Monday, February 6, 2023


Western Views: The rise and fall of Wupatki

By Len Wilcox

The Four Corners country is famous for its pre-Columbus Native American civilizations. Most known are the tremendous cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado, or the structures in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. These are the silent remnants of advanced civilizations.

However, one of the most fascinating ancient sites is not a cliff dwelling – it is a community in a region northeast of the current city of Flagstaff, Arizona.


People began moving into the Wupatki region about 50 years after the nearby Sunset Crater volcano erupted in 1064. That eruption spread ash and cinder over the northern Arizona grasslands and forests around the Little Colorado River.

It was a time of good rains in that country, and the ash made the soil rich and better able to hold water. The good growing conditions attracted people from both Chaco Canyon to the east and Hohokam settlements to the south. They joined the Sinagua people already living there to develop a fine farming region.

But it did not last forever. Around the year 1200, the rains began drying up, and what would be a prolonged drought began. By around 1300, most of the Wupatki settlements and pueblos had been abandoned and its residents moved on to more hospitable places.

In its heyday, however, Wupatki was an advanced farming and trading center. It was a melting pot of Native American societies, taking elements from each of the groups that had moved into the area. The main pueblo was built of native stone with more than 1,000 rooms and open kivas. The large ball court was very similar to the ball courts found in Central America.

It fires the imagination: To stand where these people stood, look into their homes, walk the trails they walked, to listen to their chatter and laughter echo through time to bounce off the walls of their homes and kivas, reminds us we are not the first people to make use of this land, and we may not be the last.

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View.

Read previous Western Views articles here.

Do you have a topic you’d like Len to write about? Email him at



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