Saturday, September 3, 2011

The "Message Board" of the American West

The high desert of western New Mexico isn't the kind of place you would expect to come across an oasis...or what is known today as "sky island"...or, for that matter, a veritable message board for the American West. Yet if you happen to be traveling there and come across the El Morro National Monument, you would find all of the above.
Soft, flat El Morro Mesa has been a landmark for centuries. Thousands of years before people began carving their names in El Morro Mesa, Paleo and Archaic hunters gathered there, probably because even then it was a desert oasis. The ruins of a 13th century pueblo can still be found on top of the mesa and are known as the village of Atsinna. The people who lived there built the pueblos on top of the hard-to-reach mesa as a defensible position during a period of drought and famine.

The runoff from the mesa feeds the spring and gives it constant, reliable flow. It was a camping ground for Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadors, the U.S. Army, and American pioneers. In fact, all of the above have carved their names into Inscription Rock at El Morro Mesa. The first translatable and dated message dates back to the 17th century when Adelantado Don Juan de Onate carved the following...

"Passed by here, the Adelantado Don Juan de Onate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South, the 16th day of April, 1605."

In the inscriptions of El Morro Mesa, history is written in many ways. For example, though they eventually lost control of New Mexico to the Mexicans (who in turn lost the colony to the United States), the Spanish ruled there for two centuries before the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680. They then reigned again for twelve years, after a victory against the Pueblo during which another a Spanish general carved the following....

"Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown all of New Mexico at his own expense, year of 1692."

The first American inscription at El Morro Mesa appeared in 1849 and was made by "Lt. Simpson" of the U.S. Army. In 1906, the state of New Mexico decided to recognize El Morro Mesa and Inscription Rock's historical value by incorporating both into El Morro National Monument. For the same reason, carvings are no longer permitted at Inscription Rock, but it remains a favorite camping spot for many modern explorers of the American West who don't mind going a bit off the beaten track to see a bit of history carved into desert stone.

Amber Leigh Williams
"Williams has brought the romantic back to romance!" ~ LASR


  1. Fun information! Now i wonder how many other "inscription" rocks there are around. I know there is one on the Oregon trail.

  2. Amber--I have lived in New Mexico, and when I didn't, traveled over it pretty good. But...I have never heard of this place. What a wonderful area, and for you to find out about it and tell us is just wonderful.
    I believe there are others areas pinpointed and hopefully saved all across the land from the Mississippi to the West Coast, where travelers left messages..sometimes, maybe for loved one, sometimes just sort of like "Elroy was Here."
    It gives me goosebumps when I read something like this. I thank you for the research and the photos..I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. So many facts about America that many (inc myself) Americans still don't know! Thanks for this Amber.

  4. Amber Leigh, what a great post. I thought my husband and I had visited all of the historic Indian sites in New Mexico, but we missed this one. Ha, a reason to make another trip.

  5. Those inscriptions on the rock are awesome. We watch the history channel a lot and find the accountings written in their old languages and photos are invaluable. We can learn so much from our pasts. Probably why I love history so much...

  6. Wow, what an fascinating history post. I had no idea about this place. Thank you!

  7. Amber, this is just fascinating! I had no idea this place existed. Thanks so much for your research and your very informative post. It's fun to imagine the different people who must have passed by there and the messages they left--there must have been many who passed by and never LEFT a message, but laid a hand on the inscriptions that were already there. Thanks for this post!


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