New Mexico: El Morro National Monument
On April 16, 1605, New Mexico’s first governor, Don Juan de Oñate, stopped to rest near a shady watering hole at the base of a 250-foot sandstone rock. He carved “Pasó por aquí, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605,” along with his name, into the rock.
Oñate had started a trend: countless Spanish explorers stopped at the oasis—located 100 miles west of Albuquerque—during the following years. They too carved signatures, dates, and messages into “El Morro” (the headlands). In the 1800s, American pioneers heading west did the same.
Centuries earlier, the towering rock had already drawn the interest of the ancient Anasazi who lived in the area. Their prehistoric petroglyphs still mark the rock. “This is the only place in the United States with the written history of three cultures carved in stone and mingled in one place,” says park ranger Sarah Beckwith.
Visitors can hike the half-mile Inscription Loop Trail to see thousands of inscriptions and petroglyphs. Walk two miles further, to the summit of the Mesa Top Loop Trail, and see partially excavated pueblo remains from around 1275 A.D. “It’s slightly strenuous, but very doable and worth it for the views,” Beckwith says.
Open daily. Admission: $3. Information: 505-783-4226 or 505-285-4641; www.nps.gov/elmo. Visitor center exhibits and a film will introduce you to the area.
Florida: De Soto National Memorial
When Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto landed near Tampa Bay, in 1539, his was the first European expedition into what is now the United States. The De Soto National Memorial, on the south bank of the Manatee River in Bradenton, commemorates that historic landing.
“This was the start of Spanish influence and forays in what is now the southeastern United States,” says park ranger Dan Stephens. “Thanks to de Soto’s chronicles, we gained knowledge of 16th-century North America. It’s not always a happy story. [It’s] full of adventure, warfare, and hardship.”
Having heard tales of cities of gold, de Soto aimed to stake Spain’s claim in the new land. He and his soldiers embarked on a four-year, 4,000-mile journey during which de Soto died, in 1542, never finding the fortunes he sought. He did, however, pave the way for future explorers and forever changed North America.
Through programs, exhibits, nature trails, and tours, visitors can experience Florida as it was when de Soto landed. You’ll find old maps, weapons, Native American pottery, and artifacts displayed in the visitor center, where you can try on a suit of armor and watch a film about the expedition.
Open daily. Free admission. Information: 941-792-0458; www.nps.gov/deso
For information on other parks that preserve and interpret Hispanic heritage, visit the National Park Service website.
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