We visited Wupatki National Monument in July 1997. It shares billing in NPS brochures with Sunset Crater National Monument by virtue of being in the same region and on the same forest service loop road. Although pit houses have been found near Sunset Crater, Wupatki is an archeological rather than a natural wonder. It is the largest remaining pueblo-style dwelling among several in this immediate area, among them Wukoki, Lomaki, Nalakihu, and Citadel Ruins. Although much of it has crumbled from the time it was a thriving village, and many of the ancient artifacts were looted in the 1900s, enough of it remains to fascinate and wonder.
At Wupatki’s heyday in the 1100s, it rose in places as high as three stories, contained as many as 100 rooms and may have housed over 200 people. Archeologists estimate that this pueblo was continuously inhabited between about 1120 to 1210. Who lived here? Ancestral Pueblo, from whom the Hopi descended and known to them as the Hisatsinom (people of long ago), known also as the Sinaguas (without water). Also found was evidence of other ancient cultures, such as the Huhugam and Cohonina. They farmed the surrounding land, growing corn and other crops in the desert soil upon which layers of volcanic ash from nearby Sunset Crater served as mulch. The pueblos were built mostly of Moenkopi sandstone and ponderosa pine beams, but also made use of natural rock walls when available. As the population thrived, more rooms were added.
Several unusual features are to be found here, including a large amphitheater which may have served as kiva or dance plaza lies near the ruins. A little further down the trail you will find what appears to have been a ball court, next to which is a natural blowhole. Depending on the surrounding atmospheric pressure, air is either blown out or sucked in.
By the mid 1200’s archeologists have determined that Wupatki was abandoned. It’s not clear just what factors contributed to its demise, but it’s more likely that there were multiple causes, among them drought, disease, dispersal of the volcanic ash cover, or more mysterious and still unknown reasons. In the 1930’s partial restorations of some of the ruins and structures in Wupatki were carried out before the NPS policy changed. Between 1938 and 1949, David Jones, a park ranger, and his bride Courtney Reeder Jones, actually lived in part of Wupatki ruins. In Letters From Wupatki , Courtney writes about their lives during the 11 years they resided there. The book is a selected collection of her letters to family and friends.