This afternoon we were privileged to visit two national monuments, one show casing the ruins of an ancient people and the other the ruins and devastation caused by nature.
Our first stop was the Visitor’s Center at Sunset Crater Volcano located outside of Flagstaff. As we drove up we saw some picnic tables and with the sunlight it was a perfect place for our picnic lunch. After lunch we went into the center and talked briefly with the ranger about the trails however we decided to get Sunset Crater on our way out after we had visited the Wupatki National Monument.
As we drove the loop road to the Wupatki National Monument we got glimpses of the devastation that was caused by the volcano eruption thousands of years ago. After a few miles of blackened, dried lava we began to see revegetation with trees, possible piñon pines, on both sides of the road. There were also many trees that appeared to have been struck by lightening. Some of the trees, both living and dead had such twisted trunks. We later learned that was nature’s way of the tree compensating for the varying winds.
As we rode along we saw a sign indicating the Wukoki Pueblo Trail so we headed there. Built of a sandstone outcrop this pueblo is unique both for its location and it structure. Despite being exposed to the elements for 800 years it stands as a tribute to the people who lived there, constructed homes there and farmed there. It is a large structure and can be seen for miles. In fact, at a distance it resembles a castle. Wukoki is the modern word for “Big House” and indeed it was as it was most likely three stories high. We were able to climb up to the second level and walk around observing how very well the structure was constructed.
Our next stop was the Visitor’s Center where we received information about the Wupatki Pueblo Trail which began right behind the center. Most likely a center for trade the 104 room Pueblo features a ball court, a community room and a blowhole. What is a blowhole you ask. I had no ideas but I found out. It is a crevice in the earth’s crust that appears to breathe. In fact as you stand next to it you can feel the gusts of wind coming from within. Although archaeologists have yet to uncover any connection to the Wupatki Pueblo the Hopi, descendants of the people refer to the blowhole as the “Yaapontsa”, the wind spirit.
We went into the ball court which is 78’ wide, 102’ long and had a 6’ high wall surrounding it. As we stood in that oval we could just imagine the voices of children and adults having their fun for the evening.
We stopped briefly in the community center which seemed to be a round pit with stones benches available for seating. Again, we could almost hear the voices of past peoples.
Back in the car we headed to the Lava Flow Trail, part of the Sunset Crater Volcano. We walked around on the pavement and then descended into the lava flow. We only walked a part of the trail as it was getting late. The black lava, the split trees, the devastation completely surrounded us as we left the pavement and followed the dirt trail. Amazingly, occasionally we would see sprigs of life, a sapling, a twig.
Fortunately we are able to visit these national monuments today as they are now preserved and protected by the federal government. Before they were declared national monuments much looting went on and many of the relics disappeared. So did many of the answers that archaeologists search for today.