If I regretted one aspect of my visit to New Mexico back in 2016, it was forgetting or not having time to visit the remains of any native American dwellings. I made visiting a few sites a priority this time, visiting both Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Canyon. The two sites are very different despite being only an hour or so apart from one another; the first offers seemingly boundless vistas, a lava field, and the broken remains of a dormant volcano which destroyed the communities around it. The other is a confined site site in rocky, wooded canyons descending to a now-vanished creek. Despite their differences, the two sites are linked, as local authorities believe the survivors of the volcanic eruption around the Wupatki area too refuge in Walnut Canyon.
Visiting Wupatki involves a northern drive from the city, then a long and winding path back to the highway through first barren plains, then the hillier volcanic region. It took several hours to drive the course and explore the various sites. According to signs, these sites were abandoned by 1200, and the area which the park covers encompasses three distinct cultures. The environment is thought to have changed since abandonment, stripped in part by over-grazing. It is suspected these cultures lived by hunting local creatures (something kin to antelope) and farming small plots near “earth cracks”. The area is fascinating, geologically: one area is known to emit streams of warm air from a hole in the ground from time to time, a highly localized thermal vent.
I visited Walnut Canyon later in the week, and it was easily the greatest surprise of the trip.I had no idea what to expect, and when I spotted the canyon from the visitor’s center I gasped in awe.
According to the signage, a community took refuge in naturally-formed limestone shelves, bricking them up to create rooms, and eking a living from the stream below and the woods above them. The park offers a mile-long path down into the canyon, winding around an “island” densely packed with shelters before climbing back up. It’s a nice walk in 50 MPH wind, to say the least. The park is eight miles from the city proper, but still contained within its limits. Although this site was depopulated by 1300, the descendants of those who lived here occasionally make ritual visits.
There are some remains near the Grand Canyon, as well, I visited these early Thursday morning, after watching the sun rise over the Canyon.
More to come: Flagstaff proper, various geological curiosities, and…THE GRAND CANYON.