Wupatki National Monument: 12th-Century Native American Ruins in Arizona

Arizona is a fabulous state filled with beauty and natural wonders. Amazing canyons (Grand!), mountains, and desert scenery await visitors.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

Arizona National Monument

One February after my husband and I had already viewed Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in the north-central part of Arizona just 15 miles north of Flagstaff, we decided to see the ancient Native American Anasazi and Sinagua Indian ruins known as the Wupatki National Monument, which are located another 15 miles on down the road.

The small National Park Service entrance fee covers both of the national monuments, and they are tied together historically. As of 2019, the price to enter both national monuments was $25 per vehicle and less for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. There are fee-free days as well as annual and lifetime passes. Tour-group pricing and a fee-waiver pass for young students can all be determined ahead of time by going to the National Park Service fees and passes page.

Had it not been for the volcanic eruption of Sunset Crater and the resulting ash-strewn land enriching the soil, perhaps the Native Americans would never have moved back to this area of the Colorado Plateau and settled in this region, creating these large pueblos.

Their crops of corn and squash thrived with the added nutrients of the volcanic detritus. Even though this was an extremely arid upland region by conserving rainwater, they were able to prosper for a time. Naturally, when the eruption first took place, Native Americans vacated this part of Arizona for a time.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

Native American Ruins

The Wupatki National Monument has a significant number of ruins (numbering in the hundreds!) spread out over many miles. Archaeologists will undoubtedly be uncovering areas long into the future, learning more about these ancient pueblo building people if there remain continuing interest and adequate funding.

Fortunately for visitors to this area, there are paved pathways, and one can easily see all of the significant points of interest and read about what one is viewing with the help of a guidebook within a short period. People are encouraged to stay on the pathways to preserve this historic site.

At the Wupatki National Monument, one can wander through the structures deemed safe. It is indeed a photographer's paradise, especially with the contrasting colors of the red building stones and the surrounding lands, including the Painted Desert, scrubby but hardy vegetation and mountains in the distance.

The Native Americans who settled here built permanent stone structures using the local sandstone called Moenkopi, which is of a reddish color. They were terrific stonemasons and spent much time chipping away and creating many stones of similar sizes, which were then mortared together, creating many individual rooms as well as communal spaces where they all gathered to have ceremonies or even play games. One of the most extensive ruins was a one-hundred room pueblo!

As far as Native American ruins are concerned, this was one of the largest pueblos built back in that time frame of the 12th to 13th centuries in Arizona.

Native American Indian Tribes

Three tribes were found living near this part of Arizona. They include the following:

  • Sinagua: These people are recorded as having lived from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries in areas of Arizona around these parts and further south. They became friendly with many other tribes of Indians and absorbed some of their ideas and cultural aspects. They were hunters, gatherers, and farmed using irrigation practices. After the fifteen century, any recorded history seems to have disappeared.
  • Cohonina: Evidence of these people living between the years 500 to 1200 A.D. exists because of pottery, building remnants, and arrowheads left behind. They also co-existed with the Anasazi, and some think that the Yuman, Walapai, and Havasupai Indians descended from them.
  • Anasazi: Much evidence of these people exists in the Four Corners region, where the States of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. They were road builders and early astronomers. They migrated several times due to other marauding Indian tribes and also due to periods of famine. It is thought that their descendants include the Arizona Hopi tribe as well as New Mexico's Zunis, Pueblos, and Acomas.

Five Largest Pueblo Ruins

Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, the five most massive structures that are on view at the Wupatki National Monument are the following:

  1. Wupatki: This is an enormous pueblo structure that contained 100 rooms built upon a rock outcropping. In the Hopi language, Wupatki means "Big House."
  2. Wukoki: This "castle-like" structure with a standing 20-foot tower probably housed several families and had an adjacent courtyard or plaza for communal activities.
  3. Citadel: This stone structure was built on a mesa at the edge of a cliff and had a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. It would have contained some 50 rooms at one time.
  4. Lomaki: One can walk through the rooms of these ruins. Be sure and duck when going through those doorways! They are much smaller than doors today!
  5. Nalakihu: A little distance from the others, this Hopi word means "House standing alone" and is found at the foot of the Citadel mesa.

All five of these pueblo ruins can be easily seen with access to the nearby road.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki Blowhole

Another interesting phenomenon is at the Wupatki National Monument. It is a geological blowhole. Depending upon pressure differences in an underground cavern, air speeds up to 30 miles per hour can be experienced coming out of the hole. It also, at times, sucks air inward. This hole in the ground is protected by cement and wire to prevent small things or beings from being sucked into it.

Wupatki National Monument

This ancient Pueblo Indian ruin is at a 5,000-foot elevation northeast of the San Francisco Peaks. Near the arid upland region was the Little Colorado River, which lies on the northeastern edge of the national monument.

So why did the Indians who had settled there and were living in these well-built stone structures and successfully hunting and farming the enriched volcanic lands vacate the area? It is thought that a severe drought brought about by climate change sometime in the 13th century drove them out to seek a friendlier environment in which to live.

