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Location/Geography: In north central Arizona, Coconino County. Nearest settlement: Cameron; nearest city, Flagstaff. Area: 35,254 (50 square miles). Northeast of Sunset Crater/Bonito Lava Flow. Overlooks Painted Desert region and accentuated by numerous spatter cones.

Spotlight: Once one of the largest pueblos in northern Arizona. Dominant and popular focal trading point for various tribal people); also occupied by different tribal groups over the years. Amazing backdrop of volcano country. Focus: human history, archeological ruins, dry farming and volcanoes.

Snapshot: Wupatki's ruins, as an overall setting, is some 2,000 feet lower than the volcanic region north of Flagstaff. Hence, the monument's desert scrub vegetation is quite different. The three-story Wupatki Pueblo was once home to many people at different times, and agriculture was vital to sustain them. The settlement is built on the edge of a small plateau with unobstructed views eastward toward the Painted Desert and the valley of the Little Colorado River, entering the Grand Canyon region just east of the canyon at Cameron (notably, the famous Trading Post), and not too far from Wupatki. All the rooms at the ruins are partially reconstructed. Less than eight hundred years ago, Wupatki was the largest pueblo throughout the region. It was also a relative newcomer for a constructed settlement on the outskirts of a broad desert terrain. Purportedly, this site had about one hundred rooms and between eighty and one hundred inhabitants during part of the 1100s. Wupatki flourished for a time as a dominant meeting place for different cultures living in the Southwest. It was also the warmest and driest place on the Colorado Plateau; however, water, food, even comfort were scarce. Wupatki was declared a national monument sometime during the 1930s.

(Diary continues after the fold)

Guided Tour Essentials: Chiefly, Wupatki NM's great ruin was once home to the Sinagua, Cohonina and Kayenta Anasazi people at different times. There are hundreds of small and larger ruins spread over miles of desert terrain within Wupatki's boundaries. The five largest are Wupatki, which represents the main ruins, followed by Wukoki, Lomaki, Citadel and Nalakihu. A major population influx into this region began sometime after the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater less than one thousand years ago.

Although Sunset Crater is not among the higher volcanos in this region, it is certainly the most compelling and aptly named, especially at sunset (even sunrise).

Indeed, this entire region is punctuated with spatter cones (volcanos), whose telltale and darkened hummocks rise like small round-topped pyramids out of the volcanic field.

In the distance, the largest volcano, a so-called stratovolcano, rises in the distance (also, Arizona's highest summit––12,633 feet above sea level):

The San Francisco Peaks (Mt. Humphrey's the highest summit on the mountain).

Although Wupatki appears an abandoned site, the Hopi believe the ancient dwellers of this setting still remain as spiritual guardians. Indeed, stories of these earlier inhabitants are often passed on among Hopi, Zuñi, as well as the newcomers, the Navajo. For the Hopis, however, members of the Bear, Sand, Lizard, Rattlesnake, Water, Snow, and Katsina clans periodically return and refresh their personal understanding of clan history. In this sense, Wupatki is remembered and cared for, not abandoned.

In a way, the wide, far view from this desert seems like a lonely and isolated setting, especially considering the prevailing arid climate of Wupatki's Painted Desert locale.

Looking west from Wupatki, toward the higher ramparts of the Kaibab Plateau.

Pronghorn, what some people mistakingly refer to as antelope, are also frequent visitors in the monument (as are coyotes, foxes, and a variety of avians, insects, reptiles and lizards).

Of course, at one time this entire region was beset with the noisy drama of volcanic activity––flowing rivers of molten magma from a variety of outlets, the last major flow a mere 900 or so years ago.

The so-called Bonita lava flow with Sunset Crater in background.

The volcanic field in this vicinity produced many such fire and smoky outlets.

Highlighting some of the Flagstaff regional 1,800 square miles of lava fields and numerous volcanic outlets

Yet such volcanic activity eventually subsided and a wetter climate (at the time) proved auspicious given the fertility of the soil for growing the typical three sister crops: corn, squash and beans, supplemented by favored plants, seeds and wildlife. Of course, the Ancestral Puebloans who settled here likely favored the view of today's aptly named Painted Desert, especially engaging sunsets that brought visual relief after a long, hot day.

