National Monuments near Flagstaff, AZ

Flagstaff, AZ

We left White Tank (near Phoenix) Wednesday morning and drove north about 150 miles to the city of Flagstaff.  The drive up I-17 is quite interesting, with an elevation change of almost 6,000 feet making for significant changes in scenery and temperatures.

Approaching Flagstaff with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance

The selection of full hook-up RV parks is limited in Flagstaff, so we took a site in the Flagstaff KOA.  A typical KOA, this park is crowded and over-priced.  But it is perfect for a two night stay to allow us to visit two national monuments located in this area.  Our first visit was to Walnut Canyon National Monument, located just a few miles east of Flagstaff.

Walnut Canyon NM Visitor Center

Not a good sign

Great view of the San Francisco Peaks from the Visitor Center

The rim of Walnut Canyon is at an elevation of 6,690 ft. while the canyon’s floor is 350 ft. lower.  A 0.9 mi long loop trail descends 185 ft. into the canyon, passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian cultural group that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 CE.  To get to the ruins you have to go down a paved path with about 350 steps.  We forgot to get a good picture of the steps so we did a Google images search and found a good one.  Looking closely at the guy going down the steps we quickly recognized him.  It’s our friend, Steve, from Lowe’s RV Adventure!  Thanks Steve and Mona Liza for the great photo!  Keep checking the mail for your royalty check.

Long years of erosion by a now a dry stream created a “island” where the main dwellings are located.

The “island”

The canyon walls visible from the island contain many more remains of cliff dwellings.

Once you reach the bottom of the steps the trail loops around the island, passing in front of the remains of many cliff dwellings.

After making our way up the 350 steps (we couldn’t find a picture of Steve going back up), we returned to the Jeep and headed north of Flagstaff on US-89.  After about 35 miles we turned off the highway and drove east into Wupatki National Monument.

There are many settlement sites scattered throughout the monument built by the Ancient Pueblo People.  A major population influx into the area began soon after the eruption of nearby  Sunset Crater in the 11th century, which blanketed the area with volcanic ash.  The ash improved agricultural productivity and the soil’s ability to retain water.  Our first stop was to a group of remains called the Lomaki Pueblo.

Just a few miles from the Lomaki Pueblo is the Citadel, a group of ruins constructed on top of a small but steep hill of volcanic rock.

We then drove on to the Wupatki NM Visitor Center where the largest ruins are located.  The Wupatki Pueblo, the largest settlement on monument territory, is built around a natural rock outcropping. With over 100 rooms, this ruin is believed to be the area’s tallest and largest structure for its time period.

The Wupatki Pueblo

One of the unusual structures at the Wupatki Pueblo is the Ball Court.  It is believed to have been used for a number of game activities and may have been used for water storage during times of rainfall.

The site also contains a geological blowhole.  Caused by the difference in barometric pressure between the surface and small caves below, the hole can blow a stream of cool air out, or draw the air in.  We were amazed by the strength of cool air streaming out of the hole as we stood over it.

The only room you can enter

Leaving the visitor center we drove past the ruins of the Wukoki Pueblo, built on top of a large flat rock area.

Wukoki Pueblo

On our way back to Flagstaff the road went through the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.  The Sunset Crater eruption in 1085 producing a blanket of ash covering an area of more than 810 square miles and forced the temporary abandonment of settlements of the local Sinagua people.  The volcano has partially re-vegetated, with pines and wildflowers.

In 1928, a Hollywood film company planned to detonate large quantities of explosives on the side of Sunset Crater in order to create an avalanche for Zane Grey’s motion picture, Avalanche.  Public outcry over this plan led in part to the proclamation of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument by President Herbert Hoover in 1930

Returning to Flagstaff we were treated to a beautiful view of the snow covered San Francisco Peaks.  The highest peak, Humphrey’s Peak, is 12,655 ft., the highest point in Arizona.

Tomorrow we leave Flagstaff and drive about 60 miles to the east for a visit to Winslow, AZ.  More on that later . . .

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18 Responses to National Monuments near Flagstaff, AZ

  1. geogypsy2u says:

    I usually stay at that same overpriced and crowded KOA because it’s convenient to all the places you visited. You forgot about Meteor Crater and the Grand Falls. Oh well, an excuse to come back.

  2. exploRVistas says:

    Wow….looks like our old snowblower. Talk about a flashback! Flagstaff has been off our radar, but it looks like it needs to be on it. Thanks for the tour, John and Pam!

  3. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    We tried to camp at “Craters” on our way north last week and the campground is closed till May. WTF… it was 70 degrees :).
    Nice find in Walnut.

  4. Never get tired of seeing the ruins! You guys are heading north a little early, you may need your own personal snow blower???

  5. pmbweaver says:

    That snow plow gave me the shivers!
    Those ruins are awesome. I don’t think we will get up that way again so thanks for sharing so many super photos.
    Next time we hear from you…You will be standing on some corner…hehe

  6. Mary says:

    I had no idea those Native ruin sites were there. We camped at sunset crater a couple years ago though, and enjoyed wondering around the cool formations. Next time we go through Flagstaff, I’ll have to check out the ruins.

  7. Sherry says:

    When we started RVing we wanted to visit all the National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks. We quickly learned that the National Monuments are just as beautiful and interesting. Hope we’ll some day get to see these 3. thanks for the preview.

  8. Jim and Barb says:

    Thanks for the preview! We will be visiting these sites next week as we work our way north. See you this afternoon!

  9. Steve appreciates you using the picture showing his best side! But since you had no pic of him coming back up, he could still be there and you missed him 🙂

  10. Gay says:

    Awesome stop…we have driven by there so many times! We ont stop this trip, but maybe in the fall. Love the information and pictures of the ruins.

  11. Jeff says:

    If you’re still in the area the Lowell Observatory also is a fun/educational stop. One of my hilites of the area.

  12. Laurel says:

    We’ve enjoyed peaceful, beautiful camping at Sunset Crater, but as you know, there are no hookups. So funny that you found the photo of Steve in your Walnut Canyon search—I’m sure they’re going to appreciate those royalty checks! :-))

    • placestheygo says:

      Laurel, the campground at Sunset Crater is closed right now. As a matter of fact, most campgrounds are still closed. This warm weather is unusual for this time of year in Flagstaff.

  13. LuAnn says:

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I don’t think we have visited any of these monuments since we lived in Sedona.

  14. colibabas says:

    Love the ruins. Had no idea they existed near Flagstaff as we’ve always just blown by. Now on our to do list for next year perhaps.
    Safe travels!

  15. Jodee Gravel says:

    Thank you for going to Walnut and making the 700 step round trip so we could see the ruins we could only see from the ridge! They’re wonderful. We must go back to Flagstaff (with the worst RV park options ever) to see the Wupatki NM – wow!! Not sure how we missed that amazing place. Beautiful pics!!

    • The park choices are really bad in Flagstaff and only two are open this time of year. We went to the area to see Wupatki NM. I didn’t know about Walnut Canyon NM, so that was a nice surprise.

  16. Debbie L says:

    Interesting post! Sadly the stairs and limitations of RV parks might prevent our journey here one day….so sure enjoyed your post and pictures!

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