Wupatki & Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments

Wupatki National Monument Travel Blog

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Lava flows at Sunset Crater National Monument
After our hike out of Supai, we drove to Williams, AZ. along Route 66. After three days of camping and hiking we were happy to get into a nice comfy hotel room with a hot shower for a change!

Next day, we were on the road again on the way to Page. We noticed that Wupatki and Sunset Crater were close on or way so we decided to make a little detour to check them out.

Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument are situated close to one another to the north of Flagstaff, AZ, on a loop road off US 89 (the highway leading to Page/the east entrance of Grand Canyon NP).

The sites cover different but interrelated subjects: Wupatki consists of a series of puebloan dwellings and Sunset Crater features a volcano and lava flows.
Wupatki Pueblo
It is believed that initially, the area was abandoned because of the unexpected eruption of the Sunset Crater volcano. Later, however, people were attracted back to the area because of the rich volcanic soil and the dwellings are a reminder of this period.

When you visit these sites, you literally get 'two for the price of one' because the entrance fee covers both sites. The sites are easily accessible and make a nice side trip when driving between Flagstaff and Page. You can enter at both the Sunset Crater entrance (at the south) and the Wupatki entrance (north). Both have a visitor center, well set up and informative as these park service centers always are.

Wupatki Pueblo and the other, smaller pueblos in the park were built and inhabited by the Sinagua, the same people who lived at Walnut Canyon and built the cliff dwellings of Montezuma Castle (see my general Arizona page for more info on these two sites).
The path to the ballcourt and the 'blowhole'.

The Sinagua ('without water' in Spanish, one look at the landscape explains this name) were a people living in an area that was thought to be inhabited by many different peoples and they adapted well to different customs. This might explain the many different types of dwellings (small cliff dwellings like at Walnut Canyon, larger ones like Montezuma Castle and freestanding structures like Wupatki Pueblo) they used.
They were thought to have established themselves in this area around 1100 after the eruption of Sunset Crater volcano, attracted by the fertile volcanic soil. In a relatively short period (less then 100 years), thousands of people lived here. However, around 1250, they abandoned their homes. The current day Pueblo tribes, like the Hopi and the Zuni, are believed to be their descendents.
Wupatki Pueblo consisted of more than 100 rooms and is the largest of the dwellings in the area. Much of Wupatki Pueblo has been restored.
Incredibly, during the 1930s, after the site was established as a National Monument, the first park rangers actually built up part of the dwelling, put a roof over it and lived in it. They had all 'modern' (for the time) conveniences like a kitchen with a gas stove and refrigerator! INSIDE the ruins!
These modern additions were removed in the 1950s and more subtle restorations were carried out on the ruins.
Nowadays, ruins are just reinforced and protected against further deterioration, not 'built up' anymore.

At the end of the (self-guided) trail you can see a reconstructed ball court and a strange geological feature called the blowhole (sorry for the bad picture).
Ballcourts like these were unusual for the tribes of the American southwest and this might hint at contacts with mesoamerican tribes to the south, where the ball game (on a different shape of court) was quite widespread.

A cool feature is the blowhole next to the ball court. It is a hole in the ground that appears to breathe! The hole is connected to an underground cavern of unknown size and the 'breathing' apparently is caused by the rise and fall of barometric pressure in- and outside the cavern.
The Hopi call the blowhole 'the breath of the wind spirit'. Doesn't that sound nicer than 'barometric pressure'?

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Lava flows at Sunset Crater Nation…
Lava flows at Sunset Crater Natio…
Wupatki Pueblo
Wupatki Pueblo
The path to the ballcourt and the …
The path to the ballcourt and the…
Wupatki National Monument
photo by: mahoney