A short drive north of Flagstaff, AZ, Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments are connected by a scenic, 56 km (35 mi) loop drive. A single entrance fee covers both parks, so for those with an interest in nature, natural history and anthropology, this is a great day trip to round out a 2 or 3 night stay in Flagstaff.
On the Road
We checked out of our Flagstaff hotel and were heading north on US 89 by shortly after 7 am. Since we decided to purchase an annual America the Beautiful parks pass while visiting Death Valley National Park, we weren’t too concerned about arriving before the visitor center opened.
I have clear memories of stopping at Lomaki Pueblo and nearby box canyon dwellings back in 2007, with our (then) geokids in tow. We carefully read all the signage and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live in the strange-to-us landscape, using the shade in the box canyons and natural cooling capability of a stone dwelling to best advantage.
What struck me this visit was the snow-topped peak in the distance, which put asunder my naive presumption that heat would be the only weather challenge for c. 1180 pueblo dwellers.
Remarkably, some of the window openings in the 900+ y.o. ruins are still intact. One thing we have in common with the people who called Wupatki home all those centuries ago is our mutual preference for windows with a view. 🙂
Early morning, under a clear blue sky, conditions were perfect to make the short walk up to the ruins of Citadel Pueblo. Writing this in May 2020 and thinking back to our visit in early February 2020, I’m struck by how many jet contrails we saw during our short time looking out over the surrounding landscape.
We arrived at the Visitor Center just a few minutes after it opened and had this largest dwelling in the monument pretty much to ourselves.
One of my fondest memories from our 2007 family vacation is how the geokids took such delight in their hats being blown off by the wind from the underground cave system.
My hopes for a similar experience were dashed when I discovered that the cave system was inhaling the cool morning air. I had to hold tight so the brochure wasn’t sucked underground…and I wonder how many treasures and tidbits have been snatched by the wind over the centuries.
Driving the short out-and-back road to Wukoki Pueblo we spotted the ship-like ruins from the car. While Mr. GeoK made the short walk out to climb aboard and stand at the prow, I walked back along the road to find the perfect vantage point from which to emphasize the impression.
Painted Desert Vista
Feeling the pressure of passing time and our need to be in Phoenix later in the day, we left Wupatki National Monument via the loop road, stopping briefly at Painted Desert Vista to take in the view.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
We stopped at the Cinder Hills Overlook (see photo below) and then again at the parking lot for the Lava Flow Trail and Lenox Crater Trail. We even started along the Lennox Crater Trail but turned back after talking things over and deciding we’d rather drive on to Sedona and hike there before continuing to Phoenix.
Both trails are well-signed, with lots of information signs, and are good, short options for families.
While there are washroom facilities at both the Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano Visitor Centers, there are no restaurants or coffee shops, so be sure to pack a hearty picnic and lots of water.
NOTE: We traveled to California, Nevada and Arizona in late January/early February 2020, many weeks before WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For me, one way of coping with the potential overwhelm of 24/7 “more bad news” coverage is to spend time every day focusing on something else – like writing, a photography project or something else that occupies mind and hands. For once, the usual time lag between being on vacation and writing about it is a plus – a ready-made backlog of new posts to write. 🙂