White cap rock portion of mesa top trail

White cap rock portion of mesa top trail


Once on top of El Morro, a wonderful route leads out to the prow of the sandstone cliffs (above the waterhole), then follows the rim around a ponderosa pine filled "box canyon". If ice on the trail hadn’t closed part of the trail during our visit, you could complete a nice loop hike.

Rain and snow melt feed a small waterhole at the base of a cliff. For thousands of years it was the only reliable water for over 30 miles in any directions. The cliffs served as a landmark making the waterhole easy to locate. The original waterhole has been enlarged a bit over time by those who depended upon it, but it is still dwarfed by the towering cliffs that shade it and keep it from evaporating in the summer heat.

The waterhole is along the natural route between the Acoma and Zuni Pueblos. Anasazi built masonry dwellings and kivas on top the El Morro sandstone mesa and added their petroglyphs to the rock faces of the cliffs near the waterhole. These cliff faces would record the passing of many interesting, famous, and widely varied travelers.

The oldest “non-Native American” inscription was left by Don Juan de Onate in 1605. Lots of the Spanish conquistadores left their message here and “paso por aqui” or “pasamos por aqui” (I or we passed by way of here in Spanish), is a common message carved in the cliffs. Ramon Garcia Jurado carved a message on the cliffs in 1709 just 30 years after the Pueblo Revolt, where the Pueblo people united and drove the Spaniards out of their homeland (temporarily).

Among the Native American bighorn sheep petroglyphs and Spanish “paso por aqui” messages a poet left a poem in 1629 cut in stone. Then came Americans and the U.S. Army. Lt. J.H. Simpson left a crisp inscription here in 1849. Then the somewhat bizarre: in 1859 the U.S. Army experimented with the use of camels for desert travel in the American Southwest.

The camels were bought in Egypt; trained in Texas; and led by Lt. Edward Beale (He was originally in the U.S. Navy!) with a fellow named Breckenridge, in charge of the camels. They stopped by at El Morro twice, both in 1857 and in 1859 when they carved their names in the cliffs.

By the time the civil war began, the U.S. Army gave up the idea of camels and most were sold or turned loose. There are many strange stories of those travelers who ran across “wild camels” in the Southwest in subsequent years, many of whom must have given up whatever brand of whisky they may have been drinking at the time.

The stories with a link to El Morro, go on and on, and make interesting reading. A visit to El Morro brings many of the stories much more to life. It was a good stop and excellent hike. Ice had closed a portion of the loop trail, so Ed and I hiked to the end of the trail and the back tracked up to the top of the mesa to hike the other portion.


This would be an interesting day of travel on this road trip but not a particularly good day for photographs. In fact, there is only one photograph that I took the entire day that I’m proud of. The rest do little more than share a story of road trip travels and preserve good memories.

After a now customary big breakfast at Denny’s, we left Grants, New Mexico for El Morro National Monument. El Morro had perhaps the most interesting history of any place we visited on this road trip. There are few “knock out” photos to be had here but hiking along the inscriptions panel on the face of the cliffs; the water pool that “made” the place; or up across the top of the cliffs where there are kivas and masonry ruins and views for hundreds of miles – – certainly made this a great place to stop and visit.

Leaving El Morro, we drove to the Zuni Pueblo. I got my favorite photograph of the day of a young Zuni girl clutching her precious puppy, she said she had named “angel”. Zuni Pueblo though, is one of two places we visited on this road trip that I would not highly recommend. The pueblo itself is so run down it is a bit depressing, even though all the Zuni people we met were friendly, helpful, and wonderful people.

The women working the official Zuni crafts outlet store will never make a living working on sales commission but in their own unhurried way, they went about life. I bought a jet bear fetish here with an inlaid turquoise rain cloud. A card came with it telling of the Zuni craftsman, who created it. It is something I will long treasure, though a return trip to Zuni Pueblo will never be high on my list. The church at Zuni Pueblo, like most else there is in bad need of some care.

