Thursday, July 2, 2009

El Moro National Monument Trail

The El Moro Trail is a 2 mile loop that visits the historic Inscription Rock and the Atsinna Pueblo ruins site at El Moro National Monument in northwest New Mexico. El Moro is a sandstone bluff or headlands that rises above the Pinon Pine and Juniper surrounding landscape.

For centuries travelers have stopped at El Moro for the pool of cool water that collects in a pocket on one side of the bluff. There isn’t a spring here, but the pool holds water throughout the year. The visitors here left their marks in the sandstone walls near the pool. Now there more than 2000 historic and pre historic inscriptions.

There are 23 interpretive stops on the Inscription part of the trail and a trail guide that gives some of the history of those who stopped here. Several of the main trees of the area are also identified with signs, making this a botany trail also. I noticed that there are more species of Juniper trees here than are usually seen in one place.
Some of the older American Inscriptions are associated with the U.S, Army scouting party surveying a route from Ft. Smith Arkansas to the Colorado River in 1857. This survey party was also testing to see if camels could be used more effectively in the desert environment of the southwest. Many of the inscriptions are white on white and hard to see. In the early years of the park, some efforts were made to darken the writing with carbon.

One of the oldest Spanish inscriptions is from the first governor of New Mexico, Don Juan de Onate in 1605. The Spanish inscriptions often include “paso por aqui”- passed through here. I notice that the Spanish inscriptions here tend to be in a swirly script, like hand writing. There are also Ancestral Pueblo petroglyphs in several places featuring mountain sheep and handprints and there is one bear paw.

After the 0.5 mile Inscription portion of the trail, the route climbs to the top of the bluff giving good views over the surrounding countryside. It looks there is a small vertical arch forming near the top of the bluff. Arriving near the top there are some wall sections visible from a large unexcavated ruins site. The trail over the bare sandstone was marked by chipping parallel lines, forming a lane, and there are many steps carved into the rock.

On the bluff top, the trail winds around the edge of the sandstone bluff, making towards the Atsinna Pueblo ruins site. This is a very large site with maybe 800 rooms, but only a few are excavated. This site is thought to have been occupied from 1275 to 1400 by the ancestors of the Zuni people who have a reservation in the area.

Among the 18 excavated rooms is a Great Kiva. The dates of occupation here are a little later than many other sites in the Four Corners region. Most of the Mesa Verde sites to the north are thought to have been abandoned by the time that Atsinna was just being constructed.

This trail takes about 1:30 hours depending on how long you linger at the many points of interest. There are many benches for resting and enjoying the views. I walked the trail in late June on a 78 F degree day and carried one liter of water. The bluff top is about 200 feet above the inscription covered base.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bandera Volcano Trail-El Malpais

The Bandera Volcano Trail is located a few miles to the east of El Moro National Monument along Highway 53 in northwest New Mexico. It is a privately owned attraction with a $10 entrance fee. This area is known as the El Malpais region, an area of lava flows and volcanoes.

The starting point for the Bandera Volcano and the shorter Ice Cave Trail is the Old Time Trading Post. The trading post was built in the 1930s during the period when the Zuni Railroad was operating and the timber industry was booming. The trail is like a wide cinder covered road and there is a trail guide with markers along both trails. The hike to the volcano is about a 1.5 mile round trip and the Ice Cave is another 0.5 mile round trip.

One of the points of interest along the volcano trail is a spatter cone. These are formed when a minor vent of hot air breaks through to the surface to form a blow hole.

The volcano trail winds around the outside of the crater and enters through an opening where the lava tube formed and lava flowed out the side. The Bandera Crater is the largest in the region and erupted about 10,000 years ago. The lava flow is nearly 23 miles long. The crater here is 1400 feet wide at the top and 800 feet deep with the trail lookout point about 330 feet below the rim. It is interesting that the lava and cinders can support forest growth. This area has Ponderosa Pines and a few Douglas Firs mixed in with Pinon Pines and Junipers.

The path to the Ice Cave passes through a similar forested landscape on top of a lumpy lava surface with sink holes and lava tubes. At the Ice Cave there are uneven wooden stairs leading down into deep hole, with the air getting noticeably cooler with each step. Cold air settling into the hole and the thick insulation keeps the bottom frozen year round. In the early years of the trading post this cave was a source of ice to keep the beer cold.

The ice is thought to be 20 feet thick and the green color is due to a cold tolerant algae. The oldest ice at the bottom is thought to be 3400 year old. It took me about 1 hour to walk these two trails