Surface water is scarce in Wupatki– only some small springs, seeps, and catchments.
There are three natural springs within the monument; all have served human and wildlife needs for many years. In recent years, all have been modified by Navajo occupants, ranchers, and/or the National Park Service. Spring flows are highly variable, increasing during winter and spring, and declining through the summer and fall. Water flow is believed to have steadily diminished during the 20th century, possibly due to long-term weather and vegetation changes. Today only one spring remains a perennial, or year-round, source of water for wildlife.
Water is available at times in ephemeral pools – temporary puddles of water that accumulate in rock hollows and in arroyos after storms. Water also collects in stock tanks that once served cattle and in catchment basins constructed by Ancestral Puebloan peoples 900 years ago or more. Any of these can provide a cooling drink for wildlife. Depending on the size, depth, and location of a pool, it may offer a surprise: a thriving population of insects, fairy shrimp, or even tadpoles which will emerge as spadefoot toads. Some ephemeral pools hold water long enough to support a miniature world with many species. (At least 22 species survive in such environments at Wupatki.) But it’s a fast-changing world, where each inhabitant must complete its life cycle quickly, before the pool dries. Some, like Triops, ensure the survival of the next generation by laying eggs that can withstand dry conditions for decades. Others, such as mosquitoes, beetles, and toads, mature and depart to other habitats. Next time it rains, the pool fills anew, first with water, then with a new assemblage of tiny and temporary animal life.
The location of one of these springs can be seen from the southern entrance of the monument. Standing next to the stone entrance sign look across the street and you will see two large cottonwood trees. The water level of this spring is still monitored by the park service. Wupatki Spring is located just behind the Wupatki Pueblo and has not produced water since the 1950s.
Last updated: December 22, 2021