I’d never even heard of El Morro before moving to New Mexico. It feels like a hidden gem! The main attraction at El Morro is what is called Inscription Rock.
Inscription Rock sits right next to the only source of water between Albuquerque and Phoenix (I actually don’t know for sure–don’t quote me on that), but let’s say, in the olden days, that you’d be a two day journey away from any other water source (that you can quote me on). Imagine your joy at finding the waterhole? Ancestral Puebloans, Native, Spanish, and American travelers and explorers traversed the area and when they stopped at the watering hole, they’d sign their name into the sandstone rock!
There are more than 2000 signatures, dates, and messages in the mix! You can see Juan de Oñate’s signature–he was the first Spanish governor of Santa Fe and the oldest signature on the rock, from 1605! If you can believe it, some yahoo park ranger decided to scratch off the signatures that were from 1900 and later since he saw those as graffiti. So, there are some spots where you see a little blank box where some intrepid traveler’s name used to be.
If you have an hour or so, take a walk on the Inscription Trail. Pick up the guidebook in the visitor’s center which gives you a who’s-who of the signatures. The trail is well paved and flat which makes it ideal for kiddos and those who may be unsteady on their feet. It is wheelchair accessible, too. If you have the time, continue onto the Headland Trail, 2 miles including the Inscription Trail. It takes you to the top of the bluff where you can see for days. The incline is pretty steep at the beginning, but then it does level out for you to stroll at the top of the bluffs. There are loose rocks and potentially slippery rocks, so mind your step. And if you see lightning, don’t be an idiot, get down quick.
On the top of the bluff are the Atsinna ruins. It is a huge Ancestral Puebloan pueblo that housed, maybe,1500 people at its height. It is a bit more fragile than the ruins at Chaco Canyon, so you do have to observe from the trail.
If you go, check out the Ancient Way Cafe in Ramah! It is a funky, fun cafe that serves up both hearty and nutritious (a rarity in this area!) meals for your enjoyment. They will often have live music and sell some local arts and crafts.
You can camp at El Morro or Ancient Way. The El Morro site is small, so book ahead if you can. If you prefer a hotel, Grants and Gallup are the closest spots for that.