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Revisiting El Morro National Monument

Alternate Plans: Back on the Four Corners Circuit
Friday, May 27, 2022

After leaving the Zuni Pueblo we travelled just a little further east until we reached Inscription Rock at El Morro National Monument. Although we had stopped here just over two years ago, part of the trail was closed for the winter that day and many of the inscriptions were in poor light, so I wanted to return to finish hiking the complete loop and to hopefully get some better photos of the inscriptions along the way. Plus, we also needed to pick up a caving permit for El Malpais National Monument on Saturday, and we would be able to get one of those at the El Morro Visitor Center while we were there, saving us from a trip into Grants the following morning.

Once we arrived at the Visitor Center the first thing we did was go inside to get the caving permit. Apparently, this is a new thing for the El Morro Visitor Center and even though they recently had some training about giving out these permits, this was the first caving permit someone had requested there, so they had to figure out the process for the first time. Once we had the caving permit squared away, I set off to hike the complete Headland Trail and Mesa Top Trail Loop by myself since Diane wasn’t feeling up for it and had already hiked most of the trail during our previous visit.

I followed the outer loop of the Inscription Loop Trail and hiked around the northeastern point of Inscription Rock.

Inscription Rock

There are a lot of inscriptions from the 1800’s at the base of the point.

Inscriptions At The Point

Past this point is where the trail was closed on our previous visit, so I got to see a number of new inscriptions this time as I made my way along the north side of Inscription Rock.

Year of 1716 on the 26th of August passed by here Don Feliz Martinez. Governor and Captain General of this realm to the reduction and conquest of the Moqui (Hopi) and (in his company?) the reverend Father Friar Antonio Camargo, Custodian and ecclesiastical judge.

Don Feliz Martinez, 1716

The 28th day of September of 1737, arrived here the Bachelor Don Juan Ignacio of Arrasain.

Don Juan Ignacio, 1737

The 28th day of September of 1737, arrived here the illustrious Senor Don Martin de Elizacochcea, Bishop of Durango, and the day following, went on to Zuni.”

Don Martin de Elizacochea, 1737

I am the captain General of the Province of New Mexico for the King our Lord, passed by here on the return from the pueblos of Zuni on the 29th of July the year 1620, and put them at peace at their humble petition, they asking favor as vassals of his Majesty and promising anew their obedience, all of which he did, with clemency, zeal, and prudence, as a most Christianlike (gentleman) extraordinary and gallant soldier of enduring and praised memory.

Eulate, 1620

They passed on the 23rd of March, 1632, to the avenging of the death of the Father Letrado. -Lujan

Lujan, 1632

Once past the inscriptions I continued along the lower Headland Trail.

Lower Headland Trail

Rock Point

Rock Point

Then I hiked up the switchbacks to the top of Inscription Rock.

Headland Trail Switchback

Following the Headland Trail across the top of the mesa.

Headland Trail

I was surprised at how much work went into creating this trail on top of the mesa in the past. It looks like they took the time and effort to carve a deep path into the sandstone here.


Sandstone Wandering

Sandstone Wandering

There were also a number of carved steps into the sandstone along the way that I found interesting. Many of them were pretty weathered and worn out.

Sandstone Staircase

View from the top.

View From The Top

Following the trail across the sandstone.

Across The Top

They had even gone through the trouble of carving outlines of the trail into the sandstone.

Carved Path

Sandstone Staircase


After crossing the sandstone on the top of the mesa, I soon passed by the Atsinna Pueblo.

Atsinna Pueblo

Here’s one last look from above Inscription Rock before I descended back down to the Visitor Center.

Above Inscription Rock

I met back up with Diane at the trailhead and then we hiked the Inscription Loop Trail together, stopping at The Pool first and then checking out the inscriptions again. The light was much better this time around!

El Morro Pool II

Before the days of interstates and automobiles, a journey from Albuquerque to Zuni (about 150 miles) typically took 9 or 10 days. Imagine the relief travelers must have felt when they reached this shady little oasis after walking or riding a horse for days across mountains, desert and lava rocks. Hundreds of years before Spanish conquistadores passed by here, the pool’s dependable water supply encouraged the settlement of Puebloan people on top of the bluff. After centuries of continuous human use, the pool today is used only by local wildlife taking advantage of its refreshing waters.

National Park Service

El Morro Pool

Inscription Rock Petroglyphs

Inscription Rock Petroglyphs

Petroglyph Spot

We have a very good account of Mr. P. (Peachy) Gilmer Breckenridge from the Virginia Historical Society. He graduated from Virginia Military Institute, and as a young man rode all the way across the plains to California.

Remaining there only a short time, he rode back to Virginia just in time to get into the Civil War. He was killed in a skirmish at Kennon’s Landing, Virginia, in 1863.

Breckinridge, 1859

On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, passed by here on the way to Zuni
-Ramon Garcia Jurado

Ramon Garcia Jurado, 1709

Passed by here the Governor don Juan de Onate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South on the 16th of April, 1605.

Juan de Onate, 1605

A very prominent inscription by R. H. Orton. This man was the Adjutant-General of California after the Civil War.

Orton, 1866

We caught a glimpse of these carved hands through the branches of a tree.

Framed Hands

Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith, and for the Royal Crown, all of New Mexico at his own expense, year of 1692.

Don Diego de Vargas, 1692

Once we reached the base of the point of Inscription Rock we followed the loop back to the trailhead and then made our way into The Malpais for the rest of the evening.

Inscription Rock Sunstar

>> Revisiting El Morro National Monument Photo Gallery

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