Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hike 2011.048 -- Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments, AZ

(Pictured: Lomaki Pueblo, Wupaki National Monu-ment). Hiked on Sunday, July 24. This one's a bit of a cheat, since, even though I hiked pretty much all of the trails in both monuments, I don't think it was a cumulative three miles.

If I had a bit more time, there are a numbre of longer trails on adjacent Forest Service lands that I could have walked to up my mileage, but I needed to get to Albuquerque that evening. Also, I walked an extra mile+ on Monday, so I'm going to carry the debit from Sunday into Monday. Boy, that line is going to cause some confusion!

(Pictured: Along Lava Flow Trail, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monu-ment). Both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki are located north of I-40, near Flagstaff, AZ. From I-40, take U.S. 89 north for 12 miles, then turn on to the Wupataki Loop Road. The loop road is 35 miles long, and passes through the two aforementioned national monuments. In then links up with U.S. 89, 15 miles north of where you started the loop. That makes it (duh) 62 miles of driving off of I-40, mostly at 45 mph or less. In other words, it's a 90 minute detour, even before you get out of the car. Take a few short hikes (with lots of pictures), and this is easily a 4-hour detour, which was somewhat longer than I intended.

From U.S. 89, the entrance station is two miles down the Loop Road. A $5 entry fee (or free, with one of the various federal lands passes, or a Flagstaff-area park pass) gets you into both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments.

The Sunset Crater visitor center is located just inside the entrance station. Shortly after the VC, the first trail (Lenox Crater Trail) is on the left. The parking area is on the right, overlooking an ancient pahoehoe (yes, that's a word) lava flow.

The actual trail is short but steep, right up to the top of Lenox Crater. Trees line the trail and give you broken shade pretty much all the way up. It also shields your view to the north and east. From the top, the only clear views are about 120 degrees, from east of south to southwest. A clearly delineated dark area of ancient flows runs first south, then to the southwest. The San Francisco Peaks are in the distance.

I returned the way I came, having covered all of about 1/4 mile. Steep and short.

Next up (on your right) is the Lava Flow trail, an easy one mile loop that takes you nearer to base of Sunset Crater. Although a rather clear use trail heads up the mountain, the site is considered sacred and not open to general public use. Some of the local indigenous peoples have permission to conduct religious activities on the crater, but that's it.

The next point of interest on the loop is a Cinder Hills overlook. No hike there. Just a little spur road that lets you look over and towards Sunset Crater volcano from the opposite end.

Continuing along the loop eventually brings you to Wupatki National Monument.

Shortly after entering, there's a two mile spur road to the Wukoki Pueblo. A short trail leads from the parking area to the ruins, which sit atop a rock outcropping. In fact, the rock outcropping is integrated into the structure, providing both a foundation and several walls for the pueblo.

Meanwhile the walls of the pueblo are constructed of small boulders (sheets of the local limestone and sandstone, reddish in color, like much of the Southwest). Near twilight, the rocks light up a brilliant shade of orange. However, since I was there mid-day, the rocks were more subdued in color.

Returning to the main road, the visitor's center is just north of the Wukoki spur. At the visitor's center, they'll check to make sure you have your receipt for the park before allowing you to pass through to the Wupatki Pueblo. A 1/2 mile loop runs around those ruins.

Returning to the loop road, I passed the Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos without stopping, and stopped at the trail for the Box Canyon dwellings and Lomaki Pueblo. Walking up the trail, then taking the spur to the two dwellings on either side of Box Canyon, then continuing on to Lomaki Pueblo, then returning, is about 1 mile.

The Box Canyon dwellings are interesting because there is one on each side of the wash. Presumably, the residents of each planted their crops in the wash and prayed for rain (but not so much rain that it would wash away their crops). This was basically dry-land farming, relying on rainfall, with very small check dams to create small, seasonal puddles in the wash. They were really living on the edge from year to year, with frequent needs to walk ten miles or more to the nearest reliable surface water, and only small woven baskets or heavy ceremics to transport and store the water.

Most of both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki are closed to the public, either to preserve the sanctity of the mountain or to reduce visitor impacts on archeological resources. Even from the road, you can see some ruins that are not officially accessible. There are no doubt many, many, many more ruins within and along the other washes and rocky outcroppings hidden from such roadside viewing.

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