El Morro National Monument
Location: Ramah, NM
Smashed Penny Machine: No
El Morro National Monument is about a twenty-minute drive along Highway 53 from the El Malpais El Calderon hiking area. The close proximity of the parks makes it very easy to visit both parks in the same trip. El Morro is a much smaller park than El Malpais. It is the site of a natural water hole at the base of the sandstone bluff. The reliability of water in the desert and recognizable landmark made El Morro a very important place for many groups of travelers through history from ancient peoples, Spanish explorers and pioneer settlers. Each group has left their mark (literally) on the bluff.
El Morro consists of two trails. The first is the Inscription Trail is a half-mile loop that will take you along the base of the bluff, past the watering hole and past many ancient petroglyphs and more “modern” carvings along the walls of the bluff. The Inscription Trail is a very easy hike and completely paved so you could easily take a stroller on it. Both the toddlers walked most of the trail so it is a very easy hike but pack some water because it is still hot in the desert. The Headland Trail is about a two-mile hike that will take you to the top of the bluff. The trail also features the ruins of a pueblo village.
Because we had chosen to do a little more hiking than we had originally planned at El Malpais we opted to just hike the Inscription Trail. The trail meanders through some scrub desert plants were we saw several various desert birds. The trail leads directly past the watering hole that made this place so vital to the area. The watering hole was a lot smaller than I was expecting and the view of it (at least in late July) was mostly obstructed by the natural reeds growing in the shallow waters. As the trail continues along the base of the bluff, you will see lots inscriptions and carvings from the various groups that had passed through this area.
The park also has a small bookstore and museum. They also offer ranger led hikes. If you are just walking the Inscription Trail like we did then you don’t need to plan very long for your visit. Between our hike and doing Jr Ranger activities we spent about an hour or an hour and a half at this park.
Overall: El Morro is a neat park for it’s history. There isn’t a lot to see or do here though. If you are in the area and have spare time, it is worth stopping to check out. I’m not sure I’d drive really far out of my way to see it though.