Wupatki National Monument in Northern Arizona

Navajo Nation, which comprises the Northeastern portion of Arizona, Southeastern Utah, and Northwestern New Mexico, is the largest Native American reservation in the country. As the area covers a massive 27,000 square mile land area within these states, it is not surprising that there are a number of interesting cultural attractions to explore. Popular attractions in the area include Monument Valley – the beautiful region consisting of towering sandstone formations which provided a backdrop for numerous Western movies and Four Corners – the only place in the country where you can stand in 4 states at the same time.

Most of the land in this area is completely remote, so if you are looking for a relaxing low traffic desert drive, this is a beautiful area to take a cruise. Wupatki National Monument is one of the most interesting (and beautiful) places to visit in the region, and a must for any history buffs visiting Flagstaff as it is just a half hour drive away.

Exploring ancient pueblos

At Wupatki, you will have the opportunity to explore a variety of pueblos and learn more about how these ancient tribes lived and entertained themselves more than 900 years ago. It’s crazy to think about the effort these people went through to farm and collect water in an arid area with so little rainfall.

During your visit, you will have the opportunity to explore a number of ruins, the most prominent being the 100 room, 4 story Wupatki pueblo, built about 900 years ago. Local sandstone was used to build the the walls of this pueblo. This gives the pueblo an amazing red color which contrasts beautifully with the bright blue desert skies. Because of the sandstone/mortar combination, the walls are pretty solid strong, hence being the reason that most still stand today.

Estimates say 85-100 people lived here in 1182 as it was the biggest building within 50 miles (Wupatki means “Tall House” in Hopi). A quick 1/2 mile trail around the ruins will give you an opportunity to explore. Be sure to pick up the guide booklet in the visitor’s center – it is very helpful and educational.

Wupatki National Monument in Northern Arizona
Beautifuly day at Wupatki National Monument
The 100 room pueblo at Wupatki National Monument

Trail at Wupatki National Monument in Northern Arizona

What is a blowhole?

Most visitors walk right by without noticing the blowhole, a rare geologic feature. Wupatki’s blowhole is even stranger due to the middle of nowhere location in the Northern Arizona desert.

Rare blow hole at Wupatki National Monument

The blowhole is a unique feature in which air blows in and out of the ground. This small hole in the ground is like a natural vacuum in which air is either sucked in or blown out. When outside air is warmer, air blows out of the blowhole, and when it is cooler it is sucked in. Pressure changes also affect the blowhole. In the case of a low pressure system, air is blown out, while during a high pressure system, the opposite occurs.

Hopi cultures believes that these blowholes have spiritual significance – they believe they are tied to the wind god, Yaponcha. Other theories for these mysterious geological features have suggested that they were used as weather predictors (low atmospheric pressure=high chance of rain) or as heaters/air conditioners (air coming from the blowholes is cool in the summer and warmer in the winter).

What is a ballcourt?

Ceremonial gatherings took place in the ballcourt pictured below. It is speculated that people came from far away to participate in special rituals and ceremonies. Also, theorists suggest the ballcourt could have been used for competitive sports, i.e. an ancient version of hockey.

Ballcourt at Wupatki National Monuement

Blowhole at Wupatki National Monument

History of Wupatki

The Cohonina, Kayenta Anasazi, and Sinagua tribes first inhabited Wupatki in 500 AD. The population increased after the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater. The volcanic ash improved the soil’s ability to retain water, thus improving agricultural conditions. By 1225, the site was completely abandoned. However, it is believed that the people that lived here linger on as spiritual guardians.

Asides from Wupatki, you will also get to explore the Wukoki, Lomaki, Box Canyon, Citadel and Nalakihu ruins.

Box Canyon ruins Wupatki National Monument in Arizona
The Lomaki Pueblo, a 2 story ruin, is said to be inhabited in the 13th century.

Box Canyon Pueblo

Lomaki ruins at Wupatki National Monument in Arizona

Lomaki Pueblo

Exploring Lomaki pueblo ruins
Lomaki pueblo at Wupatki National Monument in Arizona

Box Canyon Ruins

Ancient ruins at Wupatki National Monument

The Citadel

The Citadel at Wupatki National Monument

The Citadel is one of the larger ruins at Wupatki. It dates back to the late 1100’s. It is unknown why the area became abandoned by 1250, although the area’s drought is thought to be a strong possibility. A short steep hike takes you to the Citadel ruins. It is unknown why this pueblo was built atop a hill, although it may be the same reason why we build homes in scenic areas today – to enjoy the views!

Beautiful views from The Citadel at Wupatki National Monument
Views of the San Francisco Peaks from the Citadel

The Wupatki-Sunset Crater Scenic drive

Wupatki and Sunset Crater connect via a scenic 36 mile drive. Your ticket includes entry to both. Sunset Craters last eruption was about 1000 years ago. During your visit, you will have the opportunity to take a self guided walk along the Lava Flow trail.

Lava Flow trail at Sunset Crater in Northern Arizona
A scenic view from the Lava Flow trail at Sunset Crater.

The drive itself is scenic with a gorgeous overlook featuring spectacular views of the San Francisco Peaks in any season. The best aspect of the drive is the opportunity to explore diverse scenery as the elevation rises 2000+ feet. The landscapes vary from sparse desert vegetation to towering ponderosa pines.

Views of Sunset Crater from Bonito Meadow
Views of Sunset Crater from the scenic drive.
Views of the San Francisco Peaks and spring wildflowers from Bonito Meadow
Spring wildflowers with the Peaks in the background (at Bonito Meadow) provide a stunning setting for photography.
Views of the Peaks from Sunset Crater-Wupatki scenic drive in Flagstaff
A winter drive along the Wupatki-Sunset Crater scenic loop road is also a must-do, due to the majesti snow often covering the Peak!

Tips for a great visit!

Drink plenty of water. You are in a dry, high altitude desert climate. Drink even if you are not thirsty to prevent dehydration and altitude sickness.

If looking for a budget friendly alternative, consider visiting on a National Park free day. There are several free admission days per year.

Pick up a guide in the visitors center. It is a valuable resource for anyone you would like to learn more about each pueblo and the history of the Native American tribes who lived here. It’s free to browse through during your Wupatki hike.

I recommend buying an annual pass for $80 if you plan on attending other national parks/monuments within the year. This pass is a great value as it easily pays for itself after just a few national park visits!

Location & Pricing

Wupatki is located at 25137 N Wupatki Loop Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86004. The $25 vehicle pass fee includes entry to both Wupatki and Sunset Crater.