One of the many guide books I had with me said that highway 13 coming in from the Northeast of Canyon de Chelly was scenic, so Ed and I plotted a route to Chinle, Arizona that would take us north up highway 491 from Gallup, New Mexico, then over the mountains on highway 13 to the north edge of Canyon de Chelly (Canyon del Muerto is the north canyon).

The weather was windy and often with lots of clouds on our drive to Canyon de Chelly, but the back roads were interesting to drive. My wife and I had taken our four wheel drive truck with an old Navajo guide up Canyon del Muerto and we had revisited the rim several times. Still it was a place I enjoy and Ed hadn’t been there, so it was a worthwhile place to visit along the way.

We got rooms at Chinle and Ed helped me back up all the photos I had taken thus far on the road trip (LOTS), by unloading them to his computer then saving them on an 8 gb flash drive that I had purchased for the purpose at Moab.

By the way. Ed has taken two photo safaris to Africa in the last few years. His photographs of those trips on his “oldwrangler” Flickr photo site are outstanding. He used an Epson external hard drive and photo viewer “back up” on those trips. He had the Epson along on this trip and I fell in love with it. Probably too pricey for me, but I have looked at the P2000 and P4000 models on the internet, since our return from this road trip, with interest.

Here is the link to Ed’s “oldwrangler” Flickr photos: www.flickr.com/photos/31726639@N04/sets/


At the start of year 2011, I made tentative plans to take a two week solo “road trip” through the Four Corners area (The Colorado Plateau), during the last half of March. Then, if my wife could get the time needed off from her part time job, I also planned a “road trip” vacation to the Southwest, in April with her.

When I put the plan together for the March trip, I decided to see if an old friend of mine, Ed (Flickr’s: OldWrangler), might be interested in joining me. I volunteered to take my old four wheel drive pickup truck and split the gasoline expense with him. We would each get an inexpensive motel room on the road to serve as “base camps” to hike, photograph, and explore back roads in the Four Corners area.

Not only did Ed accept but he also proposed that we take his brand new 4-door Jeep Wrangler instead of my old pickup truck. That didn’t take any thinking on my part. I LOVE Jeeps and Ed and I have always got along well (decades ago, I worked for him and we had taken a fun road trip together back in 2008, along with my friend John and my youngest son). The deal was sealed.

We left my house in Central Washington early Monday morning on the 14th of March. We returned 12 days and 3,875 miles later on Friday evening March 25th. We spent a lot of time drinking Diet Pepsi from the ice chest and keeping the hits of the 60s (and occasionally the 70s), cranked up high on the Jeep’s Sirius satellite radio sound system. Sing along music! “Road trip” tunes.

Weather often dictated changes to our proposed route and activities. We stayed flexible, and in the end we visited the large majority of places we had hoped to see, when the road trip began. We had sun and clear skies, snow, dust storms, and high winds at times. Ed’s Jeep had an outside temperature display. We drove in everything from18 degree weather to temperatures in the 70s in New Mexico.

Here in outline form are the places we saw, hiked, photographed, and visited during the 12 day road trip:

Mon 3.14.11
* Interstate travel from my house in Central Washington to Lehi, Utah

Tue 3.15.11
* Scenic back roads ( Hwys: 6, 89, & 31) from Spanish Fork to Huntington, Utah
* Dirt road travel to “The Wedge” and down Buckhorn Wash to I-70.
* Side trip to the Head of Sinbad petroglyph and then on to Moab.

Wed 3.16.11
* Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands NP (Mesa Arch & Upheaval Dome)
* The Shafer “Jeep” Trail down to the White Rim road and back to Moab.
* Hike to Delicate Arch & visit Windows section in Arches NP.

Thu 3.17.11
* Newspaper Rock in the Needles district of Canyonlands NP
* Attempt back road travel thru the Abajo Mountains to Monticello
* Edge of the Cedars museum in Blanding, Utah
* Hovenweep – Square tower group loop hike
* Shiprock and then on to Farmington, New Mexico.

