Moonrise over the desert vistas view from Wupatki NM photo (c) Győző Egyed

Visit Wupatki National Monument in Arizona

Just past Sunset Crater, the ruins of Wupatki stand as reminders of ancient people who lived her before us. In the vicinity of the volcanic field surrounding Flagstaff, with gorgeous views of the colorful Painted Desert in the distance, the setting of these ruins is even worth a stop. The ancient buildings dot the arid landscape of rocky terrain and low vegetation.

The deserts in the Southwest US were home to people starting in ancient times. The ruins of their homes in the the state of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico still stand as quiet reminders of their culture and way of life. Walking through them I realize how resilient we are as a species. Before modern amenities mankind was able to survive this harsh environment. Not only survive, but build civilizations in it.

Moonrise over the desert vistas view from Wupatki NM photo (c) Győző Egyed
Moonrise over the desert vistas view from Wupatki NM photo (c) Győző Egyed

The buildings of Wupatki National Monument

The ruins of their civilization are protected and preserved as part of Wupatki National Monument. To reach them, you’ll drive on the scenic road that goes past Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

One of the best National Parks in Arizona preserving an ancient site, Wupatki stands witness to the people who built it over a thousand years ago.

Wupatki Pueblo

The Tall House in Wupatki. photo (c) Jeff Fromm
The Tall House in Wupatki. photo (c) Jeff Fromm

Ancient people started living here around 1100, about a century after Sunset Crater erupted. They started building Wupatki Pueblo, the largest structure in the area. Eventually, by the end of the 1100s, they built the large, 100-room pueblo, with a kiva and ballcourt. By then the village was home to about 100 people.

To learn about them and their lives, stop at the Wupatki Visitor Center, and walk through the museum on site. Here, you can learn about the Ancient Puebloans who built Wupatki and the surrounding villages, pick up a brochure, even talk to a ranger if you have any questions.

Walking through the Ruins of Wupatki at Sunset. photo (c) Győző Egyed
Walking through the Ruins of Wupatki at Sunset. photo (c) Győző Egyed

The trail through Wupatki Pueblo starts at the visitor center. The 1/2 mile walk takes you through the four-story-high “Tall House”, originally housing people in about 100 rooms.

Past the Tall House, make your way towards the open kiva. To fully experience the place, take a few minutes and sit inside the circular ancient community center.

As you walk past it towards the farthest structure, stop at the volcanic blow hole, and feel the air coming through it. Finally, walk through the Hohokam-style ball court at the end of the trail.

Sunset at the Wupatki Ball Court. photo (c) Győző Egyed
Sunset at the Wupatki Ball Court. photo (c) Győző Egyed

Wukoki Pueblo

Back on the road, don’t drive off the park yet. Go towards Sunset Crater and take the short road leading up to Wukoki ruins. Though visible from the parking lot, it is worth walking up to and around the structure.

Wukoki ruins. photo (c) Győző Egyed
Wukoki. photo (c) Győző Egyed

Wukoki is only partially excavated, but even from what we see we can guess its original importance. A three-story building that might have been a tower is the highlight of the site, surrounded by six or seven rooms, and enclosed by a short wall.

Citadel and Nalahiku Pueblos

Go back to the main road and stop at Citadel and Nalahiku ruins. They are both on the same short trail. You first come to Nalahiku, then the trail gets steeper going up to the Citadel ruins, though it’s worth the climb for the perfect view of the surrounding desert.

Lomaki and Box Canyon Pueblos

Once you pass the parking lot for Nalahiku and Citadel, stop on the other side of the road for a short visit to Lomaki and Box Canyon ruins. They are both at the end of the same short trail, overlooking a few small canyons where the ancients used to farm corn, squash, and beans (crops collectively called the three sisters), as well as cotton.

How to Visit the Ruins

The best way to visit Wupatki Ruins is if staying overnight in Flagstaff or camping at Sunset Crater. However, they are close enough to Phoenix to make it a great day trip destination, something we’ve done often. Either way, sunset is my favorite time to be at the ruins. Not only for the views as we walk through the ancient structures, but also for those of the Painted Desert and the volcanic field around Flagstaff from the road.

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