Long ago I stumbled upon Lava Beds National Monument in the far north of California. It’s an outrageous place, with all sorts of volcanoes and lava flows reminiscent of fresh ones in Hawaii, and tunnels with year-round ice, and the story of the last Indian War in the United States. Wow. It was awesome.
I wondered for the longest time, why did they make it a National Monument and not a National Park? It was so great, surely it deserved to be a Park! After all, who ever hears of National Monuments?
Aha! You see where I’m going with this? One of the things that makes a National Monument special is that not everyone knows about them. Certainly not about all of them. You have fewer footprints to pass through on your way there. And while you’re there. Each year millions of people visit the Grand Canyon, but how many ever get to Lava Beds, or, for instance, el Morro?
El Morro is in north west New Mexico. It’s a smallish mesa. On top are the excavated remains of a pueblo. At the bottom is green pool of water. Next to the pool people carved on the mesa wall. Nearest the pool are carvings from the 1400s, by the natives. Next are carvings of the conquistadors from the 1600s. After that, from the 1800s are the petroglyphs of US citizens.
A trail leads around and on top of the mesa. Despite the altitude, it’s not too much of a hike. You’re gaining I think 260 feet. Bring some water; you always need water. Maybe a snack. You can stay up there for a long time.
Another great thing about National Monuments is that they tend to be smaller than National Parks. The Parks can be huge, too big for you to ever really grasp your mind about them. You could camp in Yellowstone for years and still not see everything in there. But a Monument is more bite sized. In only a couple of days, you’ve got a good feeling of it. You’re on a first name basis. Is this a friendly place or what?
The campground at el Morro can handle a couple RVs, but mainly it’s set up for tents. Oddly enough, camping seems to be free. The sign is a bit confusing though.
At the ranger’s office they’ve got books you can buy, and t-shirts. There’s a video you can watch. There’s even a hunk of rock you’re allowed to carve your own petroglyphs into for all posterity to see.
Little buffalo in a big park, or a big bison at a monument? You be the judge. I’ll see you in el Morro. Bring your dipping cup for the water.