El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments

Trip Start May 06, 2010
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Trip End Oct 14, 2010


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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My family and I went to El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments today.  On our way to El Morro we stopped at the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center, which serves many National Park Service properties in the area.  We picked up some literature and watched a movie about the parks covered by the Visitor Center.

We then went to El Morro National Monument.  El Morro, which means "The Headland" in Spanish, was the name given to a long sandstone outcropping that had a permanent water pool next to it fed by the runoff from the outcropping.  When travel was by foot or by horse sources of water were very important in the desert.  For centuries, people crossing the desert would stop at El Morro.  Many of them would carve something into the soft sandstone walls, starting with Ancestral Pueblo petroglyphs, progressing to Spanish writing and ending with English writing, which stopped in 1906 when El Morro was made a National Monument and federal law prohibited further carving.

Our first stop at El Morro was the Visitor Center where we watched a movie about the park.  We then walked the Inscription Loop Trail, which goes along a lot of the inscriptions at the bottom of the sandstone cliffs.  There's also a trail up to the top of El Morro that goes to some Ancestral Pueblo ruins but we didn't take it.

After El Morro we went to El Malpais National Monument.  We started by driving a portion of the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway.  We were running out of daylight so we went back to the main road and continued on to the Visitor Center where we asked about some of our options.

We went to Junction Cave, which is a collapsed lava tube.  It's possible to hike inside the lava tube but the surface is very rough and it must be very slow going.  Of course, that's also true of much of the hiking on the lava surfaces, which make up a significant portion of the park.

Next we went to the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook where you look down from the bluff over the lava fields.  We then went down the road a few miles to the La Ventana Natural Arch.  There's a trail to a point fairly close to the arch.  The arch is along the edge of a sandstone bluff high above the trail.

We then drove back to Albuquerque.  Tomorrow we plan on driving the Turquoise Trail, which will take us to a number of ghost towns.
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