November 2019 has had extremely cold and then close to perfect warm afternoons which is the perfect time to take advantage of the weather to get outside enjoying the majesty of the planet.
During a recent trip to Gallup, I tagged along with my trusty partner in crime as he went to do his judging magic for the students of New Mexico for a state competition. We stayed in a swank little Marriott hotel that had the most outstanding customer service. Literally, everyone was polite and helpful which made it that much more exciting to explore and learn.
Gathering as much info from our host at the hotel, we found a flea market that was incredible and PACKED. We toured a few of the local stores and found our way to a place called Perry Hull Trading Company where we found an amazing collection of local jewelry, crafts and much more.
I was more interested in the Fire and Ice tunnels and the El Morro monument. From Gallup we headed south towards Zuni Pueblo and once you pass the pueblo you venture east on the old Indian trail that was used to get to Acoma from Zuni. Along that route you drive directly through the area and the El Morro is no less then 2 minutes off the road.
I had heard of this place that hosted one of the most unique monuments if not the southwest or country but possibly the world.
On a main east – west trail between Acoma Pueblo and Zuni Pueblo rises an incredible sandstone bluff with a pool of water at its base. The Zuni natives, who’s Puebloan ancestors lived here, and they called it ‘Atsinna’ “Place of Writings on The Rock”. The Pueblo as abandoned around 1400 as people move to larger, consolidated villages in the Zuni Valley. El Morro is a cuesta, a long formation gently sloping upward., then dropping off abruptly at one end. The land is made up of sandstone layers deposited by wind, desert streams and an ancient sea.
The Spaniards called it El Morro, “the headland”. Anglo Americans called it ‘Inscription Rock’. Over the centuries those who traveled this trail have stopped to camp at the shady oasis beneath these amazing cliffs also to collect water from the natural pool of fresh water which is replenished with the rains and the snow fall. Resting in the shade of the bluff. Today the pool waters sunflowers, cattails and native grasses on its shore.
These visitors left carved evidence of their passage with symbols, names, dates and fragments of their stories that register with cultures and history intermingled on the rock.
Signatures of 2 prominent New Mexicans on the rock with one signature being one of the oldest found at El Morro and that famous autograph belongs to none other than the first Governor, Don Juan de Oñate. With the second one being that of Governor Don Diego de Vargas, who will re-settle New Mexico.
The hike around and up over the rocks is incredible and once you reach the top the rocks, like some outer space movie sets not only changes colors but gives views to the plateau unlike any other.
Perhaps it was the notion of immortality, an inspiration for creativity since the dawn of the human race, that compelled people to write their lives into rock. Compared to our life spans, El Morro seems timeless. Geological and erosional forces will, in the long run, dismantle these sandstone layers but the protective, hard rock layer at the top has delayed the process longer than on the land around it, which once rose as high.
El Morro always existed and always will. Those wielders of stone and steel who reached out to passers-by of the future left a rare gift. An ancient Indian’s carving of bighorn sheep, a Spaniard’s “paso por aqui,” a precisely chiseled name from America’s westward expansion: These weave a variegated tapestry of the peopling of New Mexico.