Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments
"...A portion of the cone is of bright reddish cinders, while the adjacent rocks are of black basalt. The contrast in the colors is so great that on viewing the mountain from a distance the red cinders seem to be on fire. From this circumstance, the cone has been named Sunset Peak . . . which seems to glow with a light of its own."
So John Wesley Powell described Sunset Crater in 1885. Today visitors can enjoy this natural wonder and view remnants of the Anasazi that made the crater their home.
With a little imagination, one can picture these Ancient Americans fleeing when the volcano erupted, then gradually returned to the area to build new settlements in the area now called Wupatki. The archeological sites show evidence of occupation both before and after Sunset Crater's eruption. Homes built after the main eruption show the influences of various cultures of the peoples that moved into the Wupatki Basin, with differing architectural styles, varied pottery, and hand tools. The pueblos and houses of the Anasazi and Sinagua people, once filled with the laughter of children and the work of adults, now stand in silent ruin, filled only with the sound of the winds, a tribute to civilizations past. Where these ancient peoples went, and why they left, is a puzzle that archeologists are still only beginning to piece back together.
The Sinagua people must have been surprised to hear and feel the rumblings of a volcano coming to life during the winter of A.D. 1064-65.
As molten rock erupted from the ground, cinders and volcanic bombs flew into the air and piled up around the vent, building the cone of cinders. The ash from the volcano was picked up and carried on the winds, eventually covering 800 square miles of northern Arizona. For perhaps 200 years more, Sunset Crater continued its periodic eruptions, creating the 1,000 foot cinder cone.surrounding volcanoes to the north and west of Sunset Crater.
Two major lava flows, coming from the base of the volcano, covered the surrounding terrain with thick lava, complete with lava tubes, spatter cones and squeeze-ups. The Kana-a Lava Flow flowed to the northeast for seven miles in A.D. 1064-65. The Bonito Flows came in three stages in A.D. 1180, filling in the basin between the
The final eruptions of Sunset Crater spewed red oxidized iron and sulfur scoria around the summit, giving the volcano the permanent"sunset" effect noted by John Wesley Powell.
Exhibits at the Sunset Crater Visitor Center discuss volcanoes and earthquakes, with a short film and working seismograph.
Hiking trails at Bonito Lava Flow and Lenox Crater provide excellent views of the lava, Sunset Crater, and the other volcanoes nearby. No hiking has been allowed on the Sunset Crater volcano since 1973, to preserve and protect this fragile and significant cinder cone from erosion. Other volcanoes, including Lenox Crater, are open for climbing.
The Sinagua people, living in their pithouses, quickly moved out of the area as Sunset Crater began its eruptions. Once the volcano began to quiet again, the Sinagua and Kayenta Anasazi returned and built new homes and pueblos to the northeast of Sunset Crater, in the Wupatki area. The ash from the volcano may have made farming in the area slightly better, holding moisture in the soil. A slight change in climate may have made water more plentiful as well.
The Anasazi, Sinagua, and other cultures had long been trading among each other, and in coming together, these neighbors shared even more of their farming, construction and pottery making methods. The cultural mosaic in the Wupatki basin grew and flourished for well over 125 years.
By A.D. 1225, however, most of the people were gone. Was it the extensive drought that began about A.D. 1215 that drove them away? Did poor soil conservation eventually lead to loss of topsoil and worsening crop yields each year? Or perhaps social unrest of disease disbanded the many pueblos here. For whatever reason, the residents eventually abandoned their homes in the Wupatki area. More than 700 years have passed since then, and the pueblos of the Wupatki area have stood alone, empty and silent.
Since the early 1900s, archeologists have carefully mapped and studied the sites of Wupatki. By 1988, over 2,668 sites within the monument were mapped, marked and identified. The largest are open to the public along the road.
Wupatki ("wu-PAT-ki"), a Hopi word for "Tall House," is a multi-story dwelling with more than one hundred rooms. There is a short trail leading through the ruins that begins just behind the Visitor Center.
Wukoki, the "Big House," stands solitary atop a huge boulder, and may have housed three families. The Citadel ruin, left unexcavated for future archeologists, shows decorative uses of various types of rocks in the construction of the pueblo. A short trail leads to Lomaki, the "Beautiful House" ruins. Please stay on the trails, and off the fragile ruin walls.
Located northeast of Flagstaff, access to Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments is on FS 545, the thirty-five mile loop road that starts on Hwy 89 and travels through both parks.
The Visitor Center at Sunset Crater National Monument is located two miles from the south entrance of the loop road off Hwy 89.
The Visitor Center for Wupatki National Monument is located eighteen miles north of Sunset Crater and fourteen miles from Hwy 89 north entrance. Both Visitor Centers are open year-round, except for December 25 and January 1, from 8 a.m. to S p.m. MST, with longer hours possible in summer. Park rangers will provide information and answer questions. An entrance fee covers your visit to both parks.
Driving The Loop Road
The thirty-five mile loop road joins Hwy 89 at both ends, and is winding with soft shoulders. Stop only at designated pullouts. The speed limit is 45 mph and is reduced in several areas for pedestrians' safety. Gasoline and food are not available anywhere along the loop road, but there are several places on Hwy 89 to the north and south. A forty-three site US Forest Service campground is located across from the Sunset Crater Visitor Center; RV hookups are not available, and sites are on a first-come-first-served basis. Backcountry camping is not permitted in either park, and backcountry day-hiking in Wupatki is allowed by permit only. Open fires are allowed only where fire grates are provided.
6400 N. Highway 89
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication