Field Trip Day

July 21, 2016 Posted by: Collin Beckham

Today was a field trip day where my supervisor Krystina Isaac took me and another volunteer named Jon Hayden to multiple sites around the Flagstaff area. Our first stop was near Wupatki National Monument. We took the Lomaki trail, which is very secluded;we only saw two people! The trail is beautiful and winds through some extremely unique landscape. There are ruins everywhere you look! All of the ruins are on cliffs to avoid flooding; farm fields would have been in the flat areas of land below. The ground is covered with cinder from the Sunset Crater volcano eruption, which happened around 1064 when people would have been living there. Although the eruption must have been terrifying to the Sinagua people, the cinder made the soil better for farming. Along the trail we saw multiple exotic looking lizards with extraordinarily bright colors of teal, yellow, and green.

After the Lomaki trail we moved onto the Wupatki National Monument. The Wupatki Monument visitor center has a great museum and friendly staff. I was shocked when I saw the main dwelling of Wupatki as it is enormous! There is also a large Kiva circle where people would have gathered and even a ball court! Another fun part of the monument is the blowhole near the ball court. Today it was sucking air in but Krystina said that sometimes it will be pushing air up so hard that you can throw your hat at it and your hat will go flying! The stones of the Wupatki Dwelling are a wonderful red color. The monument is marked with numbers and each visitor is given a booklet to read at each number on the trail, which is a great way for people to gain knowledge about the ruin. There were Park Service employees and Arizona Conservation Corps workers restoring part of the monument when we were there.

The next stop was Sunset Crater, which I had heard about from being a student at NAU but I'd never actually visited. A storm was rolling in just as we arrived, which was exciting;the air became much cooler and the breeze kicked in. Sunset Crater houses a unique landscape full of lava rocks. It honestly looks like a different planet with the only reminder that you're in Flagstaff being the pine trees. There are enormous hills full of cinder and lava rock around the area. Along the trail there are round formations of lava rock that were created from huge lava bubbles! On our way out we got to see the entrance to a lava tube that goes deep underground;it was once open to the public but not anymore, unfortunately. It started raining just as we were leaving the area, perfect timing!

We then went to the Sunset Crater visitor center to look at their museum, which was unfortunately under construction but we still got to meet some friendly park staff! On our way to the next monument Krystina took us to a spot just off of a busy road that contained huge ruins! It is called the Elden Pueblo. I was intrigued by the fact that there are large ruins on the side of the road that most people who drive by don't even know about. It then became clear to me just how extensive the Sinagua culture really was.

Our final stop was Walnut Canyon, which has extraordinary views! The visitor center is quite large and houses many artifacts and even has a room to watch a video on the area, which we did. There is a large glass room that allows you to get a great view of the canyon without having to take the hike down. I was really surprised to see ruins in the middle of the cliff face and my first question was "how did they get there?" to which Jon replied "ladders." It must have been a very difficult place to live. Jon and I did a hike around an area called the island, which is the place in the canyon with the most dwellings. As we hiked down I noticed the increase in diversity of vegetation and wildlife. The main path around the island is unlike anything I've ever experienced;I had the deep, lush canyon to my right and ruins on my left. You are actually able to walk inside some of the ruins, which have rooms that are much bigger than any Puebloan ruins I've seen before. The cliff provides a back wall and a roof, which would have made building a bit easier. Overall, I had an amazing day. I witnessed so many wonderful parts of Northern Arizona and now have a much better picture of the Sinagua culture. I had no idea there were so many unique landscapes and ruins in such a small area. A big thanks to Jon and Krystina!


A collection of photos from Wupatki, Sunset Crater, Elden Pueblo, and Walnut Canyon.


National Monuments, Archeology, Flagstaff, AZ

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Last updated: July 21, 2016

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