The Wupatki pueblo is a part of Native America history spanning about 2000 years to the present. It stands as a crossroads between three peoples: the Sinagua, the Cohonina, and the Kayenta Anasazi. Though elements of all three cultures are found at the site, archaeologists consider the Wupatki to be primarily Sinaguan, much like the nearby Walnut Canyon dwellings. ³Wupatki² is a Hopi word that literally translates to Long Cut House while the word ³pueblo² is actually a Spanish term put into use by Coronado during his expeditions in the southwest. Rooms at Wupatki were piled on top of one another in clusters, which was very similar to the appearance his Spanish homeland. Ancestors of the Hopi and Zuni know their ancestors paused and during lengthy migrations at Wupatki. Some Navajo people also trace their origins to the area, although archaeologists presume their origins may have come from elsewhere.
The region does not appear to be very desirable. With hot, dry, windy summers that would ³knock Iowa corn flat,² thriving simply as a farming community seems impossible. However, just 800 years ago, life revolved around corn in this region (Trail Guide, 3). No surface irrigation was possible if rain was scant, so it was likely that storage rooms holding food from pervious harvests were prepared in anticipation of crop failure. Our ranger informed us that it was unfortunately typical for 1 in every 5 crops to fail. After the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano in 1064, the climate was the wettest, however, moisture in the area varied from year to year. A spring that once flowed by Wupatki was probably a primary source of water. All residents -- hunters, farmers and gatherers, relied on stored water kept in ollahs, most of which had been carried from more distant springs and catchments.
Ash from the Sunset Crater eruption helped retain soil moisture during the time that the Colorado Plateau was enduring a major drought. It is still not clear why so many people wanted to live here, but it is perhaps the volcanic ash that made the climate somewhat attractive. The Hopi believe that the hardships endured allowed the inhabitants to derive strength from their challenging land (Trail Guide, 4).
Scientific excavations indicate that people gathered here during the 1100's and gradually built this 100-room pueblo with a community room and ball court. By 1182, it is suggested that about 85-100 people lived in the Wupatki Pueblo, which was the largest building for at least 50 miles. A population of several thousand surrounded Wupatki within a day's walk (Trail Guide, 3). Parts of Wupatki, including the ball court and community room have been reconstructed. In the 1930's some rooms in the pueblo were even reconstructed to serve as an office and museum. In fact, around that same time park rangers once lived in this pueblo. They carried water from a spring nearby, and cooked using propane. Shockingly, the government charged them rent at $10 a month! (Trail Guide, 15.) Much of the reconstruction of the pueblo was eventually removed. Currently, the National Park has a policy of only stabilizing buildings in their existing state (Trail Guide, 10). Part of the area have not been excavated to correspond with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. In times past, graves and beliefs have been violated inadvertently during the Wupatki excavations. Many of the possessions here were intended to remain as placed and only to be acted upon by nature and the elements.
The Wupatki pueblo was fit into the surrounding landscape with an outcrop of red sandstone as a backbone and naturally fractured rocks as bricks. Masons built up high walls on the north and west sides to block winds and built terraced rooms to the south and east that would bathe in the winter sun (Trail Guide, 6). Rooms normally had walls that were about 2 meters high. Walls even stood about 3 stories high in some places. Large beams that were cross-laid with smaller beams made roofs that were finished off with bark, grass and mud. Occupation required continual maintenance. The site we see today has been heavily stabilized in attempts to delay deterioration. Although all the walls stand in their original locations, most of the mortar is modern. Portland cement, iron beams, and plates may also be visible having been put into place between the 1930's and 60's.
One room we visited served as a cooking, storage and sleeping area. Another room had an innovative design that provided an air circulation system to allow indoor fires while the smoke would exit through a roof opening. Traveling down the hill is a reconstructed community room that archaeologists speculate served as a central gathering place. Important meetings, ceremonies, and rituals most likely took place here.
While excavators exposed rock art and unearthed basket weaving , pottery, and other tools, they discovered strong evidence that the people of Wupatki were having trade relations with Mesomerica. Archaeologists speculate that structural influence from this region can be found in the ball court. In addition, copper bells, shelled jewelry, and other goods were found, indicating trades with not only Mezo America, but areas of the Pacific (now known as California,) as well. The ball court at Wupatki is one of the last built, one of the northernmost, and the only known masonry court known in the Southwest (Trail Guide, 11). Trade valuables from many regions have been discovered here.
The dry climate of Wupatki allowed us many opportunities to observe "desert popcorn" lizards and snap a few shots of them for our life list photos. After everyone had a turn sticking their heads in the Blowhole that literally sucked, (due to high barometric pressure of course,) we headed around the back of the pueblo and up to the Visitors center to gather and head back to pick up Cynthia and the others from the clinic.
Dinner and Skywatching...
To rendezvous with Cynthia and our two sick compatriots, we drove back in the direction of Flagstaff and met at a Gas station. Reunited again, we began our drive to Tuba City where we would be staying in a hotel for the evening. First however, we stopped at a native American trading post in Cameron for dinner and a little shopping. Once we settled in our rooms, a few of us went out with Dr. Holtz to observe the stars. We drove to the site of the dinosaur tracks we would visit the next day, set up Harrison's telescope and set our gazes to the heavens. It was a crystal clear night, making spotting constellations like Orion, Taurus and Gemini, and the Big and Little Dippers very easy. We spotted Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, Polaris, and observed the Orion nebula and Jupiter with its 4 visible satellites with the aid of Harrison's telescope.
Tired, we packed back into the Holtz van and returned to our hotel to retire for the evening. Though we were all sleepy, we were all very happy that we had good weather to sky-watch. From our view, you could see thousands, upon thousands of more stars than we could normally see in Maryland. It was an astounding view that I for one will not forget.
Day 3 - The Grand Canyon
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