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Anna Marie

Exploring Arizona’s Ancient Ruins: A Journey through Wupatki National Monument

Embark on a journey through time with PullOverandLetMeOut to Wupatki National Monument and delve into the remarkable pueblo dwellings constructed and inhabited during the 1100s. Situated northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, the remnants of these dwellings unveil a captivating narrative of the ancient inhabitants who once called them home centuries ago.
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Hi, I’m Anna Marie. I’m a wife, mother, Irish dancer, and pug mom living in North Carolina. I also love to travel. Come along for the ride! If you see something you like, don’t be afraid to say, ‘Pull over and let me out.’

Located in Coconino County just northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, is Wupatki (Woo-Pot-Kee) National Monument near Sunset Crater Volcano. The monument is home to breathtaking geological formations, petroglyphs, and ancient Puebloan ruins that weave a complex tapestry. This tapestry tells an amazing story of the people and of what their lives would have been like hundreds of years ago. Our visit was a stop on a tour of the Grand Canyon and while the main purpose of our journey was to see the canyon, the impact of our time spent at Wupatki was profound, memorable, and extremely worthwhile.

The Visitors Center

The best way to start your visit is at the Wupatki Visitors Center. It is an ideal launching point. Inside, you’ll find a museum providing a superb introduction to the region’s past inhabitants, alongside information on the area’s geology and wildlife. Likewise, there are rangers on hand to answer questions and assist with Junior Ranger activities.

There is also a brief but informative film as well as a store, and restrooms.

The Visitors Center is open daily from 9 am to 4:30 pm. However, there are exceptions from time to time for holidays and extreme weather, so it’s advised that you always check in advance.

A photograph of a Native American pueblo dwelling
The Visitors Center houses a museum that provides the backstory of the area.

Visiting Wupatki Pueblo

distant view of the Wupatki Hopi village
The largest free standing pueblo in Northern Arizona.

Departing the visitors center and moving on to view the pueblo, takes guests to the highlight of a visit. Guests to Wupatki National Monument can enjoy viewing the pueblo from an overlook behind the visitors center or take the half-mile trail to observe the  structure up close.

The walk is a relatively gentle stroll and leads directly to the pueblo. The natural surface is relatively smooth and there is a slight grade, as we walk and take in the amazing open space and scenery of this high desert.

Exploring the Pueblos

Exploring the pueblos at Wupatki National Monument is an incredible experience. The red rock structures are estimated to date back 900 years and are surrounded by miles and miles of open prairie.

Originally occupied by the Hopi tribe, the ruins give an amazing glimpse into what life would have been like for them.

Life would have been challenging here. In a region with little water, nutrient-poor soil, and at times severe thunderstoms, the inhabitants were extremely resourceful. The people of Wupatki left behind ruins that indicate they had created a system of living off of the land with virtually no water.

Moreover, their dwellings were simply amazing. Stone walls made of clay and mortar have withstood the test of time.

To enlighten tourists about what they are viewing, there are a lot of informational plaques. This amazing location contains a ball court, a common area, over 100 rooms, and a blow hole feature that is naturally occurring.

a red rock pueblo
One of the 7 different pueblos at Wupatki National Monument
an ancient Wupatki ball court
The ruins of the ancient ball court.
an informational plaque for tourists to read.
One of numerous informational plaques at Wupatki.
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Nestled between the ponderosa highlands of Northern Arizona and the Painted Desert sits Wupatki National Monument. The Hopi language is where the word Wupatki originates, meaning "tall house." Wupatki was designated as a national monument by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 as part of his efforts to protect and preserve this archeological site, its significant cultural legacy, and the rich human history that exists here.

Things to Know Before You Go

It is believed the early inhabitants abandoned Wupatki around 1200 A.D. and it remained empty until Navajo sheepherders arrived in the area in the late 1880s. What is left behind today is the magnificent red sandstone remains which is manged by the National Park Service. Consequently, the monument is run extremely well and entry is covered by a U.S. National Park Pass if you have one. Otherwise, the basic entry fee is between $15-$25 and payment is by credit/debit card only.

Pets are not permitted on any of the paths or close to the pueblos due to the historic nature of these remains, with the exception of ADA service animals. On paved roads and in the parking lot, however, pets are allowed as long as they are leashed. Additionally, as usual, cleanup is required. Also, you should be mindful of the local fauna, which includes snakes and lizards.

You can visit Wupatki National Monument year-round. Thus, bear in mind that summertime temperatures might soar above 100 degrees with full sun, and afternoon thunderstorms are a constant possibility. Likewise, in the cooler months, you will want to dress in layers and be prepared for windy conditions. Comfortable shoes and carrying along a bottle of water is always a good idea too.

a red rock Native American pueblo in Arizona
The Wuptaki pueblos were home to families who grew crops in the shadow of Sunset Crater hundreds of years ago.

Dining and Accommodations Near Wupatki National Monument

The drive to Wupatki National Monument from Flagstaff is about 45-minutes. The area is pretty isolated with few choices when it comes to dining. That being said, there are picnic tables located at the visitor center if you want to bring along a picnic lunch.

For our visit, we made a stop at Cameron Trading Post located within the Navajo Nation which is north of Wupatki on Highway 89. The restaurant offers a delightful blend of cultural immersion and culinary delights. The trading post has a rich history and offers visitors an opportunity to explore their amazing gift shop which is brimming with souvenirs and exquisite Native American arts and crafts.

But the best part for us was the delicious lunch we had, which included their renowned Indian tacos. Each bite of perfectly cooked frybread topped with savory ingredients was a delectable explosion of flavors. The Cameron Trading Post provided a memorable experience by combining an appreciation for indigenous craftsmanship with delectable traditional cuisine.

As for lodging, the closest hotels are also found in either Cameron, within the Navajo Nation, or south on Highway 89 in Flagstaff. There is no camping at Wupatki, however, the Coconino National Forest offers multiple camping opportunities within a short drive.

For our visit,we booked a small group Grand Canyon tour through Viator.

The tour bus picked us up at our hotel in Sedona and made a couple of stops on our way to the Grand Canyon, Wupatki being one of those stops. The tour was an excellent up-close and personal way of experiencing this magnificent and historic region.

picture of entrance to Cameron Trading Post
Lunch at Cameron Trading Post
a tour bus with the word Arizona on the side
Our tour bus for the day.

Is It Worth Visiting Wupatki National Monument?

The Wupatki National Monument is an amazing and well-preserved piece of history in a breathtaking location. The scenery as well as the environment of the setting make time spent here impactful and memorable.

Although there is not a lot of excitement at this tourist destination, the subject matter and the sheer magnitude of its historic and archaeological significance makes time spent here worthwhile. You will want to give yourself at least forty-five minutes to a couple of hours to fully explore and enjoy your visit.

Entering the Wuptaki National Monument was a remarkable, nostalgic, and wonder-filled experience. This visit was an incredible thrill for me especially because I had studied the Hopi Indians in elementary school. I learned about the Hopi people and the significance of this sacred land. Since that time, I had been wanting to see the Hopi dwellings, so this was an extraordinary opportunity for me.

Even though seeing old ruins might not be everyone’s idea of fun, this striking location in northern Arizona is a remarkable example of Native American history that should definitely be on your itinerary.

a woman standing inside an ancient Hopi dwelling
I was thrilled to visit the ancient Hopi dwellings.

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Exploring Arizona’s Ancient Ruins: A Journey through Wupatki National Monument

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