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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Explorers and Settlers
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

New Mexico

Location: Valencia County, 42 miles west of Grants near N. Mex. 53; address, HC 61 Box 43, Ramah, NM 87321-9603.

El Morro, the best-known inscription rock in the Southwest, is a massive, 200-foot-high pointed mesa of soft sandstone which, for more than three-and-a-half centuries, Spanish, Mexican, and American travelers used to record their visits. The ancient route that connected Acoma and the Rio Grande pueblos on the east with the Zuni and Hopi pueblos on the west passed by. On the very top of the rock are ruins of Zuni Indian pueblos that were abandoned long before the coming of the Spaniards. The rock was not only a conspicuous landmark, but its environs also provided a favorable camping and watering place in a dry region. Rain and melted snow from El Morro, which drained into a large natural basin below, provided a year-round supply of good water.

El Morro
El Morro National Monument.

Fifteen years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, Don Juan de Oñate in 1605 etched the first identifiable Spanish inscription on El Morro. He was returning from his claimed discovery of the mar del sur (South Sea)—actually the Gulf of California. Coronado and other earlier Spanish explorers had almost certainly passed by El Morro, and in the 17th and 18th centuries many other important figures in the history of the Southwest inscribed their names. A number of these inscriptions can still be seen, notably that of Don Diego de Vargas, reconqueror of New Mexico. El Morro was also inscribed by the U.S. soldiers who occupied New Mexico in 1846; several years later by gold seekers and overland emigrants bound for California; and, in 1857, by members of Lt. Edward F. Beale's camel caravan.

El Morro
This massive 200-foot-high mesa, El Morro, in New Mexico, is of archeological and historical interest. On its top, lie ruins of prehistoric Indian pueblos. The rock is covered with inscriptions, many of them carved by Western explorers and emigrants.

Established by Presidential proclamation in 1906, El Morro National Monument is about 2 square miles in area and lies at an elevation of more than 7,000 feet. Besides the inscriptions, Indian petroglyphs and partially excavated mesa-top Indian ruins are of interest.

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005