Fri 3.18.11
* Bisti Badlands hike (My favorite hike on the trip)
* Chaco Canyon (Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito) visit
* Scenic highway 96 and then down into Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sat 3.19.11
* Santo Domingo Pueblo (turquoise & pueblo oven bread)
* Cerrillos and the Turquoise Trail (highway 14)
* Acoma Sky City pueblo
* El Morro national monument hike
* Zuni pueblo then on to Grants, New Mexico

Sun 3.20.11
* Scenic highway 34 through Crystal to Canyon de Chelly national monument
* Canyon del Muerto rim of Canyon de Chelly. Stay in Chinle, Arizona

Mon 3.21.11
* White house ruin overlook at Canyon de Chelly
* Drive through a major dust storm getting pelted with flying tumbleweeds
* Highway 264 across Hopi Mesas to Tuba City then to Page, Arizona

Tue 3.22.11
* Try “walk in” lottery for “The Wave” (failed…….again)
* Visit Upper antelope slot canyon
* Big Bend of Colorado River

Wed 3.23.11
* The Toadstools hike
* Cottonwood wash/Paria River dirt road to Grosvenor (Butler) arch
* Kodachrome Basin (hike “Parade” and box canyons loop)
* Bryce Canyon National Park then on to Escalante, Utah

Thu 3.24.11
* Cancelled all our dirt road travel when we woke up to snow in Escalante
* Goblin Valley State Park then on to Ogden, Utah

Fri 3.15.11
* Interstate (through some serious snow in Northern Utah) back home.

Part of the fun of any “road trip” is the many interesting and wonderful people you meet along the way. We met more than our share but a few honorable mentions:

* Fred (Sawtooth photo) joined us for a Cracker Barrel lunch in Boise
* Al Hamann (a colorful character to say the least) CEO of Sun’s Inc. Passive Solar Products at Cindi’s Café in Huntington, Utah
* 15 year old “life is good” waitress at the Moab, Utah Pizza Hut
* Ana and daughter Tina ~ Santo Domingo Pueblo (turquoise & bread)
* Patricia (owner) at the Cerrillos, New Mexico turquoise mine museum
* “Love’s his job” and knowledgeable ranger at El Morro national monument
* Acoma Indian waitress at Grants, New Mexico
* Young Zuni girl with her special puppy “Angel”

And I just as well get the big confession out of the way. I gained back 6 pounds on this 12 day trip (and it is no mystery how that happened), of the hard lost pounds I from the preceding two and half months (“New Year’s resolution”). We ate a LOT at a LOT of family cafés and had many Denny’s specials. We found a few places to eat that were just flat out fantastic:

1. Homestead Steak House in Blanding, Utah (Order the French dip sandwich, which is served on fresh doughy bread, lots of beef, onions, green pepper, and cheese). Oh my!

2. The Family Hogan in Tuba City, Arizona. They were out of the Navajo mutton stew so I had the open face hot beef sandwich and a pizza sized Navajo fry bread with butter, sugar and cinnamon on the side (a vanilla milk shake too). I enjoyed each and every bite. The food was excellent and portions – generous.

3. Escalante Outfitters café (Pesto chicken pizza). Always good food can be found here and friendly people working there.

* Skip Chu Chu’s restaurant outside the Zuni pueblo. It was worth the view and a try, but the food was just not up to “road trip” standards.

I hope you enjoy some of the selected photographs I post from this road trip.

Oldmantravels 3.27.2011

Posted by oldmantravels on 2011-04-04 20:19:29

Tagged: , New Mexico , El Morro National Monument , cliff dwellings , Anasazi , ‘historic , trails , routes , four corners road trip , historic trails routes , beale’s camel trail , historic inscriptions , old spanish trail route , water in the desert , oasis , cliff dwelings , hiking new mexico , square kiva , round kiva , anasazi ruins , ancient puebloan ruins , historic trails america , new mexico highway 53 , el morro new mexico , sandstone cliffs