FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, people have found their way to a small pond fed by a reliable spring below a towering cliff. There, they rested, watered their horses, and camped under a diamond-specked sky. Quite a few labored to chisel their names into the sandstone wall. Today that wall, at El Morro National Monument, serves as a guest book of history. Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate “passed by here” in 1598; hundreds of others did so as well, before and after. Inscription Rock is just one reason to put El Morro on your must-see list. Admission is free—to the visitor center, the half-mile paved Inscription Trail, even the campground. If you’re up for a little challenge, tack on another mile or so and clamber up the Headland Trail. On the mesa top, you can explore the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo and snag some snaps of the nearby Zuni Mountains and remnants of ancient volcanoes.

Take I-40 west from Albuquerque or east from Gallup. At exit 81 in Grants, go south on NM 53 for 42 miles to El Morro National Monument.