutes working on them. :-)

And it is a new “lifer” for me!  A Violet-green Swallow found only in the American West.

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Female Violet-green Swallow

I think they had just as much fun as I as they did their aerial acrobats catching insects and smiling at me as they went by!

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Female Violet-green Swallow

 

This next fella was super-fun to watch and such a trooper to allow me the challenge of getting some nice shots.  It was a Spotted Sandpiper, and he was on my side of the lake.  It was exciting that he allowed me to get somewhat close enough to plop my fanny on a rock and just fire away as he fooled around and posed several places along that little stretch of shoreline.

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Male Spotted Sandpiper

 

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He did get nervous once and took flight further down the shoreline.  But before I got up to continue my walk, he came back.  And so another photo-session continued.  I couldn’t have been happier at that moment!

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Male Spotted Sandpiper

 

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“Howdee there!”

I was super-thankful with these captures and so many more, as I only seen him at one visit…..and these are the best photos I’ve gotten of this bird!

As many of you know, I am a big fan of the shoreline birds around the Chesapeake Bay.  So it’s been another cool surprise for me to get my ‘shoreline bird’ fix right here in the Southwest so close to the desert. :-)

 

 

 

Rock Squirrels and A Least Chipmunk

If you’re like me, you can’t help but take a photo now and then of squirrels, they are cute and will freeze in poses, hoping to blend in and you not see them.  Or maybe they are wondering and sniffing to see if you have something to eat.  They make for great wildlife photography practice with the abundance of several species throughout the United States.

The squirrels that are part of the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona are primarily Rock Squirrels.  They camouflage pretty well with the area’s red rock.  If I hadn’t seen him run to the rock, I might not have seen this next one off in the distance.

_DSC0489-1 62916.jpgRock Squirrel, Kaibab Lake

I met up with another Rock Squirrel while at the Grand Canyon where signs were posted throughout to please not feed the squirrels.

It was while I was standing back and away from the crowd, there was a startling rustle in the tree next to me.  We made eye contact.

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He continued to move around the tree, munching here and there, but always checking on my location.

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I walked away when he started to become more interested in me, I figured he was wondering if I had any food.  Nope.  Nada.  Not for you.

This next fella proved some tourists don’t follow the rules.  He jumped out from the railing and ran up to a lady, and stood on his hind legs.  She was so tickled and bent over to take his photo with her cell phone.

He then reached up to try and take it!

_DSC0039-1 62016Begging Rock Squirrel, “I’ll take that!”

We all started to laugh while the lady snatched up her phone.  I then got this next shot.

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The lady wasn’t about to give him her cell phone.  The Rock Squirrel quickly gave up and ran back behind the railing to the rocks.  It was obvious he was a pro, probably doing this many times a day.

Chipmunks are also a member of the squirrel family.  They are smaller and tend to not be a nuisance to society as the larger squirrels we all know so well.

Heading out of the Kaibab Lake recreational area, something caught my eye.  Backlit from the late afternoon sun, a tiny Least Chipmunk was busy nibbling on a pine needle.  I shot my photos out of the window of our running truck.

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The smallest of all chipmunks at 4-7 inches long and only weighing 1-2 ounces, the Least Chipmunk is widely distributed throughout the United States.

Seeing our truck backing up, this little fella dropped to the ground and continued to nibble.

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I was tickled with this photo op, and we started to roll on when he jumped back on top of the rock.

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We stopped again and I took a couple more photos.  He was now getting wary of us.

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I snapped above, and we rolled on.  Bet he went back to eating!

I felt lucky to have spotted that tiny chipmunk.

So I say, how can anyone deny the cuteness of squirrels and chipmunks?!!

 

Breaking Bird News….At Least to Me!

A couple weeks ago, we left Gallup, New Mexico, and arrived to our present destination in Williams, Arizona, a charming mountainside ‘western’ town designated as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon” and nestled in Kaibab Forest, one of the largest Ponderosa Pine Forests in the world.  We’ve been to the Grand Canyon and Sedona & it’s surrounding areas where I’ve gone crazy with photography; I have so many to go through and attempt to condense down to just a few of each to share with you.

But first, I really REALLY needed to share this post. This is excitingly special to me! :-)

There are four lakes around Williams, which is at an elevation of 6800 ft.  I’m indeed loving the surrounding landscape but wanted…..no, needed to photograph some birds, so I visited 45-acre Kaibab Lake, just a couple miles north of our campground.

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Walking along the lake, taking photos, I heard a distinct series of high-pitched calls, followed by a succession of chirps, then the high-pitched squeals again.

What?  No way!  An Osprey?  One of my loves of the Chesapeake Bay, here in Arizona??

I started scanning the skies and look who passed on by me….

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I quickly moved around, scanning through the treetops where the male Osprey was headed and “bingo!” spotted the nest on a tall dead tree surrounded by live pines a couple hundred feet in to the forest where the “Mrs” was impatiently waiting and calling.

I was so excited and couldn’t believe my eyes.  What a special treat!!

And what an impressive nest!

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Can you also see a chick looking up at Dad as he’s coming in for the landing?

The pair of Osprey have two chicks.  Here’s my best family portrait so far, one chick is on each side of Momma in the nest, while Dad is on his perch.

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See the two chicks?

The chicks are young.  On occasion, I could see a wing stretch out and over the nest but no flapping as yet.

A few more photos, angling around the live pines surrounding the nest.

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On my second visit, an even more special find!  I arrived to a loud ruckus overhead.  There were four Osprey in the sky, circling, while the Osprey pair were on their nest, squealing their distaste for the intruders.  Dad first took to the sky to chase, and then Mom.  The chicks stayed down low inside the nest.

With all the trees, I couldn’t get any really good shots, but did get these of the female returning back to her babies while her partner continued to push the other four Osprey further from the area.

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That was a total of six adult Osprey!  How cool is that?!!  I was in awe and shock.

Two of the Osprey flew across the lake and over the pines.  When I left and drove around to that side of the lake that borders near Rt. 64, I located a second nest right on Rt. 64.  It was empty, making me wonder if the two Osprey I had seen fly this direction occupied it but were still out and about.  It’s a solid nest that appears to be season fresh, but lacks a brood it seems.

My third visit, I chatted with a local who came over to ask me what I was photographing (a Great Blue Heron at the time).  He fished Kaibab Lake & had come to see the water level, which I could tell seemed quite low.  Even as low as it looks, he told me the lake was still a good 15-20 feet deep with an abundance of fish including rainbow trout, largemouth bass, sunfish, carp, and channel catfish.  Per Wikipedia, the average depth of the Kaibab Lake is 37 feet.  With the summer’s average temps in the 80’s F, along with an excellent food supply, Kaibab Lake does make for a good home for the Osprey.

Who knew I’d see Osprey in the Southwest?!  I certainly did not expect it!!

Have a Happy 4th weekend, be safe and enjoy!

 

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Our last excursion before departing New Mexico was to Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Chinle, Arizona.  It was just under 100 miles north of our campground.

From the ruins, artifacts, and images, it has been proven that people lived in these canyons for nearly 5,000 years, longer than anyone has lived uninterruptedly elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau.

Today, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “da Shay”) is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land.  In 1931, the U.S. National Park Service established it as a National Monument, and they continue to this day to work in partnership with the Navajo Nation to manage park resources and sustain this living Navajo community.

Canyon de Chelly has two paved rim drives with overlooks and many hiking trails that lead down into the canyon.  We arrived early afternoon and drove the two rims, stopping at all the overlooks.

The North Rim Drive is 18 miles long one way with 3 overlooks and best photographed in the morning, whereas the South Rim is best in the afternoon.  I did struggle with my exposures and the intense early afternoon bright sun on the North Rim Drive.

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As you took in the views at the overlooks, if you looked hard enough, you could spot numerous cliff and cave dwelling ruins.

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The South Rim Drive is 16 miles long one way with seven overlooks.  As the afternoon got later, I was more successful with my exposure and lighting settings. :-)

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The largest ruins we spotted on the South Rim was called the White House.  It was occupied by the Puebloans about 1,000 years ago.  You can take a 2.5 mile round trip hiking trail to this ruin if you desire.

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The most famous overlook on the South Rim is Spider Rock Overlook.  Spider Rock is an 800 foot sandstone spire that rises from the canyon floor.  The overlook’s rim walkway provided so many ways to photograph Spider Rock, and I got a little carried away.  Here’s just a few…..

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Although there were about 10-12 people at Spider Rock Overlook, there were other Overlooks where we were the only two.  That was pretty awesome!

The flowers and critters seen that day at Canyon de Chelly…..

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The horses were owned by the Navajo and wandered across the roads freely.

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Rock Squirrel

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Finally, this next little bird flew right in front of me and into a tree early in the afternoon.  I have not been able to identify this one.  Anyone?

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For sure, the afternoon at Canyon de Chelly was exhilarating with lots of ooohs and aaahs!  And the solitude with nature?  Amazing!!

 

New Mexico Bird Finds….And Other Critters

Enjoying the scenery each day we traveled early-on, I would occasionally see a bird in flight or on a post along the highway, and wondered out loud, “Oooooooh, what kind of bird was that?”  Hubby would reply, “Honey, if you don’t know, I don’t know”.   I would see so many that would be lifers for me if I could have snapped a shot!

Okay, maybe those first long days on the road with no bird photography started to work my mind.  I took this next photo out my window as we cruised along.  Finally, a bird capture!  Maybe a duck or goose!

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Well, I do see a duck or goose coming in for a landing, wings spread & feet dangling.  Don’t you?

When we finally arrived at our first several-day stopover in Gallup, New Mexico, I stepped off and heard birds.  Hallelujah!  It wasn’t 10 minutes before I was walking around, camera in hand, looking for them in the trees.

