When we left Percha Dam I was excited, because I was finally going to be able to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings! I'd been wanting to go there since my 2011 trip to Utah when we'd failed miserably at seeing any of the cliff dwellings/ancient pueblos on my list. Well, apparently my stars were not aligned that day, because there happened to be an enormous fire raging in the Gila National Forest and the road to the Cliff Dwellings was closed. I was bummed, so I immediately started researching alternatives and came up with El Morro National Monument, which ended up being one of the coolest parks we visited and felt like a sort of rite of passage for us as travelers.
Before there were gas station bathrooms and visitor's centers, the watering hole at El Morro was the only source of water for miles around. Beginning in the 1500s, Spanish explorers and missionaries passed through, relaxed by the pool, and carved names, dates, and other messages on the surrounding sandstone bluffs. Before them, early native people carved petroglyphs on the same rocks while they drank from the pool. Later, westward wagonloads of American pioneers stopped at the same spot and carved their names. The brochure provided for our walking tour was very interesting because it told the stories of the inscriptions and gave a brief history of the lives of the travelers themselves. There are over 2,000 carvings protected on the sandstone bluffs. My kind of history :) El Morro is kind of out of the way, up in the mountains of New Mexico, but it is definitely worth a visit if you're nearby.