For a lot of Americans, Fourth of July weekend means beer and barbecues and fireworks. Not that there's anything wrong with these traditions, but I prefer using my time off a bit differently. For me, this past holiday weekend meant a spontaneous road trip starting with El Morro National Monument. My boyfriend and I try to use pretty much any free time we can get for exploring New Mexico's hiking trails, and we were excited to go somewhere we hadn't seen before. After a little research I was completely captivated by the talk of water and multiple trails waiting just a couple short hours from Albuquerque. The idea of turning the day into a camping trip quickly surfaced and even more quickly turned into a reality. With our tent, sleeping bags and hastily packed cooler in tow we left early in the morning for what we thought would be a hiking/camping trip but were a little thrown off once we got into the park. We circled the single tiny campground expecting to see some tents or any sign of life, only to find it completely deserted except for one lonely and battered RV with an expressionless man sitting eerily in the back looking out a window. It gave me the creeps. So instead of setting up camp we drove towards the main visitor's center to learn more about the trails.
There's basically just one trail which can be cut down to shorter loops if need be. With a loaner copy of a park map and a couple water bottles we began the journey through sandstone walls. The first half was entirely paved which is great for wheelchair accessibility, if that's a factor. The views at the beginning of the trail were really quite stunning. An enormous cliff face loomed above as we walked in a loop toward a small pool of water. Along the path were inscriptions carved into the soft walls, dating back hundreds of years. Signs reading, “It is unlawful to mark or deface El Morro rock,” were dispersed on parts of the trail near carvings that really looked more like calligraphy. It was interesting to notice that what was once graffiti is now preserved, and to add more graffiti to the already existing inscriptions would be defacing a National Monument. Funny how time gets to decide what is important enough to preserve and study, and what is simply vandalism.
An easy half mile walk brought us to a pool of water surrounded by a dugout of tall grey rock--if you can resist making sounds into the echo-y concave pool I'd be impressed.
The second half of the trail was a bit more strenuous with a short series of steep switchbacks climbing up the mountain. The elevation change was sudden, as was the change in scenery. At the top, white rocks and staircases lead us to wide open areas of what looked like a lunar surface. Giant boulders obstructed the view; save for the looming blue sky, we sometimes appeared to be truly walking on the moon. The fun, ambiguous path encouraged us to choose our own adventure while pools of rainwater and random tiny stairs reminded us where to go.
I should note that this is much more of a day trip than a weekend excursion. El Morro is a fantastic place for a few hours of outdoor adventuring and learning a little history, but I wouldn't recommend camping.