El Morro National Monument: Notes from the National Park Vagabond

Jan 27, 2017

This year the TR Center is joining with Valerie Naylor, former superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to hunt out the TR related collections in parks dedicated by him. “My goal is to get items that are critical but that we haven’t seen before,” Naylor states. We will post updates of her travels and finds.

El Morro National Monument, established on December 8, 1906, may be the second national monument proclaimed by Theodore Roosevelt after the passage of the Antiquities Act. (Devils Tower in Wyoming was the first.) TR established three monuments that day - Petrified Forest, Montezuma Castle, and El Morro.  Nobody knows which he proclaimed first, but the last two superintendents of El Morro have assured me, with a wink, that El Morro must have been the first one of the day.

El Morro is in a fairly remote area west of Grants, New Mexico. My goal was to meet with the National Park Service staff in Grants about collections related to TR, but I also drove the 84 mile round trip to see the park. I had visited before, and had seen the 2000 petroglyphs, messages, signatures and dates carved into the sandstone by Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish, and American travelers over hundreds of years. The carvings are amazing and hint at thousands of stories of people passing by this beautiful place, which holds a permanent watering hole in the desert.

This trip, I hiked the 2-mile Headland trail over the top of the bluff. I believe this to be one of the best short trails in the National Park System. There are stairs, steps carved in sandstone, paths delineated by lines, crevices to jump, routes to find… The park calls it “slightly strenuous” because of the 250 foot elevation gain and uneven surfaces, but it’s really fun. The sandstone scenery is magnificent, as are views of the Zuni Mountains, El Malpais volcanic area, and the El Morro Valley. The inscriptions in the rock and the ruins of Ancestral Puebloan villages tell the history. If you visit El Morro, I encourage you to take the “trail over the top.”

There were not any archives at the park headquarters, and it took me a few weeks to get additional information from another location. In the end, I determined that the NPS doesn’t have any collections related to TR and El Morro, but I had a wonderful visit to a great national monument. Thanks, TR, for this gift to the American people. 


Posted by Valerie Naylor on Jan 27, 2017 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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