Posted on

Visiting Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments In Arizona

Wupatki National Monument

We woke up to another crisp morning in Flagstaff, Arizona with more National Park visits on the agenda. We did not spend much time around camp in the morning, before heading north on HWY 89 out of Flagstaff to hit the north entrance of Wupatki National Monument. We figured we would work our way south from there back to Flagstaff. It is a desolate area and the first site that we pulled into along the park road was the Box Canyon Dwellings and Lomaki Pueblo.  They were just a short hike off the small parking area and we were able to walk right up to them.

Box Canyon and Lomaki Pueblo

Wupatki National Monument

There were 2 structures on either side of Box Canyon, known as the Box Canyon Dwellings. These were the most fascinating to me at this point on our road trip as they were in a very natural state. There was no touristy feel here. It was rugged and natural, just like they were found. You could picture why the natives would have settled along this small canyon. It is still amazing to me how much of the structure has avoided erosion over the last 1000 years.

Wupatki National Monument

We headed down the path a little further to the Lomaki Pueblo, that was a little more intact and larger. It had a few rooms and one of them had a little opening door in it. This was different than most of the pueblos that we had seen. Many did not have doors through the walls, but would of had a roof entry instead. The red rock is beautiful and pictures do not do these places justice, like standing right next to them.

I suppose many people may drive through the park road and miss this turn off and head straight for the main visitor center located at the Wupatki Pueblo, but I am glad we stopped to check out Box Canyon Dwellings and Lomaki Pueblo. We find some of the best sites, by turning off the main road. We jumped back in the truck and headed for the main visitor center. We did pull off quickly to take a look at Nalakihu and Citadel Pueblos, which are along the main route through the park.

Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos

Wupatki National Monument

These are easy to spot as Citadel sits up on a small hill right off the road. The location of many pueblos and small dwellings are right out in the open. I found it interesting, because one might assume that people in those days would build their shelters with more coverage and hidden. I think the wild west has been engrained in our head with stories of fighting and wars with the natives that lived on the land, but based on the locations of structures from long ago… I would have to assume these were fairly civil people and they did not have many fears of being under attack from anyone.

Wupatki Pubelo

Wupatki National Monument
At any rate, we made our way to the main visitor center located at the Wupatki Pueblo, the main pueblo ruin of the park.  The kids picked up their Jr. Ranger packets to fill out and we headed outside to check out the pueblo ruins. We stopped and had a really interesting conversation with a volunteer park ranger on the way down to the ruins, about the area. He said he loved coming out here and told us more about the history and area.  You can only learn so much about something by reading the signs and it is great to talk to local people and find out more.

He was telling us about the original park ranger that came out and discovered the abandoned pueblos on the land in the late 1800s. He said that the original ranger and his wife actually lived in one of the rooms for a short period, before building a home nearby before his wife had a baby. The original ranger was working to get the land protected as a national monument as people were starting to loot and take artifacts from the area. Some people don’t like that the Federal Government owns and protects land, but if our government did not protect some of the land; you and I would not be able to have these experiences and gain first hand history lessons.

The volunteer ranger also told us about some of the unknown things about the area. Apparently, the local Hopi Tribe, who are ancestors to the original natives of this land, know more about the history and why their ancestors left some of the land, but they won’t share all that history. I don’t blame them either. The mystery is interesting and keep in mind that they lived on this land for many years, before folks from the railroads and settlers came through and claimed the land that was their home. These people instantly became trespassers on their own land.

Wupatki National Monument

At any rate, we had an interesting conversation and then made our way around the Wupatki Pueblo ruins. This is a really neat structure that you can see where rooms were added over time. You can also see where they may have had fires for cooking in certain rooms and other gathering areas. You have to go see this stuff for yourself. That being said… I guess not everybody is going to appreciate it as much as the next. We all have our interests in various things today, but sometimes everybody needs to look into the past to put life today in perspective.

The boys finished their Jr. Ranger packets while we spent some time in the visitor center museum looking at the various artifacts and reading about the history of the area. The other thing, I find interesting is the perspective of time. We tend to think of time in centuries and 100 years being a long time ago. In all reality, 100 years ago wasn’t very long ago. Civilization has changed a tremendous amount in the last 100 years and there is no telling what things will look like in another 100 years. It is fascinating to see and learn about civilization from 1000 years ago and see that it hadn’t really changed much for 1000 years or more.

People were thankful for the land, because it provided them with everything they needed. When they left there homes to migrate to new places, they left them as they were to be reabsorbed back into the land. It was a tough life, but a simple life and they appreciated everything that they had. They worked together as communities and took care of each other. I would love to go back and spend some time with the local ancestors of the natives and learn more first hand. Maybe someday I can make that happen.

Wukoki Pueblo

Wupatki National Monument

There was still one more stop on our way out of the park and that was Wukoki Pueblo. Once again, built up on a hill out in the open. You could walk up real close around this one and even into one of the rooms where I took a picture through a window opening in the wall. My son Kyle, really thought these were neat. I could tell he enjoyed picturing life in those times as well. We had a little picnic in the parking lot on the tailgate of the truck and got back on the road again.

Wupatki National Monument
We were finished with our visit to Wupatki National Monument and would stop at Sunset Crater National Monument on our way back to Flagstaff. I combined the trip reports for Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments since they are very close together and you are likely to drive through one of them to get to the other. We had never been to a volcano before, so this was a first for all of us.

Sunset Crater National Monument

Sunset Crater National Monument

We came into Sunset Crater National Monument from the east as we were leaving Wupatki National Monument and pulled off at the Cinder Hills Overlook to get a nice view of the volcano. You could see all the old volcanic rock around and most of the volcano was barren of any vegetation.  We didn’t get out of the truck, but just took a couple pictures and then got on our way.

Around the west side of the volcano, we found the Lava Flow Trail parking area where we got out and took the 1 mile hike through the Lava field around the base of the volcano. This was really cool. Like I said, I had never been to a volcano field before and the only lava rock I had ever seen was just small rocks in school or a museum or something growing up. It was pretty fascinating to walk through an entire field of it. Almost felt like you were on another planet. I thought it was really cool to see areas where the lava was probably starting to cool and build up as more lava was flowing into it. Almost like ice build up on the shores of Lake Superior in the winter, but with porous lava rock instead.

We stopped at the visitor center to check out the museum and the boys earned another Jr. Ranger badge. They were really getting a kick out of the whole Jr. Ranger badge program. I think I said this earlier, it does take some extra time, but it really helps the kids get engaged in the parks. There were a couple other trails that we could have hiked through other parts of the lava field, but we opted to get on our way back toward Flagstaff.

I hope you are enjoying the pictures and the chronicles of the trip. I probably have a couple more trip reports, before wrapping up our spring break trip series. Stay tuned for our visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument and our day spent in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico. I’ll try to have these all wrapped up in the next couple of weeks.

Leave a Reply