el morro & environs

After a wildly busy three days in Arizona, and a big breakfast in the morning at La Posada, I began shifting the action back from whence I came, to New Mexico. This meant a long drive, and I hate long drives. Through some planning and research, however, I was able to pinpoint some interesting historical and cultural spots along the way, the first after a quiet drive through mile after lonely mile of curiously beautiful Arizona desert.

I first stopped at a Zuni Pueblo visitor’s center about an hour (and change) southwest of Petrified Forest National Park. There, I admired pottery and read about the Spanish being misinformed about gold and silver deposits in this part of the world. Misinformation! It leads to so many problems. A dozen or so miles up the road? Cliff dwellings, about three-quarters of a mile off NM 53 (Ice Cave Road), ones unattached to any state or national park or landholdings.

You wouldn’t have believed the number of cars that passed by, on a rocky road, as I took the photos. I saw fewer between Holbrook AZ and the turnoff. No idea what that was about!

Cliff Dwellings near Ramah, New Mexico

A few quick snapshots and a snail’s-pace drive back onto 53, and I headed to El Morro National Monument. I do not have the time or the mental bandwidth (I’ve been painting a ceiling and getting ready for a fall semester) to get into all the details. You can read up on the place here, though. Suffice it to say that while the contrast of colors at the park, and a hike to the top of its sandstone rock alone make the stop worth making, what makes it most memorable is its history.

El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

El Morro’s lower reaches are, for instance, filled with a mix of petroglyphs, along with engraved signatures dating from 1605, and continuing on through the immediate post-Civil War years. The reason: This area had, and still has, an oasis at its center (which I photographed but wasn’t much to look in a drier-than-usual mid-June 2021).

Atop the rock (and four or five steep flights of stairs), meanwhile, are what remains of a large Native American pueblo.

Verdict: El Morro rocked! I also picked up a discounted T-shirt at the gift shop that memorialized the U.S. Army’s “Camel Corps,” whose namesakes often passed by the rock and oasis. (I’d known about the Camel Corps via a connection to the Siege of Vicksburg, via a presentation I checked out during a marking of the Civil War Sesquicentennial of 2011 at the Vicksburg National Military Park.)