Thursday, June 11, 2015

Spring Shakedown 2015 - Part 3

Important Note: I am organizing this trip report into separate sections to both make it easier to read and to organize the geographical areas for your future trip planning.
  • Part I comprises part of Wednesday and part of Saturday covering El Malpais National Monument. This breaks the timeline, but puts all of El Malpais in one section.
  • Part II covers the rest of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning in the Apache and Gila National Forests.
  • This Part III covers El Morro National Monument from Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon.
  • Part IV is a photo gallery of the inscriptions of El Morro National Monument. I separated this out as they will be of only limited, historical interest for most folks.

III. El Morro National Monument

Saturday evening, May 23rd

From the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway I turned west at SR-53 to drive the 18 miles to El Morro National Monument and its campground. It was getting pretty late in the day and I was tired from driving, so I was looking forward to stopping. I'd taken a look at their small campground on a previous day-trip to the monument and I recalled it was very nice.

I guess I really should not have been surprised that the campground was full on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend, but I was nonetheless disappointed; especially as there were very few alternatives in the area. As if I couldn't believe my eyes, I drove through the loop one more time and stopped to take care of business at the toilets.

I noticed that there was one unusual campsite at the top of the loop. Whereas all the others had a single lane for a car or trailer, this one was comprised of a very large, triangular shaped gravel area. Along one side of the triangle was parked a full-size XP Camper mounted to the flat-bed of a 1 ton Ford truck, the rest of the gravel area was empty. I walked over to near the camper and called "Hello, anyone home?" A man opened the hatch way up the side of the camper. I explained the campground was full, I was in a small Four Wheel camper, and would it be all right to pull into the far side of the gravel area to share his campsite. He thought for several long seconds, then said "Go for it." Hooray! I promised to be a good, quiet neighbor.

Truck campers at the El Morro NM Campground

Sunday, May 24th

As I was preparing to break camp in the morning, I spoke to a couple one site over who were camped in a Flip-Pac camper on their Ford Ranger pickup - sort of a tent version of a pop-up camper. They were very interested in my camper, as they'd had theirs for quite some time and it was getting to be less convenient as time passed. Larry and Nancy live and work full time in a Diesel Pusher RV and pull the Ranger behind. They like to get into the outback and the smaller campsites and really camp, leaving their "home" in the RV park. I gave them the cook's tour of my camper and they liked how it was designed. I recommended they spend some time on Wander the West forums for info on truck campers and camping.

Inscription Rock as seen from the approach road.
After breaking camp, I drove the mile or so over to the visitor center. This would be my third or fourth time at El Morro National Monument. It is a very nice location with lots of history and scenery. As their website says:

"From a main east-west trail, dating from antiquity, rises the great sandstone promontory of El Morro. Over the centuries, those who traveled this trail stopped to camp at the shaded oasis beneath these cliffs. They left the carved evidence of their passing -- symbols, names, dates, and fragments of their stories that register the cultures and history intermingled on the rock."

"A reliable waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made El Morro (the headland) a popular campsite for hundreds of years. Here, Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish and American travelers carved over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs."

This trip I decided I'd just walk the Inscription Trail and not take the Mesa Top trail. Though if you have the time, and don't mind a bit of a climb, I highly recommend taking the loop trail that starts at the end of the Inscription Trail. It climbs the north side of the bluff, then goes through some interesting geology before circling an ancient pueblo ruin. Here are a couple of photos from my 2008 trip.

View from the trail as it reaches the top of the mesa, looking north - 2008

One part of the ancient ruins on top of the mesa - 2008
Note: I'll include the scenic and wildlife photos I took on the Inscription Trail below, but the photos of those inscriptions and petroglyphs will be presented in the final section.

The trail to Inscription Rock

A Juniper Titmouse paused briefly in its leaping about. There were several in the trees.

The approach to the pool which has attracted so many visitors over the centuries.
It is fed by run-off from the plateau above, not from a spring.

Inscription Pool

Just past the pool, the trail runs along the rock face
on which the inscriptions are carved.
Here's one inscription to encourage you to look at the next post which is dedicated to them.
This one, Ramón García Jurado, 1709, is one of the first you see along the trail.

A "dramatic" wide-angle view of Inscription Rock.

A pretty little primrose along the trail; note the bacterial soil crust.

A view NW from the north side of the rock.

This cute little guy ran across the trail, then paused to see if I was going to chase him.

One of many Broad-leaf Yuccas, the New Mexico State Flower, along the trail.

After my photo walk I asked a volunteer at the visitor center if she could recommend somewhere out of the park for lunch. I'd noticed a few small businesses sprinkled sparingly along the highway leading to El Morro. She enthusiastically recommended The Ancient Way cafe' just east of the park entrance. I pulled into their parking lot and recognized the truck camper of my new friends, Larry and Nancy, from the campground. They were still looking at the menus and asked if I'd like to join them. We had a nice lunch and good conversation, too.

From there I headed back on SR-53 toward civilization, taking a couple more photos from the truck before leaving the area and getting on the I-40 freeway back to the Albuquerque area.

So, a most enjoyable trip and a successful shakedown, i.e., the truck and camper met expectations and though I did forget a few non-essential items, I wrote myself a list so I would not forget them next time.

If you are interested in the petroglyphs and inscriptions I photographed, please check out the final post for this shakedown cruise.

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