Leaving the Sunset Crater area, we continued on, past the Painted Desert enjoying the changes in scenery before arriving at the turnoff to the Wukoki Pueblo, located in Wupatki National Monument.
Wupatki National Monument is one of several sites preserving pueblos (houses) of ancient peoples, but unlike the Tonto, Montezuma, Casa Grande Ruins and Tuzigoot monuments where there is only one main building, here there are many ruins scattered over a large area of desert northeast of Flagstaff. The pueblos all have a distinctive deep red color and were made from thin, flat blocks of the local Moenkopi sandstone.
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 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 Sunset Volcano during the winter of 1064-5, as 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. 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.
The Wukoki ruins, perhaps the most distinctive in the park as the house is built on an isolated block of sandstone, is visible for several miles across the flat surroundings. The structure is quite tall, centered on a square, three story tower with a series of intricately-constructed rooms at one side. The bricks have a deep red color, and the building merges seamlessly with the underlying Moenkopi rock. A short trail loops around the ruin and climbs to a vantage point on top.
After exploring a bit we moved on to our final stop, the Wupatki Pueblo. The Wupatki area is 2,000 feet lower than the volcanic region north of Flagstaff so the vegetation is quite different - the loop road from Sunset Crater descends quite quickly through fir and pine trees to the arid scrub-covered desert, and we soon arrived at the visitor center. The 3-story pueblo (Hopi for 'big house') was once home to 300 people and had over a hundred rooms. The settlement is built 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, which took about half an hour to walk at a leisurely pace. A leaflet was available, describing 20 points of interest; apart from the main building, these included a circular community room, a masonry ballpark - a recreational feature usually only found much further south, and a natural blowhole. This is a vent of unknown depth linked to underground passages in the sandstone, and either blows out or sucks in air, depending on the ambient pressure. All the rooms at Wupatki are partially reconstructed.
It was a beautiful day for our road trip and I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as we did. There are plenty of amazing sights here in Arizona and we hope to spend the next few weeks checking out as many as we can! Thanks for stopping by and have a great day :)