In the few days before leaving New Mexico, here’s some of my best captures all taken at the campground, starting with two new lifers.

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Ringed Turtle-Dove (new “lifer” but poor photo)

 

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Western Kingbird (another new “lifer”)

There were so many Western Kingbirds, I had a blast trying to capture them.

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The following are other birds that I’ve photographed before, but it’s always a treat to attempt to capture some special ones of them again.

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American Robin

 

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American Kestrel (I wish I had been a whole lot closer to him!)

 

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Rock Doves

 

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House Sparrow

 

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House Finch

Not too bad for a campground in the desert!

We had a few other critters as well…..

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You had to watch you didn’t step on a lizard while they scurried away!

I’ll have one more post from New Mexico to share, a visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and then it’ll be Arizona’s beauty & fun where we are at the present.  FYI, we are not in an area with triple-digit temps or any forest fires, thank goodness!!

 

El Morro National Monument

After traveling 2,073 miles in five days into our eighth state since leaving Maryland, we made our first several-day stopover in Gallup, New Mexico.  Our travels have gone well, and the ever-changing landscape since leaving has been simply stunning!

Our plans for this stopover included getting a little rest and to visit two parks, one being El Morro National Monument in Ramah, New Mexico, 60 miles south of our camp.

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El Morro has two trails to get up close and personal with this incredible monument.  When we arrived, it began to sprinkle with an impending small storm approaching.  (It was sunny when we left the campground 60 miles ago!)

We had time to do the Inscription Trail (1/2 mile); but the Park Rangers advised against the Headland Trail (2 miles) to the top to see the pueblo ruins in case of lightning, so it was a no-go.  We quickly took to Inscription Trail.

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It was the Ancestral Puebloan people who first lived on top of El Morro in a village called Atsinna, or “place of writings on rock”.  From 1275 to 1350 A.D., between 1,000-1,500 people lived in this 875 room pueblo.

After only 75 years, Atsinna was abandoned for unknown reasons.  But before the Puebloans’ departure, hundreds of petroglyphs were carved on the rock face of El Morro.

Photos of the ruins at the Visitor’s Center were incredible, I wish we had been able to walk up Headland Trail to see them.  The following two photos are courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service.

 

It wasn’t until the years 1539 to 1774, lured by tales of golden cities, that the Spanish began numerous expeditions into what is now New Mexico.

One expedition resulted in the first historical record of El Morro.  On March 11, 1583, Antonio de Espejo recorded his “discovery” of a hidden place he called El Estanque de Penol (pool at the great rock).

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 Today the pool holds approximately 200,000 gallons of water on average.

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The photos above and below show after passing and looking back at how hidden the pool is.

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El Morro quickly became a main east-west trail and popular campsite for explorers and travelers who learned of the “pool at the great rock” or “oasis in the desert” watering hole hidden at the base of this sandstone bluff.

A valuable and reliable water source and resting place with shade and some protection from the elements after days of dusty travel, many who passed by carved evidence of their passing – adding 2,000 symbols, names, dates, and fragments of their stories in the sandstone rock next to petroglyphs left by ancient Puebloans.

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The first Spanish inscription carved at El Morro is Don Juan de Onate in 1605.  Those Spaniards now taking the El Morro route to Zuni and the west, added their inscriptions.  The last one they added is dated 1774.

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After acquiring New Mexico, from 1849 to 1906 U.S. military expeditions and engineer surveyors came into the state, followed by emigrants passing through enroute to California.

Lt. James H. Simpson of the Army’s Topographical Engineers accompanied one of those expeditions and, with artist Richard Kern, took a side trip to El Morro in September 1849.

For two days the two men copied all of the inscriptions for historical recording.  And, of course, they too left their names and date, shown below.  Richard Kern added “artist” after his name.

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In 1868, a Union Pacific survey party visited El Morro to look for a rail route to pass this campsite, but another route 25 miles north was selected.  Even though, the railroad surveyors added their names and date.

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When the first train steamed over the Continental Divide in 1881, it ended the historic function of El Morro as a watering hole and camp on the long, dusty trail between the Rio Grande and western deserts.

On December 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed El Morro a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906.  He wanted to ensure that these inscriptions, petroglyphs, and pueblo ruins would be preserved as they have been for us to enjoy this fascinating history today.

The rain started to fall pretty heavily while I was attempting to take photos of as many  inscriptions as I could towards the end of the trail, and I really didn’t mind it; but my camera did, so we quickly walked back to the Visitor’s Center, looking like two wet puppies.

Some more photos….

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And the backside of El Morro as we drove away.

This visit was unfortunately short.  But it was quite interesting to see names of the celebrated, the infamous, the legendary, and the unknown immortalized side by side where they would otherwise be separated by time, class, and ambitions.  We would have returned but the next day was off to Canyon de Chelly and then the following day back on the road for Arizona.

El Morro is definitely a worthwhile visit if you’re nearby in New Mexico!

 

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