Wupatki National Monument

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This page last updated on 12/12/2017
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Driving Directions: From Flagstaff take US-89 north for 12 miles (Fig. 02). Turn right at the sign for Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. The Wupatki Visitor Center is 21 miles from this junction (Fig. 01). The drive time from Flagstaff to the Wupatki Visitor Center is 45–60 minutes. Wupatki National Monument is located along a 34-mile scenic loop road through open meadows, beautiful ponderosa pine trees, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, juniper grasslands with views of the Painted Desert, and the open red rock landscape of the Wupatki Basin. Drive time along the loop road is about one hour. 

HistoryHuman history here spans at least 10,000 years. But only for a time, in the 1100s, was the landscape this densely populated. Wupatki National Monument preserves dozens of ancestral Puebloan villages. The many settlement sites scattered throughout the monument were built by the Ancient Pueblo People, more specifically the Cohonina, Kayenta Anasazi, and Sinagua. Of more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within Wupatki National Monument, the five largest, Wupatki, Wukoki, Lomaki, Citadel and Nalakihu, emerged from bedrock. Wupatki was first inhabited around 500 AD. Wupatki, which means "Tall House" in the Hopi language, is a multistory Sinagua pueblo dwelling comprising over 100 rooms and a community room and ball court, making it the largest building for nearly 50 miles. Nearby secondary structures have also been uncovered, including two kiva-like structures. The eruption of nearby Sunset Crater Volcano a century earlier probably played a part in its population. A major population influx began soon after the eruption of Sunset Crater in the 11th century (between 1040 and 1100), which blanketed the area with volcanic ash; this improved agricultural productivity and the soil's ability to retain water. South of this area, the families that lost their homes to ash and lava had to move. They discovered that the cinders blanketing lands to the north could hold moisture needed for crops. A major population influx began soon after the eruption of Sunset Crater in the 11th century (between 1040 and 1100). Based on a careful survey of archaeological sites conducted in the 1980s, an estimated 2000 immigrants moved into the area during the century following the eruption.  By 1182, approximately 85 to 100 people lived at Wupatki Pueblo. Agriculture was based mainly on maize and squash raised from the arid land without irrigation. In the Wupatki site, the residents harvested rainwater due to the rarity of springs. As the new agricultural community spread, small scattered homes were replaced by a few large pueblos, each surrounded by many smaller pueblos and pithouses. Trade networks expanded, bringing exotic items like turquoise, shell jewelry, copper bells, and parrots. Wupatki flourished as a meeting place of different cultures, but by 1225, the site was permanently abandoned.

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08/10/2008 Trip Notes:  Today we visited the Wupatki National Monument north of Flagstaff, Arizona. We approached the Monument via its southern entrance along the road from Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, 35 miles from Flagstaff (Fig. 03). The 15 mile road that runs through Wupatki National Monument passes close to the five main pueblos (Wupatki, Wukoki, Lomaki, Citadel and Nalakihu), plus various viewpoints, picnic areas, and one trail, to the volcanic summit of Doney Mountain. Even though we didn't visit all of these locations, we did spend several hours visiting many of the major remaining structures. 

The largest structure on monument territory is the Wupatki Pueblo ruin (Fig. 04), built around a natural rock outcropping. With over 100 rooms, this ruin is believed to be the area's tallest and largest structure for its time period. Wupatki was first inhabited around 500 AD. Wupatki, which means "Tall House" in the Hopi language, is a multistory Sinagua pueblo dwelling comprising over 100 rooms making it the largest building for nearly 50 miles. The ruins are reached by a short, paved, self-guided trail starting at the visitor center, which takes about half an hour to walk at a leisurely pace. The dwelling's walls were constructed from thin, flat blocks of the local Moenkopi sandstone giving the pueblos their distinct red color. Held together with mortar, many of the walls still stand. Each settlement was constructed as a single building, sometimes with scores of rooms. Nearby secondary structures have also been uncovered, including two kiva-like structures. Apart from the main building, there is a circular community room beneath the main settlement (Fig. 05), a masonry ballpark - a recreational feature usually only found much further south, and a natural blowhole. For its time and place, there was no other pueblo like Wupatki. Less than 800 years ago, it was the tallest, largest, and perhaps the richest and most influential pueblo around. It was home to 85-100 people, and several thousand more lived within a day’s walk. And it was built in one of the lowest, warmest, and driest places on the Colorado Plateau. By 1182, approximately 85 to 100 people lived at Wupatki Pueblo but by 1225, the site was permanently abandoned. Though it is no longer physically occupied, Hopi believe the people who lived and died here remain as spiritual guardians. Stories of Wupatki are passed on among Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, and perhaps other tribes. Members of the Hopi Bear, Katsina, Lizard, Rattlesnake, Sand, Snow, and Water Clans return periodically to enrich their personal understanding of their clan history. (con't below)
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Trip Notes Continued:  Just south of the park headquarters a side road branches eastwards to the Wukoki ruins, perhaps the most distinctive in the park as the house is built on an isolated block of sandstone, visible for several miles across the flat surroundings (Fig. 07). There is a short trail that leads to quite tall structure, centered on a square, three story tower (Fig. 08) with a series of intricately-constructed rooms at one side. At this ruin you were allow to hike up into it and take pictures of the surrounding desert looking through some of its doors and window (Figs. 09. 10, & 11).  The bricks have a deep red color, and the building merges seamlessly with the underlying Moenkopi rock. A short trail loops around the ruin and climbs to a vantage point on top. Past the Wukoki turn-off, the side road becomes unpaved and bumpy, crossing treeless, desert land for 5.5 miles without encountering anything of great interest until the monument boundary at the Little Colorado River (Fig. 12). (con't below)

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08/10/2008 Trip Notes:  From here we drove to the western portion of the monument (Fig. 13) admiring the colorful scenery along the way. Next we visited the Lomaki Pueblo 
(Fig. 14). Like all five of the accessible ruins in Wupatki National Monument, the impressive remains of Lomaki Pueblo are reached by a short trail, starting towards the north end of the park road. The dwelling is built right on the edge of a shallow, vertical-walled canyon, which was probably formed by faulting or other volcanic activity, and has a good view of the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks to the west. Several smaller ruins may be visited along the same trail, further along the rim of the box canyon. All buildings sit on flat, thin-layered strata of the local Moenkopi sandstone, deep red-brown in color, and eroding at the edges so that the canyon floor is littered with fallen boulders; the broken rocks complement the crumbling masonry walls of the pueblo. In contrast to the rich red rocks, the soil around the canyon is mostly black volcanic ash. At some locations, such as the Citadel, it is unreconstructed so there isn't much to see, just a large pile of fallen stones enclosed by a low wall. Many other stones from the building are scattered over the slopes below, mixed with black blocks of lava. From the hilltop several other ruins can be seen, at the edges of some of the adjacent mesas, though none can be visited since off trail hiking is not permitted. This entire area is extremely fascinating and I wish we had more time to spend here. It would definitely worth making another visit in the future.
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