About an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque, El Morro National Monument is an easy day trip (and also combines easily with El Malpais).
This national monument is an area both of scenic beauty and historic significance. This bluff (el morro means “the headland” in Spanish) had a reliable source of water, making it a great base for ancestral Puebloans and a good stopping point for both Spanish and American travelers. In winter, due to the altitude, patches of snow pop out against the otherwise dry landscape.
The National Park Service provides reading material for a self-guided visit of this free site. While reading the information aloud to my family, I was amazed at how winded I was from the elevation despite the fact the path was an easy stroll.
Along the path, only a half mile long and perfect for the casual visitor, are ancient petroglyphs as well as inscriptions from Spanish conquistadors as early as 1605 and, more recently, American travelers passing through in the 1850's.
For me, the real joy of El Morro was the longer Headlands Trail, encompassing the natural aspects of the area. The hike itself is still relatively short, but it does include a few steep sections, uneven terrain, and in winter, icy patches. Take your time and enjoy the views.
At the top of the trail, you’ll find the excavated Atsinna pueblo ruins. Originally occupied between 1275 to 1350, this was the home of roughly 1500 people.
This is a great way to spend a day.