From Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona, we drove straight to Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, AZ. The trip towards the monument was quiet, my husband and I even thought we had the wrong GPS address because we did not pass any cars for miles. This US National Monument is located between the Painted Desert and Ponderosa highlands of northern Arizona showcasing the well-preserved ancestral Puebloan villages that were once the center of trade and life of ancient Northern Sinagua, Cohonina, Kayenta, and Hohokam cultural groups. In total, there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within Wupatki National Monument, but we chose Wupatki ruins which is one of the pueblos that are close to the main road.
For thousands of years, native Sinaguan Indians settled near Sunset Crater Volcano, which we now presently know as Flagstaff. But in 11th century, the volcano erupted, forcing the Sinaguan Indians to migrate and create a new settlements or pueblos. One of those settlements is Wupatki, which means “Tall House”. This pueblo was first inhabited around 500AD. It is composed of over 100 rooms, a community room and even a ball court! There were also blowholes which are a small openings in the ground through which air will blow out or suck in like a natural fan or vacuum. How smart and convenient is that? The pueblo is constructed from blocks of the local sandstone which explains its red color. I personally thought its location is a good tactical strategy. It is built on a plateau offering an unobstructed overlook of the stunningly beautiful painted desert and an unobstructed view of an incoming enemy from miles away. Looking out to the desert that stretches beyond the horizon is what I remember the most that day. I think I told my husband that there is no war or trade you cannot win here. You can see everything from this vantage point!
It is hard to imagine that a rich civilization once thrived in the area considering the lack of food and water. As a matter of fact, Sinagua is a name given by the Spanish means “Sin” (without) and “agua” (water) which when combined means “without water”. However, an archaeological survey estimates about 2000 immigrants moved here. The eruption of Sunset Crater which was the primary reason of migration was also the same reason that attributed to the growth of the pueblo’s population. The volcanic ash that blanketed the land improved the area’s agricultural productivity that is mainly based on maize, beans and squash. Artifacts from the site also imply that Wupatki was involved in trade, with some pottery items that can even be traced as far as Pacific and Gulf Coast.
The Wupatki Ruin trail is an easy half-a-mile loop. We only stayed for an hour and a half and we left completely satisfied. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, except for December 25. The trails are open from sunrise to sunset to self-guided visitation although guided tours are also available with advance reservations required. $20.00 entry fee covers both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments.
25137 N. Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Rd.
Flagstaff, AZ 86004