By the late 1100s, thousand of Pueblo people were farming on the land now known as Wupatki (Woo-POT-Key. or in Hopi, Big House). It’s quiet now, but standing among the ruins, you can almost hear the echoes of those long ago voices.
Unlike nearby ruin sites with only one major structure each, Wupatki contains more than 800 identified ruins, testament to just how many inhabitants were once here. Only 5 of the largest ruins are open to the public.
The park, just north of Flagstaff, is essentially a “drive-thru” park , with the road connecting at the southern end with Sunset Crater National Monument.
First stop of the drive is near the Box Canyon dwellings and Lomaki Pueblo. A short trail leads to the ruins. The Lomaki dwelling is built right on the edge of a shallow, vertical-walled canyon, with the San Francisco Peaks looming in the west. The uniform slabs of red sandstone, arranged in an orderly stack, reinforced with clay-based mortar, resulted in extremely well built pueblos.
The one statement that impressed me most this day is from one of the interpretive signs at this site:
”The inhabitants of the pueblo also placed numerous pottery jars at the base of overhangs to catch rainwater. When the rain did not come they had to walk 10 miles to the Little Colorado River drainage to fill their pottery jars.”
A short trail leads upward to the Citadel Pueblo, sprawling across the top of a small hill. The few remaining walls, the outsides jutting straight up at the edge of the hill are evidence of the building skills involved. We found it interesting that in this structure’s walls, the volcanic rock seemed to have been combined decoratively with the sandstone slabs.
The pueblos were part of a large community. At least eight other sites can be seen from this hill.
The most impressive ruin is Wupatki, situated behind the Visitor Center.
This three story structure contained over 100 rooms, and was home to as many as 300 people.The structure has been partially reconstructed. At one time, a couple of rooms was even home to the first park manager and his wife, and such modern conveniences as a gas range was installed! Evidence of their occupation has long since been removed.As was common among pueblos of that time, an open arena “community room” was constructed in front.
Unusual here, however, are ruins identified as a ball court, similar to the courts found in Meso-America and in the Hohokam ruins of southern Arizona. This is the northernmost example of this kind of structure.
Here’s a closer look at some of the many rooms.
How would you like this conversation piece as part of your wall?
About two miles off the main road lies the Wukoki Pueblo, another distinctive ruin, as the house is built on an isolated block of sandstone, visible for several miles across the flat surroundings. The structure is quite tall, centered on a square, three story tower with a series of intricately constructed rooms at one side. The bricks have a deep red color, and the
building merges seamlessly with the underlying rock.
The park road connects the Wupatki National Monument with Sunset Crater Monument, which seems fitting, considering how the Wupatki community was affected by the volcano.
Did the people have warnings of tremors before the ground begin to emerge in a swiftly growing hill, and then exploded and showered cinders upon them, or did it occur without warning? Did they see the flowing lava as doomsday, as a punishment of sorts? One of the displays in the Sunset Crater Visitor Center explores the legends of three tribes:
The Hopi tell “of the ground having ‘boiled’ and come up. Strong winds came, and the lightning swirled around the peaks. More than one explosion occurred. Sunset Crater is a living reminder that something exists below. If we stray from our religious ideals and lifeway, there may be another eruption.”
Navajo legend relates “Long ago, there was a pond on top of Sunset Crater where buffalo drank water. As time went on, there was a dispute between the buffalo and the Sun. The Sun got angry and blew up the crater with boiling hot fire. The land was smaller then, and it grew larger and changed.” Today, Sunset Crater is one of the offering places used by the Navajo Medicine People.
Zuni members are a little more guarded with their stories of the event for fear of creating another catastrophe. This belief is if people continually dwell upon negative events those events will happen.
Regardless of tribal explanation, the eruption at sometime between 1040 and 1100 changed life in the area. Many of the farmers were forced to abandon their lands, but by 1180, new farmers had discovered the area to be even better for farming, as the layer of ash enriched the land, and aided in water retention. Why then, by 1250, were all the pueblos abandoned? It’s a mystery that no one will ever solve.
Sites such as Wupatki hold a fascination for us, a glimpse into the far past. They cause us to stop and think what life then would have held for us.
and I was especially intrigued by a tiny piece of finely woven open-work cotton cloth, almost lacy in appearance.
Primitive? 800 years from now, how primitive will our present culture seem? It’s all relative, isn’t it?