Left behind for all the many visitors as well as archaeologists who study this site are the many remnants of their habitation. My husband and I were genuinely impressed with this national monument. It is a site well worth preserving for people who come generations after this to see, study, and enjoy.

My hubby at the Wupatki National Monument.

My hubby at the Wupatki National Monument.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are most welcome.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 27, 2019:

Hi Dale,

Thanks for the compliment on this article. The Wupatki National Monument is definitely worth exploring if people are ever in that part of Arizona.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 26, 2019:

Being basically Indiana Jones, I love old ruins like this and can't resist exploring them if I get the chance. I think this is a good article and bet that it inspires others to go there and see it for themselves. Well done.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 23, 2014:

Hello georgescifo,

Even the ruins are interesting and can tell a bit about how the people lived back then. Glad you liked this. Thanks for your comment.

georgescifo from India on December 22, 2014:

really a super piece of architecture, even though most of them are in ruins...it is really hard to preserve such heritage buildings for so long. Thanks for sharing this hub..

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2014:

Hi DzyMsLizzy,

So glad you liked this and that it brought back memories of visiting another ancient site in Colorado with your girls many years ago. I appreciate your comment and information you added. Thanks!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 22, 2014:

Gosh--this brought back memories from my own trip to see Mesa Verde in Colorado when my girls were young.

There is a similar story there, with an apparent sudden departure of the native peoples who built the amazing cliff dwellings.

I found it both fascinating and sad. I checked in your poll that I'd love to see Wupatki as well, but sadly, I no longer have the budget for travel.

At Mesa Verde, the printed information states that "Anasazi" is a Hopi word that means only "the ancient ones," and is not the name of a tribe, but the Hopi consider the Anasazi to be their ancestors.

Voted up +++

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2014:

Hi Audrey,

So glad you liked this! Appreciate the comment. Happy holidays to you and those you love.

Audrey Howitt from California on December 22, 2014:

Very cool Peggy!!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 23, 2013:

Hello jainismus,

It must be interesting to see the ruins in your part of the world also. Thanks for the share.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 22, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

Thanks for the share and pin to your travel board. Arizona is filled with wondrous sites!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 16, 2013:

Hello Alvin,

Yes there are parts of Utah with similar scenery to that second photo. Of course they also have lots of mountainous areas and loads of canyons also. Very scenic state! Thanks for commenting on this site in Arizona.

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on September 09, 2013:

Great Hub. It remembers me the ruins of Indus valley civilization in Indian subcontinent.

Shared with followers.

C E Clark from North Texas on September 08, 2013:

Came back to pin this excellent article to my 'Travel' board. Will also share again with my followers.

Alvin on August 28, 2013:

Excellent. I drove from the east coast to the west coast and took interstate 80There is a stecrth of 80 miles in Utah that is perfectly flat (the land speed records are tested there), it is the salt flats.Just like your second picture,

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 21, 2013:

Hi Rajan,

So happy to know that you liked learning about these ancient Indian ruins in Arizona. Thanks for the shares as well as votes. :)

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 21, 2013:

Interesting and informative read, Peggy and lovely pictures. Voted up, interesting shared on fb, tweeted and pinned.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 30, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

Perhaps next time you get to visit Arizona you can add the Wupatki National Monument on your itinerary of places to visit. I have my comments set to where I approve them first before they appear...thus the confusion. Appreciate your votes, share and the 5 star rating. If you like seeing interesting Indian ruins...you will love seeing this place!

C E Clark from North Texas on March 30, 2013:

For some reason the gremlins won't let me edit my comment. I just wanted to add that I gave you another 5 stars. :)

C E Clark from North Texas on March 30, 2013:

Been all over Arizona, but haven't been to this place! Didn't know it was there and your photos are so fabulous as always, that I feel like I've really missed out, and that's the truth. I would certainly want to go here if I get the chance. I appreciate the information you put in too, and the history behind it all. Voted up, BAI, and will share!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 19, 2012:

Hi vox vocis,

Traveling is not only fun but so educational as well. It is nice to be able to share such sites such as this Wupatki National Monument with you and others. It is an interesting Indian ruins site to be sure! Thanks for your comment and vote up.

Jasmine on October 19, 2012:

You're lucky to have traveled so much. An interesting story and great pics! I love reading about Indians, their history, culture and traditions. Voted up!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 22, 2012:

Hi Randy,

So happy to hear that you enjoyed reading about the Wupatki National Monument in Arizona...especially with your interest in studying the native American tribes that preceded colonization by the rest of us who came to these lands a long time later. We can only guess as to why some of these areas were abandoned especially since so much time and effort went into the creation of them. Probably drought in this case, but it is a mystery with regard to other habitations. Appreciate your comment.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 21, 2012:

Hi Peggy! Having researched and written about the Mississippian Mound builders in my area, I was struck with how similar these people are to those I study in the food they ate and in their ability to study the night sky.

Not to mention how the two different cultures rose and suddenly fell with no clear explanation of what caused the downfall. In the case of these featured in your hub, it appears they suffered a long drought which surely affected their source of previously counted on food supplies.

