Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico, May 2009 (III)

El Morro National Monument
Zuni Pueblo

On our third full day in northwestern New Mexico, May 15, 2009, we decided to drive "The Loop," a 100-mile plus circular route from Gallup south to Zuni Pueblo, then eastward past El Morro National Monument and El Malpais National Monument to Grants, then back to Gallup (or, in our case, Thoreau) via I-40.

I didn't take any pictures in Zuni Pueblo. Photographs of ceremonies are strictly forbidden, but I didn't want to push my luck by taking photographs in town. And, frankly, there's not much to photograph, anyway; Zuni Pueblo just looks like a small, rural town with contemporary housing and a fairly prosperous-looking main street catering mostly to tourists.

What did strike me is that the town is very, very dusty. Everything is coated with red dust. It was windy the day we visited, so the dust was swirling everywhere. Our first stop was the Zuni-operated craft cooperative, and I remarked to the woman who was helping us that "everything's red!"; she agreed with me, and said the dust settled down somewhat in July and August during the monsoon season. At the co-op, my wife bought some earrings and together we bought some fetishes.

We drove down the street to several Indian craft emporia where I bought a Zuni turquoise bracelet and we bought several more fetishes; Zuni had the best quality and best selection of Zuni fetishes that we had seen in New Mexico.

One thing that struck me as a bit odd was that several of the craft stores (both in Zuni and in Gallup) were owned by Muslims. I don't have anything against Muslims; it just struck me as strange that so many Muslims would have located stores in northwestern New Mexico, for goodness sake. (I mentioned this to our innkeeper, and he informed me that the Muslim community was robust and was not new to the area. They had established their stores well over 40 years ago.)

Since most of the stores (other than the co-op) were owned by Muslims, and by then it was approaching noon on Friday (time for prayers), the stores were all closing. We headed east to El Morro National Monument.

El Morro National Monument

El Morro is one of the 10 least-visited units of the National Park Service--probably because it is really off the beaten track. Nevertheless, we found it to be one of our favorite stops during our entire vacation. It has beautiful scenery, nice walking trails, an interesting hiking trail, Anasazi ruins, and colonial and contemporary history ranging from the 16th to the 21st century.

After paying our admission fee ($3/person), we had lunch in the shady picnic area and then set out to explore. Our first stop was the permanent pool of water at the base of Inscription Rock. This is pool was what drew people to El Morro and Inscription Rock in the first place; it was the only reliable source of water for many, many miles in any direction, so it attracted Native Americans, Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, and settlers traveling overland to the West. The pool is not spring fed; it collects water in a large, shady niche from the summer monsoons and from the infrequent storms during the rest of the year.

Permanent pool at base of Inscription Rock
Note spill-off from atop El Morro

We continued our exploration by rounding the northern and western sides of Inscription Rock, a portion of the El Morro massif with relatively flat sandstone surfaces that fairly beg for graffiti. There are inscriptions here from ancient Anasazi visitors all the way up to the visitors in the early part of the 20th century. Most of the inscriptions seem to have been made by Spaniard explorers and missionaries in the 1700s, and most are still highly legible. Many years ago, the superintendent of the site ordered that the inscriptions added to the rock after the site was protected by the National Park Service be erased; many were removed, but a few still remain.
One of thousands of inscription on Inscription Rock

The inscriptions peter out on the south side of the rock, but that's where the trail that climbs 200 feet to the top of El Morro begins. (El Morro, by the way, means "headland" in Spanish because the rock rises straight up out of the surrounding plain.) We hiked to the top of the rock, where the surface has been eroded into large, pillow-shaped formations separated by cracks and erosion rills. The center (eastern) side of El Morro is a beautiful box canyon, and the trail skirts the rim of the box canyon on one side and the edge of Inscription Rock on the other. The trail was fun and challenging.

Central box canyon (view eastward) from top of El Morro

Anasazi ruins perched atop El Morro
(Note smoke from controlled burn in distance on Zuni Mountain, Cibola National Forest)

Near the end of the trail atop El Morro are the remains of an Anasazi pueblo. How the heck did these folks get water for their settlement on a routine basis? What a pain in the neck if they had to climb down to the water hole at the base of the cliff all the time.

Inscription Rock viewed from atop El Morro (controlled burn visible in distance)

The trail down from the top of the rock afforded great views to the west and south of the Inscritpion Rock portion of El Morro. The trail descended from the heights via a dirt pathway interspersed with three sets of metal stairs. When we reached the bottom, we traveled back to the Visitors' Center where I completed a vistors' survey. Then, we drove on to Grants, where she shopped for some toiletries and refilled our rental SUV's gas tank.

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