Walking tours to almost any place in the world are at the top of my list of things to do. When people talk about adventure and travel and places they’ve been, they usually talk about those areas people are most familiar with. Like the Grand Canyon, Tuscany or the Galapagos. However, always keep in mind that some of the smaller, and possibly hard to get to, destinations often offer unique and wonderful experiences.
Take El Morro National Monument in northwest New Mexico for example. While on a scouting trip to this magical part of the U.S., I had the opportunity to explore this outpost that sits seemingly in the middle of nowhere. However, as is often the case, if one has something special to offer, people take notice. El Morro has a commodity more precious than gold for travelers wandering long distances in this part of the world: water.
Not too far along a one-half mile introductory trail at El Morro, at the base of some strikingly beautiful sandstone bluffs, is a deep, cool pool of water, shaded by high multi-colored sandstone walls. When I visited, cattails grew enticingly along water’s edge and I could imagine what a wonderful sight a cool pool of water must have been to man and animal alike.
This pool of life-giving water sits geographically along an ancient east-west trail that over centuries has seen Anasazi, Spanish and American Explorers and lone wanderers search out its bounty.
Okay. Are you ready for a wee bit of geology? Well, if not, here it is anyway. The El Morro formation is composed primarily of what is called Zuni sandstone. What makes it so unique is that the sand grains are held together only by clay, making the sandstone easy to carve inscriptions in – which many travelers did and for which El Morro is somewhat famous. Most sandstone is formed under pressure that cements the grains together forming a harder type of sandstone, like those sandstones found in Arches or Zion National Parks in Utah.
More geology? Okay, okay. Here it is. El Morro sits at an elevation of about 7219 feet and the Zuni sandstone was deposited by wind rather than water. Any guess as to the age of the Zuni? Try 170 million years. Not bad for a bunch of sand.
Okay, what about unique plant life at El Morro. Yep! Got that too! It’s called Alligator juniper. Any guesses as to why? You’re right! Because the bark of the Alligator juniper looks just like the scales on an alligator.
Hiking at El Morro. The inscription trail is relatively flat and short and takes you to the pool and the historical inscriptions. But if you want to experience the real magic of El Morro, continue on past the end of the short trail to the top of the mesa where you’ll see the excavated ruins of an ancient Puebloan ruin called ”Atsinna” that once had 1500 inhabitants in a structure that experts say had 875 rooms. If you go, you’ll see that this was a remarkable feat because the Pueblo sits on a very small part of the mesa.
But don’t forget to look around if you do head to the top of the mesa because the views of the surrounding area, including the Zuni Mountains, are wonderful. It’s just a peaceful, quiet, scenic spot to relax and enjoy your surroundings. When I visited we were the only people there and that made it all that much more special.
Getting there: El Morro is about 80 miles west of Albuquerque and about 40 miles south of Grants, New Mexico, off Interstate 40.
So – why don’t you head out on a walking tour to El Morro?! In fact, any walking tour will do as long as you lace up those boots and take that first step. Walking is good for you and adventure is the spice of life!
(Walking The World offers small group walking tours to more than 30 destinations worldwide and focuses on those active adults over 50 years of age.)