Interesting hub and great pics! From a fan of ancient Native American cultures, as well as, a private collector of their wonderful artifacts.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 21, 2012:

Hi Alastar,

It is rather amazing that they trust people enough to let them wander around this Wupatki National Monument like they do. Same thing with the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico. If there is security, it is not very obvious. Getting to see sites like this in Arizona (or anywhere for that matter) is informative & interesting. Glad that you liked it. Yes...the blowhole is also very interesting! Appreciate your comment, votes and the share.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on August 21, 2012:

A pleasant surprise to find this trip to Wupatki Natl Monument with its Anasazi ruins! So fine y'all were able to wander through them without the usual restrictions. A one-hundred room dwelling is a lot bigger than I ever imagined these people had built and how about that blowhole. Thoroughly enjoyed as always Peggy, oh and these are super good pics--especially like the walk there and hubby holding on to the rock[?] Up Awesome and shared!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 25, 2011:

Hi fidencio1,

At least you saw some great sites in Arizona!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 25, 2011:

Hello shea duane,

Glad you stopped in again to read about the Wupatki National Monument. Stop in anytime! Thanks for your comment.

fidencio1 from Louisiana on November 25, 2011:

I focused on the crater, volcano and the Grand Canyon.

shea duane from new jersey on November 25, 2011:

I had to stop in and read this again. love it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 25, 2011:

Hi again fidencio1,

Not surprising that you would have missed the Wupatki National Monument as there is so much to do and see in Arizona. My husband and I have vacationed in Arizona 3 times and I have driven through that area on another vacation trip and have still not seen it all.

fidencio1 from Louisiana on November 24, 2011:

You're welcome. I spent a few weeks in and around Flagstaff, somehow missed this location.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 24, 2011:

Hello fidencio1,

Glad that you enjoyed these photos and video from the Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. Thanks for your comment.

fidencio1 from Louisiana on November 24, 2011:

Awesome pics and video. Thanks for sharing them.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 11, 2011:

Hi Donna,

Need anyone to carry your luggage? Haha! Like you, I would enjoy another trip to Arizona. Still some parts of the state that I have yet to see. Glad you enjoyed this hub about the Wupatki National Monument. Thanks for your comment.

Donna Sundblad from Georgia on November 11, 2011:

Haven't been to Arizona in years. This hub gives me another reason to go back!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Debby,

So glad that you enjoyed these photos and videos showing the Wutpatki National Monument. I also liked the music in that video. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Shea Duane,

So glad that you really liked learning about the Wupatki National Monument through these photos and information provided in this hub. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Cheryl,

The Wupatki National Monument is definitely worth visiting if ever one is visiting Arizona. Hope you get there someday and see it and other sites for yourself. Thanks for your comment.

Debby Bruck on November 09, 2011:

Dear Peggy ~ Loved the selection of photos, descriptions and music in the video that played. Voted "AWESOME" Blessings Debby

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Prasetio,

You continually introduce me to wonderful places around the world...happy to do the same for you. Thanks for your comment and votes on this Wupatki National Monument hub. Hope you get to the USA sometime and get to see some of our wonders.

shea duane from new jersey on November 09, 2011:

Incredible! Such wonderful photos and information. LOVE it!

Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on November 09, 2011:

I definitely want to visit Wupatki National Monument. Great information of this natural historical monument. Your photos of the ancient Pueblo Indian ruins are a sight to behold. Great photos and videos. Amazing painted desert and blow hole. Great hub.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on November 09, 2011:

This was so beautiful. Thanks Peggy for always up date your hub with amazing travel in USA. I had never know about this place before and you always show me in different side. I love your writing style. Again...I hope I have a chance to visit this place one day. Well done and I'll press all buttons here, except funny. Have a good day. Cheers....


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Leah,

Arizona and the surrounding States certainly are filled with wonderful and natural attractions. Nice that you have visited the Wupatki National Monument several times and have experienced that blowhole working at full force. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi WannaB Writer,

Learning about what we were viewing at the Wupatki National Monument does make it more interesting. Glad to be able to share it here on HubPages. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Gail,

Like you, I was unaware of things like blowholes found at the Wupatki National Monument and undoubtedly many other places in the world. Thanks for your visit, comment and votes.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on November 09, 2011:

I love this one! I visited Wupatki a few times as a teenager and then again as a young adult - the blow hole is absolutely fabulous when it is blowing at full force - nature's air conditioning! I love Arizona - I certainly miss living on the side of the country that afforded visits to these wonderful monuments!

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on November 09, 2011:

Thanks for giving us so much historical background on your lovely photos. It makes them more meaningful. Voted up, beautiful, and useful.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on November 09, 2011:

Hi Peggy,

I agree with Patty Inglish. My favorite photo was the one of the Painted Desert although every photo was beautiful and interesting. That "blow hole" sounded strange- have never heard of such a thing.

I also didn't know that the Indians built such large and permanent structures.

Thanks so much for sharing this information. Will hopefully make it out west one day and will definitely be reviewing your hubs beforehand. All your information is so comprehensive.

Voted up across the board except for funny.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Patty,

Glad that you enjoyed this hub about the Wupatki National Monument. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 09, 2011:

Lovely photos of subjects I love to see and study. Rated UP and Beautiful.

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