Geology: Why was this site selected for a settlement? Ancient washes exposed layers of younger, red colored Moenkopi Sandstone (from the Mesozoic Era), providing ideal building material. Kaibab Limestone and basalt were also plentiful, especially basalt due to the expansive volcanic field throughout this region. The construction consists of uniform slabs of sandstone arranged in an orderly stack and reinforced with clay-based mortar, often on sites of existing rock outcrops, creating sound fortresses for their occupants. Isolated by erosion and with excellent vistas of the surroundings, these pueblos are an ideal setting for panoramic views of the area.

Typical building materials throughout Wupatki's settlements.

Remarkably, the dwellings were not only well-made citadels in their own right, but the builders implemented foundational slabs and boulders into the village layout, thus fortifying structures wherever possible.

Notice the dwelling built atop the massive boulder foundation.

Human History: A thick blanket of volcanic ash and lapilli (a pyroclastic material that falls out of the air during a volcanic eruption), created by Sunset Crater, formed the slightly sloping territory. These sporadic eruptions not only choked and fired the atmosphere but in time improved agricultural productivity. This is especially the case with the soil's ability to retain water. Check dams were used to capture excess water to supplement springs and seeps that dot the arid landscape. Today, most wells are at least 900-feet-deep. Once the volcanic activity subsided, some two thousand people moved into the area probably a century following the last major eruption and sometime between 1080 and 1150. Before the volcano became inactive, its literal fallout covered 810 square miles. Afterward, atmospheric conditions improved, with more rainfall on the enriched soil.

Volcanic rocks also make ideal surface for glyphs.

The Ruins: The dwellings are scattered throughout the monument and beyond its protected boundaries. At Wupatki, especially, the walls of many ruins still stand. They were constructed from flat brown-red slabs held together with mortar. Each settlement was constructed as a single building, sometimes with scores of rooms. The largest settlement is the Wupatki which, in the Hopi language, means Big House, and was built around a natural rock outcropping. This spacious settlement is believed to be the area's tallest and largest structure for its time.

The monument also includes a ball court (a ball game with origins in Mesoamerica dating back some three thousand years to the pre-Columbian people).

At the far end of Wupatki, there's a rarity of sorts: a geological blowhole. This small limestone cave feature is quite notable because it formed as a major sea cave, growing toward land and upward into a vertical shaft.

NPS structure constructed on top of the intriguing blow hole.
Sometimes the air is static and sometime it is blowing. Like this!

Air (atmospheric pressure, really) is either blown out or sucked into a small hole at the surface of this so-called geologic blowhole because of a difference in pressure between a closed underground cavern system and the surface. If one studies the changing weather, such as did ancient shamans, one can seen a barometric change in the ever-changing direction of air blowing in or out of the blow hole. This change can be used to indicate an imminent turn of the weather, which was very useful information for ancient farmers. Wind speeds in the blowhole can also approach upwards of 30 m.p.h. (26 knots).

Neighboring Pueblos: Wukoki Pueblo is located on a side road and branches eastward to the ruins. This ruin is considered the most distinctive pueblo in the park because it’s built on an isolated block of sandstone and is visible for several miles across the flat surroundings. The structure is quite tall, centered on a square three-story tower with a series of intricately constructed rooms at one side. The bricks have a deep reddish tincture and the building merges seamlessly with the underlying Moenkopi rock. Lomaki Pueblo, also in this area, can be reached by a short trail starting at 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. Further along the rim of the box canyon are several smaller ruins. All buildings sit on flat, thin layered strata. The erosion at the edges of the monument has littered the lower canyon floor with fallen boulders. These broken rocks also complement the crumbling masonry walls of the pueblo. In contrast to the startling color of the rock foundation, the soil around the canyon is mostly black volcanic ash.

Lomaki Pueblo, another worthwhile dwelling to see, is less than 1/2 mile from the main ruins.

The final two major ruins in this area include Nalakihu Pueblo, featuring a small and partly restored pueblo built alongside the main road. It's also close to the northern entrance (toward Sunset Crater).

