El Morro National Monument
- Closest city: Grants, NM
- Visitors Center: 35.038409, -108.348764
- Monument hours: Wednesday-Sunday from 9-5pm (closed Monday & Tuesday)
- Camping: El Morro has a free first-come, first-serve campground. There’s also nearby BLM campgrounds and dispersed camping on national forest land.
- Dog Friendly (pets must be leashed)
From the city of Grants, head south on NM-53 for about 50 minutes until you see signs for El Morro National Monument. Keep in mind that El Morro is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
El Morro National Monument is a total historical gem; all expectations were exceeded by the diversity and history of this place. After we left, Sam said it was one of his favorites places we’ve visited in New Mexico so far!
History: El Morro is beautiful sandstone cliff area that was originally inhabited by the Zuni Puebloans starting in the 13th century. Later on, El Morro was conveniently situated on an east to west route used by many travelers. This trail was frequented by Spanish explorers and conquistadors as early as the 1600s. In the 1800s, army expeditions, wagon trains heading west, and railroad survey expeditions began passing through as well. The diversity of people and groups who frequented El Morro would eventually make this spot famous for it’s Inscription Wall where all of these people from the Zuni down to the modern travelers left their mark with petroglyphs, messages, and signatures. It’s incredible that this place, which was called Atsinna (meaning “place of writings on the rock”) by its original inhabitants, has preserved centuries of history right next to each other on the same rock faces.
The trail we chose to hike was the Headlands Trail. This trail is the must-do hike in the monument; it’s a two mile loop that will allow you to see all of the important and prominent features. The trail starts and ends at the visitor center so it’s super easy! The beginning of the trail will gain some elevation to get your on top of the sandstone cliffs. The first major landmark you’ll come to are some excavated rooms of the Zuni pueblo village that was built on top of the monument. Apparently there are 800+ rooms in this pueblo but most remain buried for preservation; there’s only a handful that have been excavated as you can see in the photos. It was cool to look out over the hill and imagine what this massive pueblo would look like today if the whole thing were excavated.
There were even pottery shards just laying on the ground next to the trail! Please respect the area by not going off trail to look for artifacts, but enjoy what can be seen from the trail and leave everything where you found it. The next part of the trail will traverse you across some beautiful rock with cool staircases cut out of it, I was kind of obsessed with them haha.
You’ll soon have views looking down into a cool box canyon, as well as a hillside covered in cactus! Enjoy the 360 degree views from atop the monument.
Make your way down a series of short switchbacks until you’re back down to ground level. You’ll take the trail for another 5 minutes or so (keep an eye out for the small but prominent Woodpecker Natural Arch) until you reach the infamous Inscription Wall that I talked about earlier. We spent a long time reading all of the provided descriptions and stories about the names and images found on the wall. It was so cool to read about the people who passed through this area! I loved the spot below that shows both a signature from more recent history right next to petroglyphs from the Zuni people.
After you’ve gotten your fill of history from the Inscription Wall, follow signs for a short distance back to the visitor center. When you visit El Morro, makes sure to pair your trip with a visit to the close by El Malpais National Monument. You can read my blog post about El Malpais here!
As aways, please practice Leave No Trace and leave this beautiful place better than you found it!