Nestling below a lava mesa, red-walled Wupatki marks the culmination of Arizona's 11th century land boom. Here Sunset Crater's soil-enriching cinders had their kindest effect. As settlers moved into the basin between San Francisco Peaks and the Little Colorado River, Wuptaki (Tall House), mushroomed to a three-story 100 room pueblo beside its precious spring. Cultures from north, east, and west mingled with that of migrants from the south who built a masonry ball court on which to play their regional game.
A 40-mile drive from either Flagstaff or Cameron, where accommodations are available, brings visitors to Wupatki's sandstone walls. More than 800 other ruins dot the 56-square mile monument, open all year. Two fortresses, the Citadel and Wukoki, command views of the Painted Desert. Navajo herd sheep outside silent Wupatki, abandoned by drought-stricken farmers 700 years ago.
It stands against the sky, an oblong citadel capping a limestone ridge in the Verde River Valley. Around it sprawls a maze of weathered walls. Apache nomads named it Tuzigoot, “Crooked Water,” for a nearby lake. Who knows what the great village was called by its people seven centuries ago.
Like their neighbors at Montezuma Castle, 27 miles away, Tuzigoot builders sought a defensible site. Since no cliff offered shelter, they chose the highest point they could find. As dry farmers moved into the irrigated valley, the hilltop pueblo grew 500 feet long with 110 rooms. Each family lived in a chamber averaging 12 by 18 feet. Returning from the fields, the father swung down a ladder from a hatchway in the roof. His wife had food ready in red pottery she had made. She wore deer-bone hairpins and perhaps a bracelet of sea shells traded from the Gulf of California. While he repaired his farming tools, the youngsters played with carved toys and figurines.
These items lie on display all year in Tuzigoots museum, one of the Southwest’s largest. A mining company owning the ruin safeguarded it from “pothunters” until excavation in 1933-1934. To see its treasures and recapture the life that throbbed on the hilltop until overpopulation, famine, disease, and inter-pueblo strife ended the valley’s heyday, travelers need only swing off US89A.
The sun rising above Arizona’s Salt River Valley shines into two caves in a serene side canyon, warming the walls of the Toronto Cliff dwellings. Six centuries ago, it signaled Salado Indians to tend crops or hunt deer among the junipers on the canyon rim while women gathered mesquite beans and saguaro fruit on the talus slopes. Now the two-story pueblos where ancient potters, cotton weavers, and yucca sandal makers plied their sills slumber while visitors snap pictures and picnic.
A trail climbs to Lower Ruin where some 20 families lived behind a protective wall. Upper Ruin, half a mile away and 300 feet higher, is twice its neighbor’s size. It commands a view of Roosevelt’s Dam’s huge reservoir, which drowns the plots irrigated by Tonto’s builders. The two-square mile monument, 65 miles east of Phoenix, is open all year.