A Traditional Place To Write

… at least until 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, making it a crime to “write on a wall” located on federally-owned lands such as National Monuments.

Up in the northwest corner of New Mexico the landscape is mostly rangeland dominated by scattered Piñon Pine and One-seeded Juniper trees.

An aside: I think it’s a peculiarly human trait to characterize a landscape by the economic use made of it by newcomers such as beef ranchers, though this landscape was once “rangeland” for bison, I hear. The grazing pressure is more intense these days as the grass becomes more scanty.

Cibola County is named for the legendary “cities of gold” sought by deluded Spaniards, once upon a time. Miles-long mesas can be seen jutting from the rolling plain, most of them tilted like vast launching ramps for the spacecraft of a long-vanished race of cosmic travelers. Here’s a morning view of a typical Cibola County mesa:

One of these mesas has been made a National Monument, as much for historical as for aesthetic reasons. El Morro (Spanish for “the headland”) angles up at about a ten degree angle, from a slight rise on the southern end to a 200-foot bluff on the northern end, an imposing landmark which can be seen on the horizon from many miles away.

Somehow I managed to visit the park without taking a photo showing an overall view of El Morro, but luckily Bev did, and she kindly e-mailed me a copy from across the motel room:

This bluff was also a source of dependable water for thirsty travelers over the millennia, from wandering bands of aboriginal “ancient ones”, to Spanish colonists and exploiters, and finally to Northern European travelers and settlers. A twelve-foot-deep pool nestles against the base of the bluff, a pool fed by rainwater sluicing over the top of the bluff which I presume forms dramatic waterfalls during the wet seasons:

On several vertical north faces of the Zuni sandstone headland the smooth expanses of stone invited people over the years to write something recording their presence. They came for water and stayed a while to write. The earliest inscriptions are ancient aboriginal petroglyphs, such as this one:

Later Spanish travelers and adventurers stopped by and left inscriptions such as this one:

This Anglo inscription I found to be of particular interest, an inscription by the commander of the Camel Corps. This was an unsuccessful US Army experiment during which bewildered camels from Arabia Deserta were introduced to the deserts of the American Southwest:

Notice how a later visitor from Michigan overwrote Breckenridge’s inscription with a rather crudely incised one.

Bev and I hiked up to the top of the promontory and found some interesting sights, such as this pueblo ruin:

The ancient Anasazi seemed to have a knack for siting their dwellings in very scenic places!

Back in the 1930s a well-meaning park ranger obliterated several inscriptions which had been incised after the Antiquity Act had been passed. That’s really too bad, as from a 21st Century perspective those inscriptions from the early decades of the 20th Century would have been interesting to see!




Filed under Photos, Travels

3 responses to “A Traditional Place To Write

  1. Ava

    Enjoyed your post Larry! Great pictures!

  2. I love that area. Thanks for sharing your trip there.

  3. Laura Layton

    Nice photos , a shame that the original writings were not preserved.

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