El Morro is a stunning oasis in western New Mexico. When people were traveling across the desert, they could always count on this spring-fed pool of water as a place to rest, fill canteens, and water their horses or camels. Yes. Camels.
The tall sandstone walls were also an inviting canvas. There were petroglyphs visible that had been carved into the sandstone walls seven or eight hundred years ago, and over time various travelers left their names and dates on the wall right alongside the images of bighorn sheep, stars, hands, and other ancient symbols. There are over 2,000 inscriptions on the walls dating back to the Ancient Pueblo era.
I walked up over this cuesta today. Geologically, cuestas are a physical feature that has a steep cliff on one side, and a gentle back slope on the other. I had help from my walking sticks, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (The CCC). Back in the nineteen thirties, they carved some steps, and marked out the best path to use—saved everyone from a bunch of dangerous scrambling around. They also built a path on one end of the hike that is comprised of a half dozen switchbacks that descend (or ascend, depending on which direction you were going), over a really steep and crumbling part of the rock face.
The hike is just two and a half miles, but it gains 250 feet in elevation. I set out at around 1:PM. All afternoon, I only saw one couple, hiking along in the same direction as me, and met one woman, who was walking in the other direction. The hike took me a long time as I kept stopping to take photos. I was thrilled to be up there, to be able to do this hike. I love, love, love the high desert landscape, and it was a stunningly beautiful day.
Upon returning to the Visitor Center and gift shop, I went over to the rack of tee shirts, and picked out the one that had the “El Morro. Over The Top!” design on it, and brought it over to the desk to pay for it. The ranger started teasing me that it was illegal to buy this if I hadn’t done the hike. I fell for it, and in an indignant tone, let him know I had indeed spent the afternoon up there, and I offered to show him my photos as proof. He and the other rangers were all grinning, and I got it, that this is a gag they pull on folks.
But then they took it a bit too far for my comfort, when one dude said they had called him to come climb up there to find me—see if I needed rescuing. What the hell? Did I seem so old to these twenty-somethings? Maybe my New York accent made them think I’d never make it? Or, perhaps I was just up there too long for their comfort? I’m not sure if they were having me on, or maybe they really do need to often go up and guide people down. But I didn’t need any assistance today, thank you very much!
I am totally psyched about that, when I considered that six months ago I actually was very nervous to go walking off the paved path in the first parks I visited on this trip. My sixty-two year old New York City feet had grown out of practice in going off road. My hiking boots are quite well worn now, though. I might even need another pair, in fact, before I return to New York.