WALNUT CANYON NATIONAL MONUMENT,
WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT, & ELDEN PUEBLO RUINS
Explore cliff dwellings in a beautiful canyon, the largest ancient Native American settlement site in the area, and the ruins of a hidden pueblo at the base of the Flagstaff mountains!
We will begin our tour at Walnut Canyon. The beautiful location was once the home of numerous Native American Indians who made their dwellings up and down the sheer sides of this canyon. Start in the visitor center interpretive room for a glimpse of the lifestyle of these people and their neighbors throughout the Southwest. You will learn what they ate, what they farmed, and how they lived. Then we will head down the Island Loop trail to see these ancient stone dwellings up close, and even be able to step inside the homes of this once-thriving community.
By taking advantage of the natural overhangs and outcroppings of the Kaibab Limestone they built up walls and rooms to provide shelter and living space for a whole village. It’s thought that people arrived here during the eruptions of nearby Sunset Crater Volcano and found their new home provided good protection from the elements and the desert sun. At the bottom of Walnut Canyon there used to be a flowing creek that provided an ample water source, even if getting it meant a precarious climb down vertical rock walls. While on the Island Loop trail we will see the lower lying rocks of the Coconino Sandstone, with beautiful cross-bedded dune features.
While walking around this “island in the sky” we will explore the 800-year-old ruins and rooms that circle this trail. Can you imagine what winters must have been like for the people living here? We will discuss the ingenious building techniques that enabled fires to burn inside the homes, while also providing fresh air and ventilation. Along the trail, you will see various native cactus, yucca, and even get up close and personal to smell a Ponderosa pine tree. Many say they smell like butterscotch or vanilla!
From Walnut Canyon National Monument we will drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument with expansive lava fields and volcanoes along or way to Wupatki National Monument. This area was home to Native groups of people who thrived around the 1100s. Certainly, the lives of those living here would have been affected for better or for worse by the nearby eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano and others in the area. This location was a thriving trade center, with stone-built pueblos, some of the largest and most densely populated in the region. An agricultural and trade center, the Wupatki complex was thought to have been mostly abandoned 600-800 years ago.
Wupatki, Wukoki, Lomaki, and Citadel pueblos are some of the more prominent features found here. We will travel to see them all, and get a sense for what it must have been like to live here nearly 1,000 years ago. From this area, we can see the huge San Francisco peaks looming nearby as well as the Hopi mesas far in the distance.
We will be able to explore the huge pueblo at the Wupatki complex near the visitor center, complete with a large religious ceremonial room called a Kiva. Nearby is the blowhole where we can feel the cool air coming from deep in the earth as it “breathes”. Also found here, unlike many other sites, is a large ball court that would have been home to ceremonial religious games. Perhaps this northern-most ball court was home to similar games found to have been played in ball courts further south with the related Aztec and Mayan cultures. This is also a great place to spot desert wildlife like beautiful collared lizards, hawks, and pronghorn antelope.
From Wupatki we will travel back down towards Flagstaff and the San Francisco peaks with Humphreys Peak, the highest point in all of Arizona growing bigger and bigger in our field of view as we get closer to it. Humphrey’s Peak is 12,633 feet tall, and there is nothing taller than it anywhere south of that mountain in the entire United States. During our drive back we will talk about early pioneers and settlers to the Flagstaff area and some great wild west stories.
As we enter into Flagstaff at the base of Mount Elden we will stop at Elden Pueblo ruins. Smaller than the other ruin locations we’ve visited, and often missed by most visitors, we will walk around another important site to the Sinagua Anasazi Indians who used to live here and revered the San Francisco peaks of this region. You will recognize familiar architectural designs throughout this location, including a small kiva which like all the others is modeled after a hidden location in the Grand Canyon area.
Throughout the day our tour will include many of the highlights and history of the Native American Indians of the southwest region with talks about the various plants, animals, and farming practices that sustained these people in an otherwise arid environment. Visiting these 3 locations will surely help you understand the deep history and culture of the people that once called these locations home.
Walnut Canyon – Moderate
The steps leading down to the Island Loop trail are steep, but are well-built with railings and walls along most of it. The 185′ climb back up is challenging for some, but there are benches and rest stops along the way.
Wupatki National Monument – Easy
Short walks to various pueblos with paved or compacted earth paths in most places.
Elden Pueblo Ruins – Easy
A short walk around the small complex with compacted earth paths in most places.
Tour departs Flagstaff, AZ at 8:00 am. With pick-up at your hotel or location. Tour duration is typically 7-8 hours.
Bottled water will be provided. Feel free to bring your own water bottle or camelback if desired.
Sturdy walking shoes are recommended for the Walnut Canyon Island Loop trail. We don’t recommend flip-flops.
Wupatki area can be quite hot in the summer months. Sunscreen and protective clothing are suggested.
Flat group rate is for 1-4 people in our tour SUV. Additional guests (up to 7 total) may be added at $25 per person.
Flat group rate remains the same for unlimited group size with guide in your vehicle(s).