on April 8, 2009
Wupatki National Monument is one of several archaeological sites preserving pueblos (houses) of ancient peoples. The pueblos all have a distinctive red color and were made from the local Moenkopi sandstone. We reache Wupatki by the same loop road that passes the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, adjoining the main north-south route US 89. At the visitors center we learned about history of the area. About 800 years ago, Wupatki was the tallest pueblo, and perhaps one of the richest and most influential, in the Southwest. It is believed that people moved here because of volcanic eruptions that took place at Sunset Crater. With a little imagination, one can picture these Ancient Americans fleeing when the volcano erupted, then gradually returned to the area to build new settlements in the area now called Wupatki. The ash from the volcano may have made farming in the area slightly better, holding moisture in the soil. A slight change in climate may have made water more plentiful as well. The settlement flourished as a center for trade routes that crossed through the area being the meeting place for three different cultures — the Sinagua, Cohonina and Kayenta Anasazi. By about A.D. 1250, people had moved on and Wuptaki lost its importance. Was it the extensive drought that began about A.D. 1215 that drove them away? Did poor soil conservation eventually lead to loss of topsoil and worsening crop yields each year? We will never know.Wupatki RuinsBeyond the Visitor Center, visitors have several different options for exploring the pueblos. These include the Wupatki Pueblo Trail, the Lomaki Pueblo Trail, and the Doney Mountain Trail. These trails are all quite short (0.5 miles to about 1 mile roundtrip distance) and are all well maintained and easy to follow. The biggest ruins are the 3-storey Wupatki pueblo (Hopi for 'tall house') that was once the home of 300 people. The house is situated on the edge of a small plateau and has unobstructed views eastwards towards the Painted Desert and the Little Colorado River. The ruins are reached by a short, paved self-guided trail starting at the visitor center. We walked around and inside it, crouching through low doorways to explore inner chambers. The masonry ball court at the far end of the village may have been used for games or religious functions. The most amazing place for me here was a natural blowhole (the ancients believed it was how the earth breathes). This is a vent of unknown depth linked to underground caves which either blows out or sucks in air, depending on the ambient pressure. In a hot September day (low 80s) it blew cold 60º air. It's as fun as it is refreshing.We spent at Wupatki 2 hours or so and were one of the last visitors during the day leaving the pueblos and houses of the Anasazi and Sinagua people, once filled with the laughter of children and the work of adults, standing in silent ruin, filled only with the sound of the winds. It was a day to remember. If you plan to stop anywhere in Oak Creek Canyon, you'll need to buy a Red Rock Pass. They cost $5 a day, and are available at the rest area. You can also purchase them through automated machines located at many trailheads.
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