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Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments

October 3, 2013

Arizona – Thursday, September 26

After a good breakfast at a Route 66 diner just down the street, I headed over to some trails just outside of town. Tula and I walked a couple miles on the Arizona Trail, and that led us to Buffalo Park, where we headed out on the McMillan Mesa Trail for another mile and a half. It was really pretty with all the long grasses and pine trees – very different from some of the other desert-like areas of Arizona. Then I headed back into town to walk on the Route 66 bike trail for a bit.

I didn’t make a donation today since I had doubled up on both of the previous days.

By then I had walked 5 miles and was ready to sit in the van for a while to head toward Sedona. But first, I was going to backtrack about 12 miles to the Sunset Crater National Monument. I was surprised to see the hardened black lava all over the place! The volcano erupted about 900 years ago – and the lava flow covered a good 6 miles of the surrounding countryside. I followed a trail up one of the old cinder cones in the park, and it was like walking uphill on black sand. Then I walked along the Lava Flow Trail through all the old lava – there are numerous cinder cones in the park. I couldn’t help but think that the first explorers walking through this part of Arizona must have been astonished to suddenly come across a big lava field, and then another 60 miles or so away, they would come across the Grand Canyon. The countryside is indeed full of unexpected, beautiful surprises.

About 18 miles farther on was another national monument – the Wupatki National Monument, and this park had several old ruins from about 1000 years ago when the ancient pueblo people lived there. I walked out to the ruins in back of the visitor center, and this one had been a very large 100-room community oriented pueblo. It’s incredible to see all the old bricks, and how much of the structure is still standing. There was even an old ballcourt, which currently was flooded with water. And the most intriguing part of the site was a blowhole – a small hole in the ground that air continuously blows through. Scientists don’t really know the extent of the cavern underground that the air comes gushing out of, but the strength of the wind depends on temperatures. They’ve put a screen over the hole so people don’t step on it, but I leaned over the blowhole and was astonished how hard the wind was coming out. The Indians who lived in the area believed the Wind Spirit lived there in the ground. When I leaned over the hole, the wind was blowing hard enough to blow my hair straight out from my head, and when I took a picture of my shadow with my hair blowing out, I felt a bit like a spirit myself!

Then I drove a ways down the road to The Citadel ruins. This old structure had been built on a rock base high above the surrounding countryside, which, with all the grasses blowing, looked something like the African savanna. It’s unknown why the pueblo was built so high – whether to catch breezes, or for defense, or to not use up good farmland. I was able to walk inside these ruins, and it was kind of amazing to walk among bricks that were made 1000 years ago. The sun set while I was in the ruins high above the ground, and it was gorgeous. Watching the same sun set that the ancient Indians would have watched is pretty amazing. I sort of wished I could just haul my air mattress up the hill and sleep right in the ruins!

There was one more set of ruins to see before I left the park grounds. And once again, I could go inside – standing in one of the small partially-intact rooms of something that was built 1000 years ago is pretty powerful. I’m guessing people are still allowed to go in the structures because this park is a little off the beaten path, and doesn’t get nearly the volume of visitors that a place like Mesa Verde gets. It was very special to be able to visit these ruins.

By this time it was dark, and I continued on my way to Sedona. The threatening clouds finally let go and it rained most of the way there. But I didn’t mind – I’d done all my walking and I had a nice place waiting for me. Last Christmas, my brother gave me a gift certificate for a nice pet-friendly inn to stay at for a couple nights right in the heart of uptown Sedona. The room was large and beautiful and more comfortable than the places I usually stay! I could still hear the rain and it was a very peaceful way to end the day.

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