The other, Citadel Pueblo, lies in the southern sector, standing atop a small hill overlooking the undulating surrounding. Citadel is unreconstructed. Still, the ruin in the midst of the Painted Desert is impressive, especially during late afternoon when the sun is farther west and the Mesozoic rocks take on a stunning array of colors.

Parting shots:

Directions: From Flagstaff, take Hwy. 89 north toward Page for 12 miles, then right at the sign for the Sunset Crater Volcano/Wupatki. The Visitor Center for Wupatki is 21 miles from this junction.

Here's a handy tourist's map in case you want to take in more regional sightseeing places:

Contact Information: Wupatki National Monument Visitor Center. Phone: 928-679.2365; Fax 679.2349 Email embedded in NPS site’s URL (click on “Email Us”)

And so, DKos community, we come to the end of another trail, another armchair tour. There will be other scenic places to tour and more supplemental topics to read and think about, so stay tuned for a continuation in this series.

As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.


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Note: If commenting on an older diary, please send an email to my profile account and I am sure to respond in a timely manner. Although all the diary material is extrapolated from a larger copyrighted main source (my own works-in-progress) feel free to “liberate” given anything that I have posted thus far. That being said, kindly site the original source. Gracias.

Photos used in diaries: Unless otherwise indicated, all photos posted in my diary series are “Fair Use” and strictly educational in purpose and intent. See “Attributed” slot for photo identity source (usually Creative Commons non-commercial use only and Public Domain sources).

Originally posted to richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 08:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse and National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

    by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 08:12:03 AM PDT

  •  Have you checked out Walnut Canyon? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    boran2, nookular, RiveroftheWest, elfling

    I highly recommend it. It is just outside of Flagstaff and is the best cliff dwelling site I've ever visited.

    •  You mean Mesa Verde on a smaller scale? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueyedace2, RiveroftheWest, elfling

      You bet! Anyone who comes to this part of Arizona is bound to take a gander at all the inspiring and evocative and thought-provoking archeological ruins. Such a fantastic and ancient human history legacy stretching back thousands of years. Thanks for posting your comment, SpecialKinFlag.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 10:05:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When a recruiter called me in '97 and asked if (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    boran2, RiveroftheWest, elfling

    I'd consider moving to UT, I said yes, and this kind of scenery is why. Not just in UT, but AZ, NM, parts of CO and NV, etc. Access to Grand Teton, the Wind River Range, Yellowstone, Glacier, the Sawtooth and so much more.

    We've been wandering this territory for 15 years now and we've just scratched the surface, really.

    Thanks, Rich.

    What's the point of letting neoliberals into the tent when neoliberalism is burning down the campground?
    Since elections will never change the ownership of government, why does our strategy rely entirely upon them?

    by Words In Action on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 08:51:18 AM PDT

    •  and you get the scene. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      given what you have commented before, like now. That's important! I mean, some people pass through the Four Corners region seeing on a backdrop and not realizing too much, if anything, about the culture and geology of this magnificent setting. Thanks for posting your comments (as always), Words In Action.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 10:01:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We were in Wupatki last summer. (4+ / 0-)

    It is one of the places where one can, at times, be truly alone with the ruins.  And even when other folks are around, there aren't many of them.  And it's great for physically challenged folks.  The sites are mostly easily accessible.

    I'm not always political, but when I am I vote Democratic. Stay Democratic, my friends. -The Most Interesting Man in the World

    by boran2 on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 08:53:23 AM PDT

    •  Austerity, silence, solitude. . . (4+ / 0-)

      and of course the marvels of a haunting nature of long, long ago when this site was thriving. Wupatki evokes these kind of thoughts and feelings in most people, boran2. And there are even more ruins in the distance, some of which I have hiked to (quite a hike and no water to speak of). . .so these folks got around and cultivate their dry farming landscape. Wupatki is also one of my very favorite settings (as is Walnut Canyon just outside Flag. Thanks for posting your comments. As always.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 10:00:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's the feeling I had when I visited Wupatki (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        twenty years ago.

        And I remember the sky being such a dark shade of blue as to be almost black. (I drove thru during the winter months, so that might have made a difference.)

        An enjoyable article to read, Rich!

