Journey thru Time at El Morro, New Mexico!

18 10 2015

DSCF1824Experiencing New Mexico’s historical heritage would not be complete without checking out El Morro! Simply put, El Morro is a gem. It’s not big, yet it’s packed with mind bending history, sweet hiking, views, and to top it off, it’s even got an 800-room Ancient Pueblo great house!

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What is El Morro? Well, it’s a bluff with a watering hole. In fact, for over a thousand years, this watering hole was the only known fresh water source for dozens of miles. That made El Morro a camping spot for travelers ranging from Ancient Pueblos to 17th Century Spanish Conquistadors to 19th Century settlers seeking a new life in America’s West.

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Each of these peoples left their mark. The El Morro trail leaves the visitor center, leading to a watering hole at the base of the mesa. From there, the trail winds closely along the base of the mesa. This is where my mind began to get a bit blown away.

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Starting with the Inscription Trail, all along the base of the 250-ft tall mesa I witnessed people’s autographs spanning a thousand years. The oldest scribblings are petroglyphs. There are over 2,000 of them! Some were by now familiar such as the snake. But there were new images – bighorn sheep, along with mythological creatures.

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Then I saw dozens of 19th Century inscriptions by settlers and army officers. But more amazing were Spanish inscriptions – the earliest I saw was 1609. Wow! That beats the founding of Plymouth Massachusetts by 11 years! Most of the names were men. But there was one woman who was in a battle with the Indians, was shot with an arrow, survived, and kept going.

The trail winds around the back of the mesa, connecting to the Headlands Trail, then climbs up to the top – gaining some 250 feet. From there, the view of the valley is unparalleled. Up on top one can see the effects of rain on the geology. There were a few pools of water from recent rain, each one filled with mosquito larvae.

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Eventually the summit trail leads to Astinna, an Ancient Pueblo great house with hundreds of rooms. Incredible! Even up here, hundreds lived out there lives. Astinna had 875 rooms and was home to 1,500 people! The town peaked about AD 1300.

In total, the hike is probably no more than three and a half miles, and totally worth it!





Learning the Ancient Ways: Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

24 09 2015

bandelier national monument,new mexico,hiking,ancestral puebloI’d never been to New Mexico. So, when my friend Tully moved his family to Albuquerque and he offered to spend a week exploring, I jumped at the chance. We traveled north to Taos, and then west to Cuba, and then on to Grants.

On day one, on the way to Taos, we spent the afternoon in Bandelier National Monument – where you can hike trails to Ancient Pueblo ruins on the Frijoles Canyon floor, and climb inside cliff dwellings!

People have been living in the area for 10,000 years. The earliest peoples followed prey animals in and out of the canyon on a seasonal basis. Later, agriculture was developed, and a more stationary lifestyle ensued. By 1200 AD, construction of 40-room “great houses,” and cliff dwellings was at its peak.

All along the north valley wall there is evidence of many homes. The valley is north-south aligned, and the north wall gets precious warming sun – especially in winter. So all the homes are on the north side. Some are still standing today, and I walked amongst them, and climbed ladders to peek inside. There remains black soot on some of the ceilings from fires.

The Ancestral Pueblo people did not use written language, so there is no written evidence of their culture, other than petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls. petroglyph

The petroglyphs depict Thunderbirds, parrots, bighorn sheep, snakes, and more. The Pueblo people carried on their stories, religion and traditions through singing and story-telling. Much of what we know comes from the oral tradition practiced by today’s Pueblo people. These people lived in villages spread out amongst New Mexico, SW Colorado, and Arizona.

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Tyuonyi Plaza

Archeologists have discovered 3,000 sites here, but these were not occupied at the same time. As time went on, people tended to gather in villages and plazas. The largest is Tyuonyi, which may have had 600 rooms. Special rooms for religious ceremonies are called Kivas. Kivas are built into the ground and are round.

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Bandelier National Monument is about two hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The entire monument is much larger than the valley, however, and has 70 miles of trails for backpacking and hiking.

DSCF1764So whether you are interested in the ancient culture, or want to get out into nature via backpacking, Bandelier offers both.

In the next blog post I’ll cover Chaco Canyon!