After passing through the Visitors Center, it is just a short walk to the rim of the high rock outcrop that overlooks the Wupatki Pueblo. Upon first sight, the Wupatki Pueblo majestically stands alone in this vast high desert expanse, just like paradise lost. The Wupatki Pueblo is an amazing site to see from the ridge line and with a little help from the trail guide brochure, the unique features of this building complex will come to light. The tall multi story main building is surrounded by a large annex structure, a round ceremonial court, a natural blow hole and Mayan Hip Ball Court, so Wupatki is quite an interesting ancient heritage site to explore!
A little town is exactly what Wupaki Pueblo was and it is said that a fair size population occupied these buildings about 1,000 years ago. In perspective, the Wupakti Pueblo was the largest building complex in this region, so it is easy to imagine that this destination was an important cultural meeting place. Archaeologists have confirmed the cultural importance of the Wupatki Pueblo in recent years and the beginnings of this site had to do with natural disaster. The local disaster in this case was the eruption of the Sunset Crater Volcano in the 11th century. The events leading up to the cataclysm gave ample warning to the native people living in the lush mountainous environment and they moved to safer horizons in Wupatki. Archaeologists state that Wupatki was well established before the people displaced by the volcano moved there, so the buildings provided protection from the hot volcanic ash that fell from the sky. This volcanic eruption refuge soon grew into a massive pueblo complex that was supported by dry earth agricultural techniques that have always been prevalent in this region.
As can easily be seen, the Wupatki Pueblo complex was much more than just a shelter from the storm. Wupatki actually looks like a trade center and spiritual resort that is complete with entertainment venues, like a Mayan Ball Court. The northern most Pok-Ta-Pok Ball Court in America actually is the ball court that is located in Wupatki. Pok-Ta-Pok (Pelota) is an ancient hip-ball game that is associated with Mayan culture and this game was popular with the Aztecs too. The cultural trade network between these civilizations has been proven to extend far into the American Southwest, so it is easy to see why a few Mayan Hip-Ball courts exist in this region. The Hip-Ball Court gives credence to Wupatki being much more than just a place to ride out a volcanic disaster.
The Blow Hole is another unique feature of the Wupatki Pueblo and this weird natural anomaly is located next to the Hip-Ball Court. This hole in the ground can be likened to a place where the Mother Earth Spirit breathes, so it is a feature of great importance. The breathing sound actually is attributed to air trapped in a deep aquifer crevasse underground that is only released when barometric conditions are just right. When barometric pressure is high, air rushes into the blowhole and makes vacuum sound. When the barometric pressure is low, the Blow Hole releases a blast of cold air that is strong enough to suspend a feather in mid air. Needless to say, the cold air from the Wupatki Blow Hole must have been quite an attraction back in its day and the cold air still provides relief from the summer heat in this modern age!
Wandering around the Wupatki Pueblo structure truly is an educational experience. The architectural design incorporates the shape of the natural rock outcrop that is exposed above ground. The outer walls of the multi story building are high and the outlying lower rooms served a utilitarian purpose for food production and storage. How the hand crafted slabs of sandstone were stacked with minimal mortar is simply amazing to see! This structure lasted a very long time after it was abandoned during a severe drought less than 900 years ago, so the skill of the builders certainly has been proven through the test of time.
The spiritual experience is something that is better off being left described by the individual when visiting any native heritage site. When I first arrived at the rock outcrop overlook, many native people were sitting and chanting spiritual prayers for the ancestors. The sight and sound opened the eyes to an inner experience that awaits in this place and a feeling of respect for the ancestors set the tone for the day. Respect for the ancestors is rewarded with guidance from the ancestors when pondering over this majestic place and the thoughts extend far beyond the boundaries of this pueblo into daily life long after the visit. In this way, the Wupatki Pueblo experience can inspire memories to ponder over for a lifetime, which can provide a pleasant escape during troubled times.
There are several ancient pueblo sites to explore at Wupatki National Monument, so be sure to devote a full day when visiting this destination. Each ancient pueblo site has great significance and plenty can be learned from the experience. Wupatki National Monument truly is a special place that should be visited at least once in a lifetime. For those who plan a trip to the Grand Canyon, Wupatki awaits just a little further down the road, just like it has for a thousand years!
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