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El Morro National Monument

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

El Morro, the "Head Land"

Rising from the New Mexico high desert floor south of Grants, a sandstone bluff represents an important historical site. "Morrow" means "the headland or bluff" in Spanish. The bluff contains over 2,000 petroglyphs, signatures, and messages carved into the rock. Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish and American travelers have stopped at this place for centuries. Why? At the bottom of this geological feature, a reliable water resource exists as an oasis in the desert environment. Here travelers would stop, camp under the tall ponderosa pines, and refresh their water supply.

At this reliable water source, travelers camped here at El Morro and left their marks on the walls.

Atsinna, meaning "where the pictures are on the rock" was populated with Zuni people from about AD 1275 to 1400.

Ancestral Puebloan Home

A trail climbs up to the top of the sandstone bluff. From the top, you can see spacious views of the desert below. Along your hike, you will encounter the ancient ruins of Atsinna, once a Zuni pueblo. According to the National Parks Service, Atsinna means "where the pictures are on the rock". Occupation of this site dates back approximately from AD 1275-1400.

Travelers over the centuries carved onto the rock. Lt J.H. Simpson and artist R.H. Kern scribed their message in 1849.


For centuries people have been carving images and words on the wall of this bluff. The early residents etched petroglyphs of animals, hands, and a multitude of icons on the rock. Later the Spanish and Americans traveling through here scribed signatures and messages onto the walls. In 1605 the first Spanish colonial governor of New Mexico Don Juan de Oñate left a message that he had been there on his return to Santa Fé after "discovering" the "sea of the south", the Pacific at the mouth of the Colorado River. Later, in 1692, Don Diego de Vargas, "conquerer of New Mexico" after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, scribed his message. When the Americans arrived after the Mexican-American War, they left their marks as well. Lt. J.H. Simpson and artist R.H. Kern left their message that they were there in 1849. They "copied" the inscriptions that were made into lithographs. The US government then used the prints as official documents.

El Morro National Monument, a bluff that has been the site of ancient Puebloans, and for weary thirsty travelers.

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