Prehistoric farmers, identified as the Sinagua by archaeologists, settled in small groups near the San Francisco Peaks in about A.D. 600. They lived in partly underground pithouses and tilled the soil in those few areas with sufficient moisture to support corn and other crops. The eruption of Sunset Crater in A.D. 1064 or 1065 forced many to flee, but after about 1110, people returned and were joined by ancestral Puebloan people from northeastern Arizona. They settled 20 miles northeast of Sunset Crater in Wupatki Basin, which became the center of a group of cosmopolitan villages. A mix of cultural traits can be seen at Wupatki, including Kayenta Anasazi, Sinagua, Cohonina, and Hohokam. Large, multistoried pueblos replaced the brush shelters and pithouses of former times. Some villages seem defensively built; competition for scarce resources may have created friction or fostered cooperation.
During the 1200s, people began to leave the area. Archaeologists think the inhabitants migrated southward to the Verde Valley, eastward to Homolovi on the Little Colorado River, and northeastward to the Hopi mesas and Zuni villages. Hopi oral histories trace at least eight clans to the Wupatki area.
Seven of the best-preserved pueblos have road and trail access and are open daily from sunrise to sunset. All other sites and the monument's backcountry remain closed to visitors with the exception of the seasonal ranger-guided hikes to Crack-in-Rock, see below. Visitors must stay on designated trails.
From Flagstaff, you can drive 12 miles north on US 89, then turn right and go 21 miles via Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument on the scenic Loop Road. Or take the northern turnoff from US 89 for the Loop Road, 26 miles north of Flagstaff, and head east 14 miles. The nearest motels and restaurants are in Flagstaff and Gray Mountain. Hank's Trading Post offers groceries and snacks 1.2 miles north of the US 89-Wupatki junction. See Bonito Campground in the Sunset Crater section above for area camping possibilities.
Wupatki Visitor Center
You'll see pottery, tools, jewelry, and other artifacts of early cultures here near Wupatki Pueblo (928/679-2365, www.nps.gov/wupa, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily with extended hours in summer, closed Dec. 25th). You can buy regional books, posters, maps, and videos. Rangers may offer orientation talks and demonstrate prehistoric and modern crafts and activities.
At its peak, Wupatki contained nearly 100 rooms and rose multiple stories. The Hopi name refers to "something long that has been cut or divided." A self-guided trail, beginning behind the visitor center, explains many of the features of Wupatki; pick up a trail brochure at the start.
A community room, where village meetings and ceremonies may have taken place, lies to one side of Wupatki. The ballcourt at the far end of the village may have been used for games or religious functions. It's one of several found in northern Arizona, probably introduced by the Hohokam Culture of the southern deserts. Archaeologists reconstructed the masonry ballcourt from wall remnants; the rest of Wupatki Pueblo is stabilized. A blowhole, 100 feet east of the ballcourt, may have had religious importance. A system of underground cracks connects to this natural surface opening; air blows out, rushes in, or does nothing at all, depending on atmospheric pressure. Researchers once tried to enter the system but couldn't get through the narrow passageways.
Two or three families lived in this small pueblo, the best-preserved structure in the park, for perhaps three generations. You can step inside the rooms, one of which towers three stories and still has pieces of wood beam embedded in the walls. From the Wupatki visitor center, drive a quarter mile toward Sunset Crater, then turn left 2.5 miles on a paved road.
Doney Picnic Area
Tables nestle in a juniper woodland between cinder cones about four miles northwest of the visitor center on the Loop Road; there's a restroom but no water. Doney Mountain Trail climbs gradually to a saddle in the Little Doney Craters, from which you can turn left to a lower overlook or right to a higher one, each about 0.4 mile one way from the picnic area. Both forks pass small dwellings, probably used by the prehistoric people as field houses while tending nearby gardens. You'll enjoy a panorama of the Wupatki Basin, Painted Desert, and San Francisco Peaks. Interpretive signs explain area ecology and the exploits of prospector Ben Doney.
This fortress-like pueblo, perched atop a small volcanic butte nine miles northwest of the Wupatki Visitor Center, stood one or two stories high and contained about 30 rooms. From the top, look for some of the more than 10 other residences nearby (most of these are not open to visits). On the short path to the Citadel, you'll pass the pueblo of Nalakihu, Hopi for "House Standing Outside the Village." Nalakihu consisted of two stories with 13 or 14 rooms.
Lomaki, Hopi for "Beautiful House," sits along a small box canyon. Tree-ring dating of roof timbers indicates the occupants lived here from about a.d. 1190 to 1240. The small two-story pueblo contained nine rooms. A quarter-mile trail from the parking area also passes small dwellings beside Box Canyon. The turnoff for Lomaki lies northwest of Wupatki Visitor Center, 0.3 mile beyond Citadel on the opposite side of the road.
Rangers lead overnight backpack trips to this area during April and October. Crack-in-Rock stands atop an easily defended mesa with sweeping views of the Little Colorado River and distant hills. You will see petroglyphs carved around the base of the mesa and on two nearby mesas, as well as many other pueblo sites. The 14-mile roundtrip hike is moderately difficult and costs $50. Call or write for information at least two months in advance to Wupatki National Monument (HC 33, Box 444A #14, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, 928/679-2365).
On to the Mt Elden Trail System