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Wupatki National Monument Arizona

Photos Mike Sinnwell April 2017


Since 1966 I have been driving past the turn off for the Wupatki National Monument. This past April I decided enough is enough. I don’t care how big a hurry I am in I was going to take the turn off. I am glad I did as I never expected to see so much, so many sites and so few people. I personally liked it much better than Tonto, Casa Grande, or Montezuma.


In total, there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within Wupatki National Monument, but five of the largest Wupatki,  Wukoki, Lomaki, Citadel and Nalakihu are close to the main road and these are the only sites open to visitors.


All the dwellings were built by the Anasazi and Sinagua Indians during the 12th and 13th centuries - the habitation of this region was influenced by the eruption of nearby Sunset Volcano during the winter of 1064-5. The resulting ash and lava made the surrounding land infertile and so the residents of that region moved further afield into desert areas previously considered too dry and barren. They discovered that the cinders blanketing lands to the north could hold moisture needed for crops

To survive they grew about half their diet – corn, beans, squash, and gourds - in fields and gardens. They also collected wild seeds and grains (Indian rice grass, bee weed, amaranth), and spring greens, and hunted pronghorn, deer, rabbits, lizards, and the rodents that came to their fields.


For its time and place, there was no other pueblo like Wupatki. Less than 800 years ago, it was the tallest, largest, and perhaps the richest and most influential pueblo around. It was home to 85-100 people, and several thousand more lived within a day’s walk. And it was built in one of the lowest, warmest, and driest places on the Colorado Plateau.


As the new agricultural community spread, a few large pueblos replaced small scattered homes, each surrounded by many smaller pueblos and pit houses. Wupatki, Wukoki, Lomaki, and other masonry pueblos emerged from bedrock. Trade networks expanded, bringing exotic items like turquoise, shell jewelry, copper bells, and parrots. Wupatki flourished as a meeting place of different cultures. Then, by about 1250, the people moved on.

Only for a time, in the 1100s, was the landscape this densely populated.  In the early 13th century all the settlements were abandoned, as were most other villages in this part of the Southwest, although it is believed that some of the present-day Hopi are descended from the former inhabitants of the Wupatki pueblos.