El Malpais and El Morro National Monument, NM…

Last Monday we visited the El Malpais National Monument and the El Morro National Monument – they are located very close to one another tho they are worlds apart in what they feature.

We stayed in Grants, NM, so we started by stopping at the northwestern N.M. visitor’s center located in Grants – I had read online that we could pick up Jr. Ranger booklets here, and thought that if the drive proved boring at least the kids could get a head start on their booklets.

The employee in the center was super nice; he answered any questions that we had about the area, gave us the J.R. booklets for El Malpais, and also a few hints about sightseeing. On our walk back to the van, we came across… This little snake! Awww…isn’t he so cute! Actually, while he was little (18in.), he wasn’t very cute – he happened to be a western diamondback rattler. We have them at home, so we weren’t freaked out or anything, and since he was in the middle of the parking lot, we really got to check him out without him being able to hide! Then it was time to visit those parks…

El Malpais is a lava flow field, and we chose to drive the western boundary road as it would take us right to El Morro N.M. when we were finished at El Malpais. Come to find out from the ranger at the El Malpais visitor’s center (west), the drive along the EAST side is the scenic one. Oh, well, we have seen lava flows before, so no great loss… we did do the J.R. program, and the Ranger lady was super nice. But, the western drive must NOT be very scenic because I didn’t take a single picture!!! (sorry.)

Between the 2 parks we thought that El Malpais would be more interesting, and that El Morro (aka Inscription Rock) would be boring. LOL! It was actually the other way around!

Another 25 or so miles west took us to… El Morro was a stop for people traveling through the area over the past hundreds of years. While they stopped at the only reliable water for miles around, they would often etch their name and sometimes a message in the soft sandstone that makes up the rock formations here… Of course our first stop was at the visitor’s center where we picked up J.R. booklets. We talked to the rangers a bit, and the kids did what they could in their books. Then, we headed out the back to begin our walk to Inscription Rock. Behind the v.c. are a few native plants that are marked for us tourist… And then we began the 1.1 mile walk past the inscriptions. There is also a longer walk that goes up on top of the rock to view pueblo ruins up there, but we didn’t have time to do that walk and finish our booklets and get them back to the visitor’s center before they closed. El Morro is a beautiful park (and there is even a primitive campground right across from it that we didn’t know about!). The walk to the rock is a beautiful one, even though the spring plants and flowers are not yet out here. At the base of this tall rock formation is a pool of water. Because there was always water in this little catch, it was a reliable source, and people for miles around would come here for their water needs if other sources were dry. Much of the water came from rain falling on the top of the rock formation, and then being naturally funneled down into this low lying area. The dark streaks on the rock show where the water flows down, leaving minerals on the rock, hence the colored streaks… The pool actually looks much different than it did years ago. TONS of rock fell years ago (I don’t remember all the details), filling the pool, destroying the natural rim that circled the pond, and destroyed the natural dam. The park service took out 125 dump truck loads of rock and rebuilt the dam, which you would never guess was there! The walking trail takes you right up along the rock face… and along the path were a lot of little caterpillars… between the caterpillars and playing in the sand, the little girls were pretty amused, even if they didn’t have a J.R. program for Peanut… we did have to tell the little girls that they were not allowed to play in the sand. Savanna was good with that, but Molly, eh, not so much…
This big crack in the rock is called a ‘joint’ (see, even I learn stuff from the Jr. Ranger prog!), but no worries, the ‘experts’ are ‘pretty sure’ that it isn’t going to fall away any time soon. (their expertise really didn’t make me feel any better while my babies were walking past it! LOL!)
Emma copies down an inscription…
The kids had to find and copy an inscription from each of the 3 time periods that writings are from, the puebloan time frame, the Spanish Conquistadors, and the Civil War to 1906 (or something like that…). Quite a few of the inscriptions are in Spanish – apparently a lot of Catholic priests from Mexico came up to convert the local Indians…There are petroglyphs, a lot of them of animals like mountain goats and mountain lions… (petroglyphs are carved INto the rock, pictographs are written/painted ON the rock)we did take the time to complete the 23 stop self-guided tour, using the guide book that the rangers loaned us. The walk wraps around the back of the rock and up a little staircase to some newer inscriptions… Including one made by a couple of Army guys that came to copy down and make a record of the inscriptions on El Morro. I guess that they were so busy worrying that they got everyone else’s inscriptions right that they forgot to check their own spelling…(they forgot the ‘R’ in inscRiption :)… Oh, and one of the most interesting things that the El Morro brochure told us about were the camels that the Army was trying out for utilizing with troops in the desert. The experiment was abandoned with the outbreak of the Civil War, and the camels were sold to circuses and zoos, and some even roamed wild for years!

(we always try to get the next park’s brochure so that we can read it aloud on our way to that park. Makes us more interested in where we are going next – specially if it is something intriguing like Camel Troops! :) The view from El Morro was beautiful, and we were so glad that we drove out to this lovely little park!
1 day, 2 badges. Not a bad days work (drive!).
We drove back to Grant, picked up the 5th wheel, and headed out for Albuquerque. Tomorrow is another day, and another National Park!!!

Lilla Rose

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