Based on artifacts found by archaeologists and the inscriptions left by waves of on the cliffs around the pool, this site has been a reliable source of water for over a thousand years. The inscriptions by American cavalry and Spanish conquistadors are next to petroglyphs left by the region’s original inhabitants. In total, there are more than 2,000 inscriptions and petroglyphs, like a stone guest log on the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau.
Don Juan de Oñate was the first Spaniard to sign in at El Morro. He visited El Morro in April, 1605 while traveling home to San Gabriel from an expedition to the Pacific, carving his name in the rock 15 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The inscription reads:
Inscription: "Pasó por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605."
Translated: "Passed by here, the adelantado Don Juan de Oñate from the discovery of the sea of the south the 16th of April of 1605."
Over the next several centuries many travelers recorded their passing. Some left no more than a name and date. Others left short narratives, like Franciscan priest, Father Nieto, who inscribed (translated from Spanish):
"Here was the Señor and Governor Don Manuel de Silva Nieto, whose indubitable arm and valor have now overcome the impossible with the wagons of the King Our Lord, a thing which he alone put into effect, August 5, 1629, that one may well to Zuni pass and carry the faith."
Father Nieto believed the Zuni people had been conquered and pacified by 1629, an opinion that would be corrected a few years later when a Spanish soldier dispatched to Zuni left this inscription on behalf of his unit: "They passed on March 23, 1632, to avenge the death of Father Letrado — Lujan."
After the Mexican-American War in 1846, Lt. James H. Simpson, a topographical engineer for the US Army, began surveying the Zuni and Navajo territory. In September 1849, he found the inscriptions at El Morro. He began copying the symbols, signatures, and dates on the promontory, dubbing the mesa “Inscription Rock.” They added their signatures, providing 2 of the 20 Anglo-American names at El Morro. By the following year, El Morro became one of the main watering holes for the flood of American wagon trains heading to California. The 1278 acres of El Morro National Monument was set aside in 1906. The National Park Service prohibited additional carvings on the mesa.