Distance: 2 miles
Season: Spring Summer, Fall
Water: At Visitor’s Center
Trail Conditions: Excellent
There aren’t many 2 mile hikes that would be worth a 4 mile trip, so this is a rarity. Located in west central New Mexico, the only hike in this small monument packs in great views, ecological oddities and Native American and Hispanic cultural history.
From I-25 near Grants, take exit 81 and follow NM-53 south to mile marker 45. Turn left into the monument and follow the entrance road to the Visitor Center. It is well signed.
Walk through the Visitor Center and turn right onto the paved path. Shortly after this, the path will split again. Stay left to walk towards the large sandstone walls and the pool, which has made El Morro a gathering spot for centuries.
The paved path climbs before dropping to the pool, which is wedged into a fold in the sandstone escarpment. In the dry pine and sage savannas of western New Mexico, this was the only reliable water on the way from the Rio Grande to the Zuni and Hopi Pueblos.
The trail steers right to follow the wall passing numerous inscriptions from ancestral puebloans to Spanish conquistadors to American explorers in the 1800s.
NOTE: The Visitor Center offers interpretive guides with information about each individual inscription that are worth borrowing.
As you approach the end of the wall, the trail will split again. To the right will return to the VC, but to climb to the top of the mesa, turn left, wrapping around the bottom of the mesa, continuing to climb. Eventually, it will veer away from the wall paralleling it for a couple hundred yards before switchbacking to the top of the mesa. Throughout this entire section, you should get fantastic views of El Morro Valley to your north.
Once atop the mesa, the views continue as you wrap around the sandstone bluff. In places the trail is dug out of the sandstone. In others, faint lines carved into the stone mark the trail and at more points, cairns help guide the way.
The trail eventually climbs atop the white sandstone outcropping and continues south climbing up and down stairs that have been carved into the rock.
Just before beginning the climb back down to the VC, you will come upon a small ancestral puebloan ruin that was once occupied by the predecessors of the Zuni people.
After taking in this sign indelible indication of El Morro’s human history, follow the trail, which start descending via a series of stairs back to the Visitor Center. In just a few minutes you will back at the beginning of your hike.
To make your journey worth the long trip, be sure to stop the Anasazi Way Cafe, just a couple miles east of the monument before returning hojme.