Friday, July 6, 2012

The People Without Water

Sunset Crater, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon

I briefly escaped the summer heat of Phoenix this week with a mini visit to spectacular Northern Arizona.

I had three goals, find temps in the 70's, revisit some national monuments and ride the train to the Grand Canyon (which will be a separate post).

To those who have visited the four corners region, the history of its ancient people is fascinating. They had advanced cultures, built elaborate pueblo's and cliff dwellings and developed various farming techniques.

Wupatki Pueblo
(Click to Enlarge Any of These Photos)

Most of the tourists visiting the region go to the Grand Canyon, zip up to Las Vegas, maybe loop back to Mesa Verde or Sedona. Few will venture just outside of Flagstaff to the three fascinating and easy to reach destinations showcasing the power of nature and the remarkable engineering skill of Arizona's first residents.

Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments are just north of town and Walnut Canyon National Monument is just east.

Wupatki National Monnument
Wupatki was established by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 to preserve the Citadel and Wupatki Pueblo's. Years of vandalism and theft had taken a stiff toll.

Pueblo Detail

Access to the site was enhanced when in 1933 some of the 2 million men working in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) began working throughout the Grand Canyon region. At Wupatki they stabilized the pueblo's themselves, built roads, trails, and much of the facilities and infrastructure that serve the monument's today.

According to National Monument literature:
"For its time and place, there was no other pueblo like Wupatki. Less than 800 years ago, it was the tallest, largest, and perhaps the richest and most influential pueblo around. It was home to 85-100 people, and several thousand more lived within a day’s walk. And it was built in one of the lowest, warmest, and driest places on the Colorado Plateau."  

Although human history in the region spans 10,000 years, settlement at Wupatki was the direct result of the volcanic activities of Sunset Crater a hundred years earlier which forced inhabitants near the present day crater to abandon their pithouses near the volcano zone.

The location of the new pueblo's were suited for the trade networks of the time (copper, turquoise, shell jewelry and parrots.) Wupatki residents arrived around 1100. By 1250 they were gone.

Fragments of The Wupatki Community Pueblo

The pueblo's are easy to reach by foot and offer a rare glimpse into an amazing society.

Sunset Crater
In 1930, 6 years after Wupatki National Monument was established, President Herbert Hoover (spurred by local pressure) designated Sunset Crater as a National Monument to protect its geological formations. His protective efforts were triggered by the 1928 attempt of a movie company to blow up the crater.

In year 900 Sunset Crater literally emerged before the eyes of the inhabitants of the region. They had lived in pithouses and farmed amidst the rich pine forests and meadows of the region. After the eruption they moved on to Wupatki and Walnut Canyon. Their descendants are now the Zuni, Hopi and Navajo tribes.

Anyone walking the trails at Sunset Crater is rewarded by views of its moonscape lava fields and the  deep colors of the cinders lining the banks of the crater itself.

The Lava Fields

Sunset Crater's Cinder Fields Appear Almost Like Water

Walnut Canyon
My favorite stop of the day was Walnut Canyon National Monument. The oldest of the three National Monuments, Walnut Canyon was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915.

In 1125, at the very same time the Wupatki Pueblo was being constructed, the Sinagua (Spanish for "People Without Water") people were creating elaborate cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon where they farmed, hunted, traded, and gathered useful plants

Similar to Wupatki, Walnut Canyon was abandoned in 1250 with the Sinagua relocating southwest to new villages along the Anderson Mesa (eventually assimilating into the Hopi culture.)

The key to a visit here is walking the Island Trail (also created by the CCC) into the Canyon itself. The trail requires some effort (240 stairs) but amply rewards visitors with direct access to cliff dwellings, views of amazing rock formations and wildlife sighting.

The "Island" of Walnut Canyon

A Typical Cliff Dwelling Formation

Along The Island Trail

Swirling Rock Formations

As I walked through the cliff dwellings and considered how its residents had to continuously climb up and down the canyon itself (at 7,000 feet in altitude) to accomplish all of their daily activities, I found myself stunned at their tenacity. 

Also as I walked I witnessed hapless souls staring at their smartphones complaining that they could not get enough coverage in the canyon to text while hiking. 

I stopped and actually had a good laugh. We have become a society of such jerks.

For those that want to visit there is a special "Flagstaff" pass available to allow a years of access to all three sites.

So, grow up! Leave the smartphone in the glovebox and spend a day experiencing real life while hiking in these three national treasures!

Roadboy's Travels 2012

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