27 Apr
2016
Posted in: travel
By    Comments Off on Take a Trip: Flagstaff Area National Monuments

Take a Trip: Flagstaff Area National Monuments

This year is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. There are over 400 entities run by the NPS. I’ll share tips from different National Park Service sites we’ve visited throughout 2016.

When anyone inquired where we were headed for spring break this year, I answered northern Arizona, which translated as Grand Canyon to everyone who asked. While Grand Canyon was on our list of stops over break, it was just one of several. The Flagstaff area is home to three national monuments, all worth a visit.

hikers on the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon

Our tour of the Flagstaff monuments began with Walnut Canyon National Monument. The canyon is home to ancient cliff dwellings for the Sinagua people. We’ve visited several cliff dwelling sites during our travels. I’m always amazed as I stand on the rim of a canyon looking across the expanse viewing dwellings in the shear face of a canyon wall. I cannot fathom living in a cliff dwelling or what that life entailed. The Sinagua people lived for more than 100 years between 1125 and 1250 in Walnut Canyon utilizing dry-farming techniques to grow crops like corn.

Two visitors standing near cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon

cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon

Sinagua is Spanish for “without water.” During our visit, I couldn’t imagine any crops growing at the top of the limestone canyon. The Island Trail is a short loop that drops into the canyon giving visitors views of 25 cliff dwellings. There are drop-offs on the trail, but nothing that made me feel unsafe hiking with kids. The trail gives visitors up-close views of dwellings. We also enjoyed spotting camouflaged dwellings across the canyon. Cliff dwellings spark great conversation with our kids, mainly questions of how and why — as in, “How would you get to and from the dwelling?” and “Why would you live in the wall of a canyon?” It’s a lifestyle that’s hard to understand given the modern life we lead.

view of Sunset Crater Naional Monument

children hiking on lava flow trail Sunset Crater

From Walnut Canyon, we drove north of Flagstaff to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Around Flagstaff several dormant volcanoes dot the landscape. Sunset Crater is an otherworldly landscape. It’s similar to Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, but on a much smaller scale. Craters of the Moon is a favorite National Park Service entity for our family. Visitors who enjoy Sunset Crater should make a trip to Idaho for a much grander version.

yellow flower growing in lava flow Sunset Crater

family photo in front of lava flow Sunset Crater

Sunset Crater is home to ponderosa pines and lava flow at the base of Sunset Crater Volcano covering the landscape with black rocks. The lava flow helps visitors to imagine the devastation the volcano unleashed on the area now known as Flagstaff. Sunset Crater Volcano erupted roughly 900 years ago which makes it geologically young. I enjoy the contrast of the frail flowers attempting to thrive in the stark lava flow as well as the contrast with the green of the rolling hills and the blue sky. The landscape is dynamic.

trail leading to a Wupatki pueblo ruin

A loop road from Sunset Crater takes visitors to Wupatki National Monument. Wupatki is one of those National Park Service places that we’ve heard nothing about from any person we know, but saw it on a map and added it to our travel list. I left Wupatki thoroughly impressed with the rich, diverse history of northern Arizona.

visitors walking toward 100-room pueblo at Wupatki

Wupatki is known for its pueblos, including one that had about 100 rooms. Several pueblos dot the landscape in the monument. This was our first experience with pueblos. The ways in which ancient people lived and survived is mind-boggling to me. Using what nature has handy to build living quarters, whether that be cliff faces or mud, and working the land to coax food for survival is such a different concept from what we live today. There were times the people of Wupatki would need to walk 10 miles for water and weren’t guaranteed they’d find any at the end of the journey.

sunset on a Wupatki ruin

The 100-room pueblo was our favorite spot in Wupatki. The ruin gives an idea of the former grandeur of the massive pueblo. The pueblo also has a ceremonial ball court with a round wall establishing the court’s perimeter. The most unique part of our visit to Wupatki for the kids was a natural blow hole situated near the ball court. The hole looks like a square bench with an opening in the middle. Air either blows out of the hole or sucks back in the hole depending on the barometric pressure. A ranger told us the blow hole was not to be missed, and she was correct. Park rangers are amazing resources. I wasn’t prepared for the force the air blew out of the hole. I was expecting a breeze and found wind. Our kids enjoyed taking turns having the “wind” float their baseball hats or send their hair sticking straight up from their scalps. It’s one of the strangest things we’ve come across on our travels.

visitor at Wupatki National Monument blow hole

We enjoyed a fantastic sunset at Wupatki with the sun illuminating ruins and enriching the color of the stone. The sky became purple and pink as the day faded to night and another history lesson came to a close.

 

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