. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Friday, November 11, 2011

El Morro National Monument

The trail down to the pool
My family decided to take a road trip this Veteran’s Day weekend. It started off as an idea to get driving hours for my teenager so that he can get his driver’s license. So off we went to the lovely small town of Grants, NM, which is close to two national monuments in the northwestern portion of the state.

The pool at the base of the bluff
Our first stop was El Morro National Monument, about 30 miles south of Grants along Hwy 53 and which is situated on top of a sandstone mesa whose claim to fame is the pool at the base of the cliff that provides a reliable, year-round source of drinking water. It has been a gathering point for travelers for hundreds of years. The pool is not a spring, instead being fed by run-off from rainfall and snowmelt from the mesa above. The hole is at least 10 feet deep and is protected from the sun so that it holds water all year, even during summer droughts. I loved seeing the cattails surrounding the pool and how clear the water was, reflecting the cliff behind it so that you almost could not tell that it was a pool of water at the base.

Bighorn sheep petroglyphs
Beginning on the cliffs surrounding the pool are thousands of drawings, signatures, and messages carved in to the rock. This area is known as Inscription Rock and covers three distinct time periods: Ancestral Puebloans from up to 1,000 years ago, Spanish conquistadores from around 1605-1800, and American settlers after that time. The oldest inscriptions make up the petroglyphs from the early people, such as the row of bighorn sheep. The Spanish carvings include one from the conquistadore Juan de Onate (the butcher of native peoples) in 1605. The American inscriptions include many from the initial settlement of the West to the railroad building; most stop around the year 1900.

Zuni Sandstone
Past the pool and Inscription Rock, the trail winds around to the top of the mesa and we walked on the Zuni Sandstone, a barren landscape of pure white sandstone with some red and orange rock on top. The trail leads you around a deep box canyon and to the Ancestral Puebloan ruins of Atsinna, which contained about 40 rooms and including each a round and a square kiva. The rest of the ruins are unexcavated at this time.

Atsinna Pueblo Ruins, Square Kiva
All in all, the trail was about 2 miles total and included 200 feet in elevation with switchbacks leading up and then down the mesa top. I definitely recommend you go visit this small New Mexican national monument.

Box Canyon

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