Geologic Formations

Geology of Wupatki
Moenkopi sandstone and Wukoki Pueblo.

NPS photo by Dallas Larsen.

Geology Of Wupatki

Traveling through the four corners states is like jumping into a time machine and going through millions of years of geologic time. Some of the oldest rocks are at the bottom of the Grand Canyon but most of the geology in Wupatki consists of sedimentary rocks from the Permian and Early to Middle Traissic.

The Kaibab (ky-babb) and Moenkopi (moh-en-co-pee) formations are the most prominent sedimentary rock layers in Wupatki. Today these rocks are dry as the sun baked deserts, but a closer look reveals evidence of a much wetter landscape. Ripple marks set in sandstone, ancient mud cracks, and the imprints of shells and other marine life tell the story of dynamic water systems during the Permian and Triassic periods. Wupatki National Monument is on the edge of both the San Francisco Volcanic field and the colorful layers of the Painted Desert.

Paleontologists, scientists who study ancient life by looking at fossils, depend on clues in rocks to understand the history of the local and global events that shape life on earth. The stratigraphy of those rocks is the order in which they were laid down. By looking at the layers in chronological order we can learn about the conditions that created the rocks, the ecology that shaped life at certain times, and the changes of living organisms throughout the fossil record.

Where can these rocks be seen?

You will see many of the layers within the Moenkopi formation throughout the southeastern areas of the monument. Since most of the pueblo walls are built with these naturally straight ‘bricks’ you can easily view them while also absorbing the dynamic human history. Prominent in-situ sandstone and shale outcrops can be seen along the Wupakti and Wukoki pueblo trails.

The Kaibab Limestone is most easily seen by visiting the western half of the monument. There are in-situ outcrops of Kaibab layers at mile 24 along the loop road and along the Lomaki Pueblo Trail. Visiting Doney Mountain or Citadel Pueblo and climbing to the top of either trail will provide a greater geologic context.

Click HERE to view the USGS Geologic map of Wupatki National Monument.

Last updated: March 7, 2018

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