In a galaxy far, far away… Southwestern Road Trip Day 2 (El Morro)

After a relaxing evening at the Hampton Inn in Gallup (Mak and Abah ate their tar paued mexican food, and Vin and I went out briefly for a quick bite), we had a good night’s sleep and hit the road at 8:00 AM again. Gallup is a lot colder than Phoenix so everybody was bundled up for the 40+ Fahrenheit (about 5 C) weather.

[[image:us63.jpg:Map of New Mexico:center:0]]

On our itinerary for the day, from Gallup, we would get off the I-40 and head south on the NM 602 then east on NM 53 a little ways to see El Morro National Monument. After El Morro, we would take the NM 53 north east to the I-40 and then stop at Acoma Pueblo. We took so many cool pictures I’ll divide Day 2 into first El Morro, then Acoma Sky City.

The weather was a little overcast and cloudy. Here’s what the terrain looked like on the NM 602 and NM 53:

[[image:us64.jpg:Rolling Hills:center:0]]

Before long we started seeing interesting rock outcroppings. Possibly sandstone?

[[image:us65.jpg:Funky masjid-like formations:center:0]]

And then we saw the back of our destination, El Morro:

[[image:us66.jpg:Other side of El Morro:center:0]]

We turned in at the signboard:

[[image:us91.jpg:Trick shot, I’m in the picture too:center:0]]

We started off at the visitor center:

[[image:us67.jpg:Mak and Abah outside the visitor center:center:0]]

[[image:us68.jpg:Mak by a Juniper tree:center:0]]

After browsing in the visitor center / gift shop, we learned that El Morro is a huge sandstone mesa that is different from the other sandstone mesas around this area (there are others!) because there is pool of water that is drinkable and is always filled with water. So what makes El Morro different is that this pool made it a “destination” for travelers from the 1600s onwards. “Paso por aqui” (Passed by here…) was carved into El Morro from 1605 to the 1800s by Spanish explorers, and after that in the 1800s the inscriptions were in English by Americans venturing westwards from the east coast. And to show that this pool has been succoring travelers for far longer than the Spanish explorers, you can also see petroglyphs carved into the rock by Ancient Puebloans, and in fact ruins of an Ancient Puebloan settlement was uncovered right at El Morro in the last fifty years or so. These ruins date back to 1275 AD.

The Park Rangers took our nominal fee (I believe it was $3 per person – but don’t quote me on that, I forget exactly) and gave us our self guided tour booklet. We could take one of several trails – a 2-mile loop all the way around El Morro, a half-mile loop just to view all the inscriptions, or a mile-and-a-half-loop to view the Ancient Puebloan ruins. Given that we were at about 6000 feet above sea level, and Mak did not really want to do a 2-mile climb/hike around the rock, we decided to do the shortest of the three, the Inscription Loop.

So we start off on our trail:

[[image:us69.jpg:Trail at El Morro:center:0]]

[[image:us70.jpg:Vin at El Morro:center:0]]

[[image:us71.jpg:Abah, Mak and Vin on the Trail:center:0]]

The really cool thing about this area was all the different plants we could see, indigenous to this high plateau desert climate. The foliage was marked with signs that told us the names of things (how else would I know that Mak was under a Juniper tree – I can’t even tell the difference between a rose bush and a bougainvilla plant unless there are flowers on it and I saw these shrubbery every day of my life in my mother’s garden). Anyway, Mak was having fun looking at all the different things that grew here and finding out their names (when she asks me what any plant is called, I say “I dunno” – useless I am at plants).

We got closer to the monolith that is El Morro:

[[image:us72.jpg:Mak and Vin by El Morro:center:0]]

[[image:us73.jpg:There’s a tree up at the top too:center:0]]

[[image:us74.jpg:Humongous Ponderosa Pine:center:0]]

See that Ponderosa Pine in the picture above here? It doesn’t look so big like that, but here’s Mak and me under it looking at its pine cone (yes, it’s really a Ponderosa Pine – the sign said so):

[[image:us81.jpg:Mak and me under the Ponderosa:center:0]]

[[image:us82.jpg:More ponderosas?:center:0]]

Abah took a moment to pose by this little shrub (I forget what it’s called now, sorry):

[[image:us89.jpg:Abah, shrubbing it:center:0]]

Finally we get to the pool. At first we thought there was no water in it – it didn’t look like there was any in it. But when we got closer, we realized that the pool so perfectly reflected the rock walls that it seemed like there was no water in there. There was a measurement stuck into the water and according to the stick the pool was about 11 feet deep! Look how beautiful it is:

[[image:us75.jpg:Vin and I viewing the pool:center:0]]

[[image:us76.jpg:Mak, Abah and Vin by the pool:center:0]]

[[image:us77.jpg:Pool reflecting the rock:center:0]]

[[image:us78.jpg:Perfect reflection:center:0]]

[[image:us79.jpg:One of the crevices that help feed the pool:center:0]]

This pool can even overflow – that’s how much water gets collected here. Travelers from centuries ago would stop here to stock up on their water, and as they passed by, they carved on the soft sandstone to mark their passage. The Spanish would write “Paso por aqui [Name] [Date]” (Passed by here, so and so, on this date). Sort of a classy version of “Sila wuz here” I suppose. There were many of these inscriptions as we went on the trail, and the self guided tour would explain who these people were and verify the dates:

[[image:us84.jpg:Paso por aqui:center:0]]

Here’s an example of the much older petroglyphs:

[[image:us85.jpg:Ancient Puebloan petroglyphs:center:0]]

Not only did we see some cool flora, we also saw some signs of life. A cotton-tail rabbit ran across the trail and disappeared into the underbrush before we could take a picture, but Abah did manage to track down this little chipmunk dude:

[[image:us80.jpg:El Morro chipmunk:center:0]]

Anyway, the sandstone up close was still really cool:

[[image:us83.jpg:Cracks on El Morro:center:0]]

We walked to the last of the inscriptions, which was at the end of the big rocky headland:

[[image:us86.jpg:Vin studying the last of the inscriptions:center:0]]

[[image:us87.jpg:Thumbs up from Abah by the rounded end of El Morro:center:0]]

From the tip of the headland, we had a really cool view of the land:

[[image:us88.jpg:Mak and Me with the horizon at our backs:center:0]]

We slowly made our way back to the visitor center, browsed and bought a few little things before we headed back to our car. We could have easily spent the day here just slowly doing all the trails – it would have been fun. But we had to go so we could hit our next destination and still make it to Taos to spend the night.

As we sped away from El Morro, we spotted a small herd of antelope. Look at this guy! Staring right at us.


I’ll be back with the 2nd part of Day 2 (Acoma Sky City). In the meantime, some more attempts at photostitching El Morro:

[[image:usph09.jpg:View from El Morro:center:0]]

[[image:usph03.jpg:Up close and personal:center:0]]

[[image:usph04.jpg:El Morro in all its grandeur:center:0]]

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