Arizona Attractions: Ancient Pueblos in Wupatki National Monument

December 8, 2016Travel Ideas

Stretching across the stunning desert landscape of northern Arizona, Wupatki National Monument is a place of rare beauty and palpable history. The people of Wupatki first made their home here less than 800 years ago, thriving in this seemingly dry, inhospitable place. Remnants of their civilization are everywhere in this Arizonan national park. 

Alt tag: Lomaki Pueblo at nighttime in Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki through the centuries

The night sky and the Milky Way behind Lomaki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument

Lomaki Pueblo at night

JT Dudrow, Share the Experience Photo Contest

Though its human history dates back at least 10,000 years, Wupatki did not become a densely populated area until around the year 1100, when people from surrounding areas — likely driven by the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater Volcano — began to settle in this hot, dry part of the Colorado Plateau in greater numbers. The arid soil they discovered here was more suitable for farming, temporarily transforming the landscape into a rich cultural hub and a center for both trade and agriculture in the region. Many of the dwellings built during this time, now known as pueblos, still dot the landscape. 

The largest and most impressive of these is the Wupatki Pueblo, a remarkable structure with 100 rooms that may have housed just as many people. Its name translates to "Tall House," and the Wupatki Pueblo is a remarkably well-preserved link to an ancient time when this harsh landscape was home to a thriving civilization. Other surviving structures, including the Lomaki and Box Canyon pueblos, also offer a memorable experience.

Planning your visit

Pueblo ruins of Wupatki National Monument and with snow-capped mountains in the background
Ben Pelta-Heller, Share the Experience Photo Contest

The scenic Loop Road traverses a large portion of Wupatki National Monument that includes many of the area’s best views and historic sites. Start your journey at the park visitor center, located at milepost 21, where you can plan your adventure and learn more about the history of the region. Along the scenic Loop Road, you will also find access to the park's famous pueblos. Most are located along short, level hiking trails within half a mile of the main road. Be sure to visit the Wukoki Pueblo, one of the more remote structures in the park, where visitors get a chance to go inside its ancient tower.

At Wupatki National Monument, you can also stop for lunch at the Doney Mountain Picnic Area, take a guided tour of the ruins, or explore the park's many hiking trails, including the challenging Crack-in-Rock Hike. This route is open to guided group hikes only, which are available on weekends in April and October. The Crack-in-the-Rock Hike involves a strenuous 16-mile overnight backpacking trip that winds through some rarely seen pueblo rock art and architecture.

Preserving Wupatki

Glowing Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument with the with the night sky and Milky Way in the background

Wukoki Pueblo

As with so many national parks, preserving Wupatki National Monument’s splendor is made possible through the support of the national park community and partners like the National Park Foundation. Most recently, the Foundation proudly supported the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC), which gives young people opportunities to help with conservation and restoration efforts at numerous parks while gaining valuable work experience and training. In 2015, the 21CSC brought local conservation crews to Wupatki National Monument, where they rebuilt 250 feet of the Citadel Trail, assisted in park fence line patrols, and removed invasive species.

Wupatki National Monument with a colorful sunset sunset

From rugged hiking trails to grand historic pueblos, the attractions at Wupatki National Monument will be some of the best Arizona offerings you experience. And be sure to plan a stop at nearby Walnut Canyon while planning your trip! Learn more about how to get involved by donating, volunteering, or working at the park.

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