UNM is on Spring Break this week. Although we, at the UNM Foundation, didn't get the entire week off, we were given today and tomorrow as holidays. I've been looking forward to this day for some time, because I wanted to go somewhere new and different for a photo shoot. My friend, from church, Joanne, was going to go with me. Even though she has no real interest in photography, she is interested in exploring new places and in spending time chatting and laughing with a friend. However, it turned out that she wasn't able to go, after all, so I hopped in the car at 7:00 this morning and took off for El Morro by myself. I wanted to catch the morning light.
El Morro National Monument is about 125 miles from Albuquerque, near Grants, NM. It is a tall sandstone bluff with a pool at its base, kept full, year-round by the rain-water runoff and snow melt. For centuries, travelers came by this bluff to drink the water, which was the only reliable source of water for at least 30 miles. It was, truly, an oasis.
The streaks are spillways, where the run-off comes down the sandstone cliffs and collects in the pool.
But what makes this beautiful chunk of rock important and so interesting is that, from as far back as 1100 A.D., the people who either lived here, or stopped here for water and relief from the heat, left messages carved into the sandstone - little glimpses of their life stories. The earliest inscriptions were actually petroglyphs, left by the Pueblo people who lived in villages on top of this bluff.
Big horn sheep - Pueblo Indian petroglyphs
Do you see the bear paw? It's another twelfth century Pueblo petroglyph.
Hundreds of years after the Pueblo people moved on, the Spaniards came by El Morro. Many of the inscriptions on the rock, known as Inscription Rock, were carved there by the Spaniards. The earliest dated Spanish inscription was in 1539, and the latest Spanish inscription is dated 1774.
Finally, US military personnel and people heading to California in search of gold left their names, thoughts and dates on the cliff beginning in 1846 and ending in 1906, when El Morro was made a national monument.
In all, there are more than 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions covering Inscription Rock. The trail beside Inscription Rock makes a loop from the visitor's center and is only .5 mile long. It is paved and an easy walk. It does gain some elevation in the first half of the loop, then loses it at the end. The first four pictures, below, are what you see, looking up, as you walk this trail. The cliff is impressive and it made me feel very small!
The pictures that follow are some of the inscriptions I saw today. The narratives I've included beneath each picture are direct quotes from Guide to the Inscription Trail: El Morro National Monument, New Mexico, which is available at the site for $2.00. (Copyright 2008 by Western National Parks Association, Edited and written by Abby Mogollon.) If you visit El Morro, I'd advise you to purchase this little booklet, because it really breathes life into what you will see.
"[This] inscription names a frontier governor who is well-known in New Mexico . . . Translation: 'General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown, all of New Mexico, at his own expense, was here, in the year of 1692.' In 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted against their conquerors. Many Spanish men, women, and children were killed and the remainder fled to El Paso. In 1692, newly appointed governor of New Mexico, Don Diego de Vargas reestablished Spanish control of the pueblos. After the end of his first term as governor he was imprisoned for three years in the governor's palace for alleged wrongdoings among the settlers. He was exonerated and restored as governor for a second term in 1702. He died in Bernalillo in 1704 at the age of 61."
"Many Spanish inscribers wrote paso por aqui, or 'passed through here.' . . . Translation: 'On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, Ramon Garcia Jurado passed through here on the way to Zuni.' From the time Ramon Garcia Jurado moved to New Mexico as a colonist in 1693 until his death at the age of 80 in 1760, he was witness and participant in the Spanish settlement of New Mexico. It is likely that he was on a campaign against the Navajos during his visit to El Morro in 1709."
"E. Penn. Long of Baltimore, Maryland, chiseled this elegant-looking inscription. Long was a member of a U.S. Army expedition led by Lt. Edward F. Beale to find a wagon route from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the Colorado River. The group, which first passed by El Morro in 1857, was also testing the usefulness of camels in crossing the deserts of the Southwest . . ."
"P. (Peachy) Breckinridge was the man in charge of the twenty-five camels used by Lieutenant Beale in 1857. After his work with Beale, Breckinridge returned to his home state of Virginia and fought in the Civil War. He was killed during a skirmish at Kennon's Landing, Virginia in 1863."
"Both women and men passed by El Morro, but very few women left their inscriptions. Miss A. F. Baley was one of the exceptions. America Frances Baley and her sister Amelia were part of a wagon party headed from Missouri to California in 1858 . . . If America Baley had known what she would encounter later in the journey she may not have continued. Just east of the Colorado River, eight hundred Mojave Indians attacked the sixty Anglo travelers. The Mojave killed nine and injured seventeen . . . The Baley sisters eventually made it to Fresno County, California."
". . . R. H. Orton became adjutant-general of California after the Civil War . . ."
I have no idea who C.C. Clark was, but I'd like to think he may have been one of my ancestors!
Besides Inscription Trail, there is a longer, steeper and more difficult trail, the Headland Trail, which goes to the top of the bluff, where portions of the ancient Pueblo villages can still be seen. However, that trail is not yet open this season, due to the remaining snow.
Back at the visitor's center, after walking the Inscription Trail, I wondered how difficult it must have been to chisel words into the sandstone cliff. I know sandstone is soft, but how soft? Well, as if the Forest Service were reading my mind, I came across these two sandstone chunks, near the parking lot. The little sign read, "Carve your initials on this typical piece of local sandstone, if you must - but please remember: it is against the law to carve anything on Inscription Rock itself!"
I had to try.
I pulled out my car key and tried to scrape an "L" into the sandstone. Soft? Maybe . . . compared to diamonds! I didn't have the patience to get even one leg of my "L" scraped into the stone. I was also afraid that I'd ruin my key; then how would I make it the 125 miles back to my house? It must have taken incredible patience, skill and talent to carve some of the ornate inscriptions I saw along the trail.
These people who stopped and wrote on the wall over the past nine centuries may not have realized the impact that their "graffiti" would have for future generations. I, for one, was really touched by reading their words.