Since we didn’t have school due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, we went to El Morro National Monument. El Morro has a unique and powerful history that dates back to the time of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples around 1000 CE. On top of the monument are ruins of the dwellings (pueblos) of these ancient people, the largest of which, called Atsinna, used to have over 300 rooms and was three stories tall; all that remains of the pueblos today are a few walls and altars that used to be used for religious ceremonies, which the National Park Society works to preserve.
El Morro (The Headland)
El Morro, which means “The Headland” in Spanish, is a large rock formation that rises from the otherwise flat land. As late as the 1700s, the area surrounding El Morro was a scorching desert, making its pool created from rainwater and snow-melt a sanctuary for desert travelers. This was also a necessary water source for the Ancestral Puebloans, who would climb up and down the cliff sides to collect water; the Puebloans also carved out cisterns on top of the mesa, which they would also use to collect rainwater. As recent as the mid-twentieth century, visitors to the monument would also drink water from the pool and cisterns, though we were advised today not to do so and instead use the drinking fountain in the Visitor Center.
Hundreds of years after the Ancestral Puebloans had given way to their descendants, the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes, and left their cliff dwellings, came the arrival of Europeans to El Morro, first documented in 1583. The Spanish conquistadors, attempting to find Cibola, the mythical city of gold, or a passage to the Pacific Ocean, instead discovered the life-saving waters of the pool at the base of El Morro, the only water for 20 miles. As more explorers and settlers came through the desert regions of what became New Mexico, many who discovered and were revived by the waters at El Morro left their names, along with occasional dates and longer messages. Thus, El Morro serves as lasting documentation of everyone from young Sarah (Sallie) Fox through her simple signature to the Ancestral Puebloan through petroglyphs of rams and bears to the Spanish explorers through their elegant script, which often read, “pasó por aquí.”
Since so many people left their mark on this majestic landform, it is a piece of history that is timeless and irreplaceable, which is why President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1905 and began efforts to preserve the historical writings. These efforts, however, have in some cases worsened the erosion, making it all the more necessary to document the writings, as well as experience them first-hand. As the video we watched in the Visitor Center mentioned, everyone wants to leave a lasting mark on this world. For those who lived at or passed by El Morro, their mark was left on the rock. However, though these marks have lasted hundreds of years, they are not immortal, as erosion due to both natural and man-made causes threatens to erase them forever.
In El Morro, the Ancestral Puebloans created a home, the Spanish conquistadors and American settlers found sanctuary, archaeologists discovered answers to questions about the lifestyles of ancient peoples, and Teddy Roosevelt and the National Park Service preserved history. Each person left their mark and today, we passed by here. Pasó por aquí.