In the open plateau northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona lies 35,000 acres set aside in 1924 to protect a collection of archaeological sites. A 35-mile drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and adjacent Wupatki National Monument passes through ponderosa pine forests and sunflower-filled meadows on its way to an arid, rocky high desert. Archaeologists theorize the Ancestral Puebloan people were attracted to this place by the fertile volcanic ash deposited by the contemporaneous eruptions at Sunset Crater.
Wupatki Pueblo, Lomaki Pueblo, Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos, Wukoki Pueblo
The most famous of the ruins is named Wupatki Pueblo, a three-story, 100-room house inhabited by Sinagua around AD 1100. At the height of its occupation, the structure was three stories tall and contained 100 rooms. Its location near a spring allowed villagers to farm the volcanically-enriched soil, plus the leisure to build an amphitheater and ball court. Here there is more than just crumbling ruins and pottery shards behind glass in a museum; there is a palpable feeling that this was a place where people lived.
The paved walking loop from the visitor center at Wupatki Pueblo is a half mile long and there are short interpretive trails at several additional ruins (see Highlights above), most located not far from parking lots.
Next to the ball court, do not miss the small opening to a larger cavern (or earthcrack) that breathes in or out depending upon the change in barometric pressure. It is not hard to imagine kids playing here hundreds of years ago.
$25 per vehicle (or America the Beautiful pass), which also covers entrance to neighboring Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
All roads to ruins are paved, but there is one dirt road that leads to the Little Colorado River, which forms the border with the Navajo Indian Reservation.
The U.S. Forest Service runs the Bonito Campground across from the Sunset Crater visitor center between May and October. Dispersed camping is allowed in portions of Coconino National Forest.
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