by Marlene V. Battelle
This one looks like a true volcano — a barren cone of oxidized cinders that glow yellow and red, reminding people of a sunset.
At the same time, it is incongruous rising up out of the pine forest of northern Arizona. Coming closer, you find yourself in the midst of black, wrinkled, furrowed land — Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox must have ventured southwest with a huge plow.
The remnants of a cataclysmic volcano and an ancient people nearby make an interesting dichotomy at Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument features a 1,000-foot cinder cone created by the eruption of a massive volcano in 1064-65. Two major lava flows in 1064 and in 1180 destroyed everything in their paths and created an area that resembles a weird moonscape.
In the park, a short paved trail and a longer gravel trail wind through gnarled black squeeze-ups and rough clinkers. The final burst of volcanic activity in 1250 left the giant cinder cone and nearby cinder vents resembling enormous anthills.
Silent except for the wind through the arroyos and across the desert, Wupatki National Monument protects ancient dwellings of Puebloan people and occupies 56 square miles of dry, rugged land.
The Sinagua (so-called by modern people because of their existing and thriving in an area basically “without water”) built Wupatki Pueblo and other surrounding dwellings during the 1100s and occupied them for roughly 150 years.
Wupatki, the largest pueblo in the area, includes a tower, community room, ceremonial ballcourt and very odd blowhole. By 1190, as many as 2,000 people lived within a day’s walk, and agricultural plots dotted the area. Then, for reasons unknown, they left.
Walk through the partially excavated and stabilized Wupatki pueblo, and it is hard to imagine how people survived in this arid landscape. But the silent remains stand as a testament to their ingenuity. Built on a sandstone outcrop, this pueblo and others in the area take advantage of the natural stone to anchor walls and provide unique rooms. They had systems for trapping the sparse rainfall and taking advantage of every bit of moisture.
Questions abound concerning the people’s lives and why they essentially vanished from this area when they did. Was it the pull of possibilities somewhere else? Was there a social catastrophe? Were they attacked by outsiders? Was there a natural disaster? The silence of Wupatki invites speculation.
Both monuments are reached via U.S. 89. They are connected by a 35-mile loop road and their entrances are 12 miles and 26 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona.
A driving tour of both parks takes one to two hours but allow three to four hours to walk the trails and stop at the visitor centers. The Sunset Crater Volcano visitor center is located two miles east of the park entrance and the Wupatki Visitor Center is 14 miles southeast of the north park entrance. A single entrance fee covers both parks.
Lodging, camping, and dining:
There are no gasoline stations, restaurants or overnight accommodations in either park. There is one campground near Sunset Crater operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Facilities include running water and restrooms, but there are no showers or trailer hook-ups.
Walnut Canyon National Monument — 10 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40
Grand Canyon National Park — 50 miles north and west of Wupatki and Sunset Crater Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Monuments — 115 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40
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