Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Wupatki National Monument

The travelogue resumes. After spending 3 nights at Grand Canyon Village, the road trip continued. We drove east on Arizona Highway 64 to Cameron, where we stopped for lunch at the Cameron Trading Post. If a person is interested in purchasing a genuine, made by actual Navajos rug the Cameron Trading Post would be a good place to look. They've got other Native craft items, too, like pottery and jewelry, but the rug selection was what caught my eye. If I ever win the lottery, I'll have to go back. And even if you're not interested in rugs, the food is decent and the place itself is interesting. It's been around for 100 years.

After lunch, we headed south on Arizona 89 toward Flagstaff. There are two units of the National Park system between Cameron and Flagstaff: Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater National Monument. Wupatki was designated a National Monument because of its cultural resources: lots and lots of pueblo ruins. I think most people when they think about the Pueblo peoples they think in terms of the big ruins or the large pueblos that are inhabited now, the ones that were or are basically a village built as one sprawling structure with multiple rooms, ceremonial spaces, and quite obviously occupied by many different families. The Monument is a little different. It has a bunch of small ruins, the equivalent of single family homes or individual farmhouses, scattered across the landscape, like the one pictured above. Most are closed to visitors to protect the archeological resources, but a few sites are open, obviously.

Wupatki also has a couple large ruins, like the largest intact pueblo (also named Wupatki) and one thoroughly ruined ruin (is that redundant?), "the Citadel." The Citadel really makes you wonder just what it looked like in its prime.  It perches on top of a large rock outcropping. As you're walking up the path, you can see a pretty impressive rock wall (photo above), but when you get to the top, things are basically level. Whatever rooms there were are completely filled in with rubble and sand. The photo below is the top of the Citadel. I don't know what sort of excavations have been done or when, but it would be interesting to know just how many rooms it had or how many stories high.

The Citadel was probably the center of a network of small farms. Without straining too hard, it's possible to see at least half a dozen smaller ruins in the surrounding area all situated within a mile or two. If I recall correctly, the interpretive signage said nine were visible, but I never did locate all of them. The one thing they all had in common, though, was they perched on rock. At one site, there was a two-room ruin on the edge of a short box canyon and a one-room ruin on the other side. They were only maybe 100 feet apart but separated by a pretty deep gulf. Made us wonder which one was the mother-in-law's apartment. The perching on solid, exposed rock made perfect sense -- if you're going to try farming in a rocky, arid region you want your house to be located where it's not taking up any of the arable land. Or maybe they just wanted to be up high enough to enjoy the view. All that wide open space is impressive.
The people who lived at Wupatki almost a thousand years ago terraced the areas they cultivated to slow run off when it rained, and apparently had fairly decent yields for at least a few years. The archeological evidence suggests the area was inhabited by farming families for about 100 years but not much longer. Why they left is unknown, but it could have been related to the area's proximity to Sunset Crater, an active volcano. Maybe it started rumbling enough that the elders decided it would be a good idea to relocate Maybe yields from the nutrient-poor top soil steadily dwindled. The park brochure said fresh ash from the volcano would have helped the soil retain water, but how long would that effect have lasted?

Or maybe they had one too many dry years and decided to move to where water was more plentiful. Farming in a desert is never easy even when the soil is especially fertile, and the soil in the Wupatki area isn't. Then when you factor in the reality it's high desert so the growing season isn't particularly long, you find yourself thinking it's moderately amazing they stuck it out as long as they did. 

The park visitor center is located close to the biggest pueblo, Wupatki (pictured above), which had over 100 rooms on multiple levels as well as having a ball court. It was a nexus of multiple smaller settlements. It was apparently abadoned arund the same time everything else was.
Wupatki was a nice change from the mob scene at Grand Canyon. We stopped at two different sites -- Lomaki and the Citadel -- before reaching the visitor center. In each case, there was only one or two other cars in the parking lot. It was nice being able to amble, enjoy the view, and take a really thorugh look at the ruins and the surrounding terrain without having to wait for anyone else to get out of the way or bumping into people on congested trails. It was all quite peaceful. It was clear that Wupatki gets a fair number of visitors but they're not arriving by the thousands all at once.
The busiest location at Wupatki was the Visitor Center, which appears to be a Mission 66 structure and definitely showing its age, and the ruins close to it. The parking lot was about half full when we arrived in mid-afternoon. Still, even though it was busy it didn't feel crowded. I have to say the visitors at Wupatki seemed better behaved than the ones at Grand Canyon. People were staying on the marked path, kids weren't running wild, and I didn't see anyone deciding it would be fun to perch on walls that signage told everyone to stay off.

Wupatki Pueblo is an impressive sight; the photos I've included here don't really do it justice. What intrigued me with all the ruins we saw was the way the builders worked around the natural landscape features, i.e., shaping the walls to conform to irregularities or outcroppings in the foundation rock. The walls are built from sandstone and limestone slabs held together with a clay mortar. The structures probably went up quickly but have stood the test of time quite well considering how often these ruins must have been visited by curious cowboys, ranchers, looters, and tourists before the national monument was created and they received some protection. All in all, this is an interesting little park and well worth visiting.

1 comment:

My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.