Flagstaff and Its Three National Monuments

Linda Harvey

Flagstaff, Ariz., is home to three national monuments (NM): Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Wupatki. While these monuments may be small and not well known, they are rich in archeological history as the land has been shared for 10,000 years by 13 Native American tribes. There are 3,000 archeological sites protected by these three parks.

The most recent volcanic eruption in Arizona occurred at Sunset Crater Volcano nearly 1,000 years ago. It’s quiet now, but the ash cloud produced was likely visible from high points from Tucson to Durango to Las Vegas. Visiting the area today, people can walk trails to see trees and flowers growing amidst the rocks.

In 1928 a movie company wanted to use the Sunset Crater Volcano to create a rock slide for a Zane Grey silent movie by blowing up part of the volcano. While that never happened, both Sunset Crater NM and Wupatki NM served as locations for the 1969 movie Easy Rider.

Wupatki National Monument preserves dozens of ancestral Puebloan villages. The largest pueblo had 100 rooms, which can be visited via a short walk from the visitor center. Many of the ancient structures in the park have been stabilized or partially reconstructed.

Most of Wupatki’s petroglyphs are located deep in the park’s backcountry and are only accessible through special, ranger-guided hikes. The monument’s online museum collection lets you enjoy the resource without the overnight hike and a 40-pound backpack!

Wupatki NM is also home to a surprising phenomenon where air blows directly out of the ground beneath your feet. One of these “blow holes” can be seen at the end of the Wupatki Pueblo trail where visitors can experience what some have called the “breathing earth.” It is strong enough to hold objects in mid-air.

Walnut Canyon National Monument was established in 1915 to preserve ancient cliff dwellings. Twenty-five of the early cliff dwellings can be viewed by walking the Island Trail. This trail descends 185 vertical feet into the canyon and returns the same way. The trail is paved, but not accessible to wheelchairs. The elevation of the area is 7,000 feet. The trail is one mile long and well worth the effort if you are up to it.

With Flagstaff as a reference point, Walnut Canyon is 7.5 miles east of downtown; Wupatki is 37 miles north; and Sunset Crater Volcano is 12 miles north. As another option, there is a 35-mile scenic road that connects Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments. Lookouts along this road include views of red rock landscapes and the Painted Desert.

For current conditions and more information about these parks, please visit nps.gov.

To sign up for the SaddleBrooke Ranch National Park Club, visit GroupWorks.com or send an email to [email protected].