weather icon Clear

Wupatki Pueblo offers glimpse into ancient lifestyle

Wupatki National Monument in Arizona encompasses more than 35,000 acres and contains roughly 2,500 documented archaeological sites. You can’t see them all, nor are you allowed to, but you can see some of the most impressive ruins in the park, even in a few hours.

Located west of the Navajo Reservation, southeast of the Colorado River, and about a 45-minute drive east of Flagstaff, it is a destination not to be missed if you are doing some summer touring in the region. The relatively high altitude — 4,900 feet at the visitor center — yields mild daily high temperatures compared to Southern Nevada.

At the forefront of the park is Wupatki Pueblo, one of the most impressive pueblos I have been to. As was common for pueblos in the area, it was built using a rock outcropping of red sandstone as its base. This pueblo is associated with the Cohonina, Sinaga and Kayenta people.

It is thought this settlement started as a small one, as early as 500 A.D. The population is thought to have grown enormously after a volcanic eruption at what is now called Sunset Crater, just 21 miles away. The eruption sprinkled ash over the landscape surrounding Wupatki, and the ash helped keep moisture in the soil, greatly improving agricultural opportunities. The people were primarily farmers, planting crops such as corn, beans and squash, but they also were hunters, seeking out pronghorn, deer and a variety of smaller game.

By the late 12th century, thousands were farming this region. Some of them moved into Wupatki Pueblo, which soon expanded to three stories high with 100 rooms. This larger version of the original pueblo was used from approximately the 1180s to 1225. After the ruins were designated a national monument in 1924, Wupatki Pueblo was partially excavated, and much of it has been stabilized over the years to stop further damage.

A visit to the park starts at the Wupatki Visitor Center. There is a small museum displaying artifacts such as arrowheads and ceramics and informative interpretive displays about the monument. This is the place to pick up a trail guide, useful in identifying the different structures and rooms you will see as you walk around.

The paved Wupatki Pueblo Trail starts directly out the visitor center’s back door. The self-guided tour covers a half-mile loop that takes you on both sides of the pueblo. Be sure to walk down the hill away from the pueblo to see the two large round structures, which are a ceremonial ball court and a community room.

Ball courts have been found in other areas of Arizona but this one is so far the only one discovered of stone masonry. The court is about 100 feet long by 64 feet wide, with an opening at each end.

One of the most interesting geological features you might ever see is located here: a blowhole. This natural blowhole was formed from a fracture in the earth. Depending on when you visit it will be either blowing out a powerful blast of air, or sucking in the equivalent. When the outside air heats up, it blows out so strong that if you have long hair and lean over it closely, your hair will fly up in the air. Rest assured there is a safety grid over the hole so no one can fall in.

By around 1225 the pueblo was abandoned and different theories abound as to why. Was it drought, disease, social factors or perhaps a combination of all these problems? As you walk along the trail it is interesting to reflect about this mystery, and the more thoughtful will wonder how our own towns will look in about 800 years.

The visitor center at Wupatki National Monument is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST, except Christmas. Because Arizona does not observe daylight saving time these hours coincide with Nevada time when Nevada turns the clock forward.

For more information, call 928-679-2365 or visit nps.gov/wupa.

There are no services in the park but most anything you need can be found in nearby Flagstaff. The closest camping is at Bonito Campground, about 20 miles from the Wupatki Visitor Center and at an elevation of 6,900 feet, perfect for summer camping. It is available on a first-come, first-serve basis in the Coconino National Forest; call 928-526-0866 or visit fs.usda.gov/coconino for details.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled in the book “Base Camp Las Vegas, Hiking the Southwestern States.” She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Pickleball proves popular; city to add courts

The sport of pickleball is expanding faster than the dry areas at Lake Mead, with over 5 million players nationwide. Boulder City has noticed this and, in a recent City Council meeting, approved $160,000 of the American Rescue Plan Act COVID-19 relief funds for additional courts in the city.

Fishers angle for best spot

Anglers covered the shorelines at Veterans’ Memorial Park on Saturday, June 11, as Boulder City hosted the Southern Nevada free fishing day event.

94-year-old still out on the green

Feeling younger than ever, 94-year old Virginia “Birdie” Hurst is an avid golfer who has no plans to slow down.

Catalina evokes visions of romance, nature

For many who grew up in the 1950s or ’60s, the name of Santa Catalina will always evoke the vision of California at its most romantic, thanks to the Four Preps’ influential pop song of the same name. But the actual island has helped city folk enjoy romance, nature and elegant surroundings in their preferred proportions for nearly a century.

Waterfall standout of Grand Staircase-Escalante

While it would take a lifetime to see all the extraordinary wonders of the 1.87-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, even on a short visit you can hike to some of the highlights. One of the standouts, that most people are eager to visit, is Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Orchards highlight visit to Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah boasts some of the finest rock formations and geologic wonders in the West, including the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the Earth that extends 100 miles. It is also one of the top choices for visitors to hike; its 150 miles of trails take in slot canyons, natural arches and bridges, waterfalls and petroglyphs.

Desert living heralded in Palm Springs

For outdoor lovers who are looking for a family or multigenerational weekend, Palm Springs, California, will certainly fit the bill. While there are hundreds of wonderful things to do here, three places should top any list for those traveling with people of different ages.

Park features more than namesake Joshua trees

Joshua Tree National Park, California, lies about 185 miles from Boulder City, but the scenic route seems just a hop, skip and jump, for it consists partly of a drive in the remote and visually stunning Mojave National Preserve, along a short section of Route 66 and through the ghost town of Amboy.

Bridge extends welcome to Havasu visitors

Moving one of England’s tourist attractions to the American Southwest sounded far-fetched until somebody did it. Now it has become the second most popular tourist destination in Arizona, only being outdone by the Grand Canyon.