Daily Archives: September 20, 2013

Small Parks in Arizona

Wupatki National Monument

Arizona and New Mexico are completely full of National Parks, National Monuments, and other NPS sites. A lot of these sites are quite small – you can see the whole site in an hour or two. I visited several of these sites in Arizona, between visits to the Grand Canyon and Zion.

I was planning on visiting my uncle in Arizona for a few days, in Sedona. The Grand Canyon is a few hours from Sedona, and there are three parks between them: Wupatki, Sunset Crater, and Walnut Canyon. I visited the first two and skipped the latter.

The ‘Citadel,’ a small pueblo in Wupatki

Wupatki is located in what, 800 years ago, was a heavily populated area of the southwest, and the stretch between the Grand Canyon and Phoenix is filled with hundreds of pueblo ruins. Wupatki is one of the larger sites: there’s 3 small pueblo sites, and one large one, which is near the visitor center. I arrived before the center opened, surveyed two of the pueblos and made a quick pass through the museum, leaving by 9:30.

The large pueblo ruins are actually pretty impressive. At one point it was home to 200 or 300 people, who were farming, mining and trading. The other ruins are more isolated, but it turns out that this stretch of land, north of Flagstaff, was more heavily populated 800 years ago than it is today.

One thing that’s pretty cool is that there was a circular ballcourt on the site, surrounded by brickwork and with two diametrically opposed entranceways. Nobody knows the rules of the game, but it’s believed to have been imported from Mexico.

Sunset Crater, covered in cinder from an eruption 800 years ago

Only 13 miles south of Wupatki is Sunset Crater, probably the dullest park I’ve visited. There’s some small lava flows, and a 1 mile trail, which goes nowhere near the crater.

This volcano erupted less than 800 years ago, and the cone is still covered in cinders. There’s a ton of small volcanoes in this area, which is peculiar because it isn’t on the edge of a continental plate. Sunset crater became a national monument in the thirties, after locals protested Hollywood plans to blow it up for a film. At one point in the 60s, there was a trail to the crater, but the cinders were so loose that the trail eventually grew waist-deep. The feeling was that it marred the appearance of the mountain, so it was closed and filled in by a bulldozer.

A prosaic view in beautiful Sedona

I continued south towards Sedona, where I stayed for two days. The saying (in Sedona) is “God made the Grand Canyon, but he lived in Sedona.” It’s a really remarkable tourist town, enclosed in a state park, surrounded by trails, and with lots of monolithic red-rock scenery.

Unfortunately, my good luck with weather wore out. For the first 6 weeks of my trip, I’d only seen two days of rain (in the Badlands, and in Port Townsend). But then I saw more rain in Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon, and it rained both days in Sedona – hard rain that persisted for much of the day.

Montezuma’s Castle, shot through driving rain

My uncle and I took a quick trip to a nearby monument – “Montezuma’s Castle,” a misnamed cliff dwelling that early explorers thought was an Aztec ruin. Although it rained heavily while we were there, it was still a cool park. The cliff dwellings are up perhaps 40-50 feet along a canyon wall; there’s a small stream and some more conventional pueblo ruins as well.

Funny ducks in a spring-fed pond near Pipe Springs

Leaving Sedona, I headed north – past the Grand Canyon by a different route. Along the way I made my final stop in Arizona, at Pipe Springs. This is jointly administered by the National Park Service and Paiute Indians. As the name would suggest, Pipe Springs has a spring that’s been providing water for hundreds of years. During the nineteenth century Mormons arrived and built a ‘castle’ around it – fearing Indian attacks. But by the time it was completed there was no longer any threat.

A section of the farm at Pipe Springs

I took a short tour of the inside of the castle – really about the size of a modern house. This also served as the first telegraph office in Arizona, for the Deseret Telegraph Company. Deseret, incidentally, is a word used in the Book or Mormon to mean ‘honeybee,’ and Utah is known as the honeybee state. For a while, the area surrounding this bastion was a tithe farm – local farmers would contribute livestock which would be used by the Mormon church. The park is still a small farm today, with horses, bulls, ducks, and other animals.

Pipe Springs is right on the Utah-Arizona border, so leaving the park in late morning I continued my journey north to Zion.