While visiting Montezuma Well a volunteer told us about Wupatki north of Flagstaff. We immediately added it to our itinerary. Turns out, Wupatki, Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon are 3 national monuments managed together in the Flagstaff AZ area. All 3 are worth a visit for different reasons.
We found great free dry camping (boondocking) on Coconino National Forest land off the road directly west from the road to Sunset Crater. We originally planned to camp in the Bonito NFS campground but they didn’t open until May 3rd even though the weather was gorgeous.
Sunset Crater Volcano erupted in 1085 spewing red hot lava and ash over people who had lived here hundreds of years. Most fled but returned later to farm the changed landscape. Today the volcano, cinder cones and solidified lava flows are stark reminders of earth’s violent potential. Slowly flora and fauna have returned too.
Wupatki National Monument was created to protect the abandoned structures of Sinagua people who had farmed this area for hundreds of years. In the year 1180 thousands of people lived here. By 1250 they had moved on. Their descendants are the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo people. They were great builders. The Wupatki ruin is the largest and tallest in the region and even includes a ball court the northern most example of such a structure.
Walnut Canyon National Monument preserves dwellings sheltered by overhanging cliffs in a canyon inhabited over 800 years ago. It was named a National Monument in 1915. Artifacts indicate Archaic people had visited the canyon for thousands of years. The plantlife zones of the canyon range from Sonoran Desert to cooler, moister Pacific Northwestern forests. The varied landscape was probably a great benefit to native people.