Inscription Loop

Round Trip Distance: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 7220 - 7284 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 45 mins.
Trailhead: Visitor Center
Fee: none
Attractions: Historic inscriptions and petroglyphs

The Inscription Loop is located in El Morro National Monument about 56 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico. Native Americans, Spanish explorers and early pioneers would stop at the site while traveling through the area to obtain water from a natural pool that is nestled in the cliff below a large spillover that collects the runoff from the mesa on top of the bluffs. For a time there was a group of Ancestral Puebloans that built the Atsinna Pueblo on the mesa top and lived in the area hundreds of years ago. The Native Americans carved petroglyphs into the sandstone cliffs while many others marked their visit by inscribing their names along with the date into the rock. Today you can leave your own inscription in the register at the Visitor Center and 'nowhere else'.

Getting to El Morro National Monument is as easy as putting the name into your navigation app and following the directions. From Gallup that would mean taking Exit 20 on Interstate 40 and driving south on Highway 602 for 31 miles before turning east onto Highway 53 and driving another 25 miles.

After stopping inside the Visitor Center and borrowing one of their free interpretive guides the trail begins just outside the back entrance. They also have a very nice guide that they currently sells for $2 that is easier to carry and you can take it with you for a souvenir.

The trail follows a paved wheelchair accessible route from the Visitor Center that leads over to the nearby cliffs. As the loop begins posts and plaques with numbers begin appearing that correspond with information within the trail guide. Those little tidbits of information greatly enhance the visitors experience.

The first major point of interest is the desert oasis with its pool of water that has provided life sustaining refreshment to so many people for countless years. A kiosk mentions how Captain Gaspar Perez de Villagra stumbled upon the pool in 1598 and was probably saved by its water. After a storm when the pool is full it has a depth of 12 feet and holds 200,000 gallons of water. The pool was reconstructed after it was filled by a heavy rockfall in 1942. Cattails and reed grass make it hard to get a good photo of the pool in the summer months.

From the pool the trail continues by following the contours of the lofty cliffs.

Over 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions can be found on the cliffs along the trail. Some petroglyphs might be from Archaic times and be thousands of years old.

While some of the inscriptions look like they were hurriedly chiseled into the rock others are more elegant as though carving a monument.

An early attempt to preserve the inscriptions was made using hard pencil lead to make them stand out. A technique that is no longer practiced.

Comparing the penciled inscription from 1709 to an even older one from 1692, that has remained untouched, reveals why the attempt at preservation was made by the monuments first superintendent.

At the point of the cliffs the paved trail loops back toward the Visitor Center while a spur breaks off that leads up to another wall of inscriptions. After a short distance the spur loses its accessibility as it transitions from a paved path to stairs that were made from quarried stone.

The spur trail of the Inscription Loop ends at a drop box where you can deposit the laminated trail guide if you borrowed one at the Visitor Center. From there you have the option of continuing on the Highland trail which climbs to the top of the mesa, passing the Atsinna Pueblo, and after a mile and a half returns to the Visitor Center. Besides the pool of water, the petroglyphs and the inscriptions the areas natural scenic beauty is enough alone to draw visitors. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.