        •  thanks, llywrch. . . (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          llywrch, RiveroftheWest, elfling

          glad you mentioned being there in winter. Actually, I love the fall and winter the best when in the desert. For one thing, fewer people; for another, and as you pointed out, the lighting is different all the way around. If one dresses for the weather, one tends not to complain about the weather. Anyway, thanks so much for posting your comment.

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 01:49:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Stuck in Flagstaff for an extra couple days (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we took the route out through Sunset Crater and I believe also Wupatki, though I was more into the natural parks than the cultural ones at the time.  Now, however, I realize culture reflects the nature and vice versa.

    Thanks very much for the series.

    •  better late than never, ColoTim (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and if you've been in that area you began with a bang. Walnut Canyon down thru Wupatki is a grand tour in itself, with Sunset Crater an aded treat. Then there is Cameron (the Trading Post), the Painted Desert, and all that lovely, austere Navajo Reservation country to ogle and admire. Of course, there is a plethora of archeological ruins for thousands of miles in all directions. Glad you had a sample and I'm betting by now you've even had more. Thanks for posting your comment.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 09:57:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  About five years later, I attended a conference (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        llywrch, RiveroftheWest

        in Cortez for interpretation.  It included going to Mesa Verde and exploring Cliff House on a guided tour without the public so it really was quiet and quite special.  Afterwards, I took a short trip around the four corners region to see some of the various sites - including Canyon de Chelley, Hovenweep and the Monument Valley.  One of my favorite memories of that trip was listening to Tony Hillerman in a book on tape as I was driving through territory he was describing.  I listened to Navajo radio being broadcast for ten minutes out of the hour on the AM radio.  I went through Shiprock and many of the other towns and locations.

        I do feel "white man's guilt" going through those areas, however.  I don't like stopping at roadside shops and being reminded how comparably well-off I am, having a car and shelter overhead.  It can be tough listening to a young man telling of his family history and problems with bigotry and alcoholism and his pride over the Navajo "wind talkers" who helped win WWII.  I try and understand how they deal with the hand dealt to them and I feel guilty I can't make it all better for them.  No easy solution.

        •  there's another side to it. . . (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ColoTim, llywrch, RiveroftheWest

          in that supporting businesses anywhere on the reservation, helps these tribal people. They practically thrive on tourism and I don't you'll find a friendly bunch that are glad to have your business. They don't even blame the white-eye for the problems that are fairly common. You should also know in recent years social services and proactive community support has really made a big difference through the Indian Nations. All races and cultures have their problems, just as all have solutions. There is a healing process going on like never before. I guess it's why I tender more compassion and understanding than feeling the need for guilt or pity. But I do comprehend your sentiments on the subject matter. It's well you are so considerate. I'm an optimist and think most people are. It's just the relatively few dunderheads that tend to ruin such an outlook. Anyway, thanks for posting a follow-up to your original commentary, ColoTim.

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 11:11:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Wupatki was one of the very first (0+ / 0-)

    sites my husband and I visited in Arizona, probably in 1958. We enjoyed it so much. I have photos from that trip taken with a box camera! We went back years later with our daughters; they loved it too.

    •  Was I even born then??? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      no wait; I was. '46 to be exact. But '58 anywhere in the Southwest must have been a bit like visiting Eden. I am enamored with the 50s and this region. And envious you were there way back when. And you know something, RiveroftheWest, the ruins are still standing exactly as you left them! Thanks for commenting and I'd like to see some of those box camera pics. . .if you can embed 'em!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 04:06:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, Rich -- you're just a kid! (0+ / 0-)

        Hubby and I visited the Grand Canyon during the Spring Break after we were married. Set up the tent and woke to find it dusted with snow the next morning. Such a great trip!

        I guess I'd have to scan the pics, if they still have any color... maybe someday!

        •  actually pics of that era. . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          work better as they are; I mean for the sake of real-time nostalgia. And just think: I never use a tent, rain or snow, hot or cold. I get to wake up with whatever Mom Nature decided to do whilst little I sleep. Anyway, that must have been a great time and adventure for you folks back in those halcyon years (they sure seem as such compared to the hellish days we're all living through).

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 05:33:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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