El Morro, NM: The Oasis

WHEN THE SUN SHINES GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED AND SEIZE THE DAY

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There are several events that can be anticipated during a year of traveling around the country while living out of a small trailer. Cold weather is one of them. Our planned route aims to miss winter extremes by hugging the south and venturing north in the spring. Nonetheless, we knew enough to bring a few extra blankets, which we have stowed away for the one or few nights where cold weather still finds us.

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On our first stop in Less Old Mexico we were welcomed with temperatures that dove to a near arctic 11°F. We anticipated cold, but as we discovered this word “cold” is vague, and includes freezing. Our family has never been closer than on this night, the coldest and longest night of our trip so far. With all 3 of us huddled together in bed, the fury one between us, we were the picture off love and togetherness minus some teeth chattering bursts of 4 letter words.

The long-awaited morning brought frost, clear blue skies and, heck ya, skin warming sunshine. Enthused, we headed down the road to El Morro National Monument, El Morro, meaning “the bluff” in Spanish. This striking sandstone formation has been home to some, an oasis to others and a great reminder that graffiti is considered valuable if it is old.

The ancestors of the Zuñi Indians, the Puebloans, inhabited the rooftop of this high reaching rock beginning around 1275 AD where they remained until 1400 AD. They were among the first to leave their mark etched in the sandstone but they were far from the last. Over the centuries, from the generations of conquistadors to the many who pushed the westward expansion of North America, El Morro was used as a travel stop due to a never empty pool of water located at the base. This pool was a shady and often lifesaving oasis located on the long desert route to the west.

The rest and reprieve allowed its visitors a chance to leave their mark on the sheer sandstone walls. “Paso por aqui” or “passed through here” was a common Spanish inscription. The western expansionists were careful and used a chisel to leave their names when they passed. Over 2000 inscriptions and Puebloan petroglyphs cover the walls of El Morro. The phrase “if only walls could talk” is perfectly ironic here.

Being the only brave souls to venture out into the chilly day, we had El Morro’s rooftop pueblos and the inscription walls to ponder over in quiet reflection. When visiting places with such historic significance I like to wonder what a sped up time-lapse would look like. In the case of El Morro, it went from housing a bustling civilization to taking within its shade, weary travelers with all their different intentions.

With the day continuing to warm we moved down the road to visit EL Malpais National Monument which offered a contrasting landscape and experience. El Malpais is a striking basalt lava field, home to the longest flows in the contiguous United States. The black lava rocks are interspersed among flourishing plant life sprouting from the nutrient rich soils. The area is noted for its accessibility to lava tubes and young volcanic craters. We set out on a snow-covered hike to the Lost Woman Crater, exploring lava tubes and the Twin Craters along the route.

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Overall, with just a two night stay, this was one of our shortest stops, surely the coldest but with a life lesson learned; when the sun shines get your ass of bed and seize the day. It’s worth it.

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