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!


35 thoughts on “El Morro National Monument

  1. Wonderful photos of El Morro! We have made several road trips across the country but El Morro is one place we haven’t been, so your photos and writeup were great to read! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • You’re welcome, Susan! Out in the middle of nowhere, I was told it was not heavily visited so no long lines or people to photo-bomb your captures, and they were right. I wish we could have gone on the top trail, it had to be very impressive. Hope all is well on Kent Island! I can almost smell those Old Bay steamed crabs!! 😉

    • Thank you so much! I really did enjoy El Morro and it’s history. Sightseeing has been so great, that I’m too busy absorbing all the beauty and fun along the way, I’m having a tough time sitting still inside to photo edit and catch up on my fave blogs! 🙂

    • It’s pretty cool to stumble on a bit of history that’s in the middle of nowhere! Would love for it to be our campsite, just ours, no one else there. 🙂 Thanks for your wonderful compliments, always very much appreciated, friend! ❤

    • I’m hearing long-line stories for our next park visit to the Grand Canyon. 😦 El Morro was quiet and beautiful, no one there. I was really bummed with the little rain storm, hurrying us along the path and inscriptions. We wanted to find the famous ones but just no time. We looked like to wet dogs coming back into the Visitor’s Center. We were greeted with paper towels and huge grins from the Park Rangers. 🙂

      • 🙂 Yes, you were troopers!

        This time of year I can well imagine how crowded GCNP is going to be!

        I hope you get through the lines without any frustration, and enjoy the park. It is beautiful. It’s been a couple of decades since I was there last. I’ll never forget it. It’s one of those special places you don’t forget.

        • Went to GCNP late afternoon and stayed to watch the sun set. No crowds or lines, WOW! Sunset was kinda a bust with the haze…..but we’ll go back a few more days in next couple weeks, I want to go at sunrise! So far, I am so very happy with my photos from yesterday, took 606. My hubby was shocked! I wasn’t!! LOL

    • Thank you, Tom, I wish I was more up on the desert rain storms and better planned the day. We lost cell phone coverage about 10 miles before arriving, and I knew something was just starting to pop up on radar. Still glad we got to spend what time we had, I learned a lot of a place I had never heard of before myself. 🙂

    • It was quite an experience, hubby & I were thrilled with the visit. I saw a couple birds, but they were too busy trying to take cover from the light rain. But that was okay, I appreciate their need for protection! 🙂

  2. Wow! Such a fascinating place to visit, Donna. All those inscriptions dating way back, are so special. The rock formations are really awe-inspiring. Thanks for sharing your photos and the history. 🙂

  3. Wonderful pictures of a fascinating place, Donna! I always wonder how life was in those days…Thank you for sharing a beautiful piece of your adventure. Looking forward to more 🙂

    • Thanks Helen! Standing in the drizzle, we took time to think about all those visitors and the turmoils they experienced crossing the deserts and mountains; and then to arrive here, it had to be a thrill to see and find this oasis! 🙂

  4. To think that I had never heard of this place! There are so many wonderful things to be seen in the United States, it would take a lifetime to see and photograph them all well. I’m glad that you posted this, as I’m adding it to my list of must see places!

    • As I search daily for our destinations in the next couple months, I continue to find places and things to see that I never heard of either. I’m overwhelmed with which places to go next! 🙂 I know you would love the Southwest, Jerry. Have you been down that way yet?

  5. Another great spot out west. This is one I’ve missed in my travels and looks well worth the detour. Pity about the rain, though it’s a refreshing surprise out there in the desert. Can’t wait to see what you come back with from de Chelly!

    • Thanks, I really enjoyed El Morro, looking at all the signatures and pictures engraved from so many different people and over so many different lifetimes. If we should return to the area, I would visit it again to take the hike to the top and see the ruins. You’ll enjoy for sure!

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