Some call El Morro a bluff, or a headland, but it translates directly as The Promontory. It certainly is a prominent feature. At this place are many features: colorful rock formations, cliffs, centuries-old graffiti, excavated ruins of the Atsinna people, and the only source of water in the area for hundreds of years since modern peoples found it. Although there are some petroglyphs left behind on the walls, there are fantastic inscriptions left in the sandstone by thousands of others as well. Modern-day graffiti is removed immediately, as all of the old inscriptions were documented in 1934. In the 1920s the first superintendent erased any inscriptions he found that were added after 1906, so the ones left range from approximately 1275 to 1906. The first modern-day inscription was left on March 11, 1583, 15 years before New Mexico became officially part of Spain.
I spent some time there photographing the beauty of the place, and taking a few pictures of the inscriptions to see if I could. Contrast in the light-colored sandstone is poor. One ranger tried darkening the most famous inscription, by Don Juan de Oñate, with a No. 2 pencil, but preservationists no longer take such steps. Oñate, first colonial governor of New Mexico, established Santa Fe, but is infamous for cutting off the left foot of every Acoma Pueblo man over the age of twenty-five. Eighty men had one of their feet amputated (although other commentators put the figure of those mutilated at twenty-four). He also had 800 Zuni people killed, and enslaved 500 others. A statue of Oñate, erected in Albuquerque in recent years, had Oñate’s bronze left foot cut off in the night, although it was restored and the statue moved. General Don Diego de Vargas also recorded his visit here in 1692, after retaking New Mexico after the successful united Pueblo revolt of 1680. Click on each image to view full size.