Wupatki National Monument is located just east of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, yet relatively few tourists stray from the South Rim to check this place out. This is due in part to the bulk of the Grand Canyon visitors being locked into tour bus excursions that only go to the primary destination. Grand Canyon visitors also tend to be so focused on the main attraction, that they ignore nearby destinations when making travel plans. These factors are like a blessing in disguise, because Wupatki National Monument is rarely crowded even during the peak of the summer tourism season. If fresh air, unobstructed views from horizon to horizon and plenty of elbow room sounds like a dream come true, then Wupatki is the place to go!
There are two entrance points at the Wupatki National Monument and both are located along U.S. Highway 89. One entrance is located near Cameron, which is the east gateway to Grand Canyon. The other access point can be found at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument near Flagstaff. A long winding park road connects Wupatki with Sunset Crater Volcano, so visitors can actually experience two National Monuments for one low price. Because there are so many ancient pueblos to see and there are so many trails at the volcano, a day trip tour should begin early in the morning. Overnight camping by the old volcano is a good option too, especially for an extended stay.
When entering Wupatki by way of the Cameron entrance, the Citadel Pueblo will be one of the first ancient structures to be seen. The drive from the highway to this pueblo does take a while, but the high desert landscape is beautiful to see. The ancient Citadel Pueblo complex is located on the crest of a small hill and this picturesque setting certainly is far removed from the modern world. High desert grassy plains, tall mountains and a volcano can be seen in the distance, so this definitely is not like pictures from back home!
The Citadel Pueblo sits on top of a hill that overlooks the grassy plains, so it is easy to identify from a distance. This pueblo complex is composed of two parts. One pueblo structure lies at the base of the hill and the other is located on top. It is the shape of the eroded hill and pueblo silhouette that lends to the name of this place, which definitely has a majestic look when gazing at the outline that is cast against the blue skies.
The lower Citadel Pueblo structure has been excavated, restored and preserved, so it is easy for visitors to visualize how this original structure must have once looked. The function of this structure and the individual rooms are explained in the signage along the walking path, which provides an educational experience. It seems like the lower pueblo structure had a utilitarian function, which differs from the purpose of the pueblo on top of the hill, which adds to the mystery of this ancient archaeological site.
The hiking path to the pueblo on top of the hill is short, so visitors only need to carry water to stay hydrated. Bringing a good camera is also a must to do, because the scenic views from the high pueblo platform are nothing less than spectacular. The pathway is smooth and the grade is not too steep, so those who have mobility challenges can access both of the structures.
The pueblo structure on top of the hill has mostly fallen into ruins, but enough remains to imagine what the floor plan once was like. Most of the stone building blocks are laying in shambles, but the smooth floor of the structure is intact. The bare stone floor resembles a courtyard balcony that overlooks everything below, just like having a bird’s eye view. From up top, the strategic placement of this pueblo also comes to mind. This pueblo overlooks ancient farms, a deep volcanic cinder pit with dark shadows and endless miles of wildlife grazing land that stretch out to the mountains on the horizon. It is then that it is easy to realize that the Citadel Pueblo truly was a special place way back in its day.
There are several more ancient pueblo complexes in Wupatki National Monument and each is located along the paved touring road through this park. The Lomaki Pueblo is practically located across the street from the Citadel Pueblo and the Wukoki Pueblo is just a few miles further down the road. Many questions can be answered at the Wupatki Visitor Center Museum, which is also a gift shop. The visitor center is also the gateway to the Wupatki Pueblo Complex, which is a very large ancient structure that has several unique features to marvel over.
Experiencing the ancient pueblos at Wupatki National Monument can be a spiritual journey, as well as an invigorating one. With every step there will be inspirational and philosophical thoughts that come to light along the way. Dreaming about how life must have in this place can certainly give reason to stop and stare in wonder. Wupatki is simply a must to experience, so be sure to chalk it up when planning a Grand Canyon tour!
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