El Morro National Monument in New Mexico is still a place where people pass through on their way to somewhere else. This wasn’t always the case though. Atop the Morro (bluff or headland), sits the Atsinna Pueblo a great house of the ancestral Puebloans dating to about 1300. The base of the headland marks a precious pool of water that has been a watering hole for travelers well after Atsinna was abandoned by its builders. Left behind are thousands of petroglyphs and signatures on the Morro. It shows the history of this place in chronological form. As you hike along, you can observe the “paso por aqui” of natives, Spaniards, and settlers alike. Hikerlore paso por aqui El Morro May 2019.

Mesa Top Trail Loop

Take the trail up to the mesa from the Visitor’s Center. Initially, you’ll work hard, but the viewpoint showcasing the arid landscape and unique Zuni and Dakota sandstone formation is worth the effort. You can see the box canyon from above; once used by ranchers and filled with lovely ponderosa. Atsinna Pueblo is only partially excavated to preserve the ruin, but you can easily see how big this multi-roomed great house originally was. It occupies a commanding and perhaps defensive position on top of El Morro’s Mesa. From here, you can view the distance volcanic El Malpais National Monument. To learn more about the Puebloans, click here.

Inscription Rock Trail Loop

The pool at the base of the sandstone bluff contains pour off from the mesa above. It holds 200,000 gallons of water and is 12-feet deep. It was invaluable for the arid ancestral farmers, the Spaniards who attempted to convert and conquer their descendants, and the later European settlers on their way to California. Interestingly, the mid-1800s U.S. army experimented with a camel corps which passed El Morro.

The Inscription Rock Trail is numbered. Pick up a pamphlet from the Visitor’s Center and read about the various inscriptions left behind. Among the more interesting are ancient petroglyphs of animals, a Spanish governor looking for the Pacific Ocean in 1605, Beale’s camel corps, and anglo emigrants in a wagon train taking Beale’s route to California. These emigrants were attacked by Mojave natives, leaving only some survivors. For more details on El Morro’s inscriptions, click here.

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Hiker Tips

  • Watch the video and tour the museum. It enriches the hike.
  • If you want to camp, get there early. The campground is small and is first come, first served.
  • Combine the two loops to make the 2-mile Headland Trail.

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