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Wupatki National Monument

By January 11, 2014General Posts




Riding with Arizona’s Ancient Pueblo People

Text and Photos by J. Joshua Placa

As we wander the planet with no real destination except that place in our motoring mind pushed by adrenalin, the sensual beauty of a sweeping curve, and the pure, exultant thrill of discovery. As the miles and years roll by it gets harder to find that fresh road and soul-stretching horizon. But there is one particular place, little known to man and biker alike.

Wupatki National Monument, just north of Flagstaff, AZ, haunts its visitors with ancient Indian ruins, dormant but not dead volcanoes, rivers of cold lava and booming vistas of the Painted Desert. In one 35-mile loop, riders can see centuries of human and geologic history. Entering from the north end of the park, the landscape shifts from desert scrub to towers of petrified dunes and shades of red sandstone to fir and pinon pine forests and rolling fields of volcanic cinder. The high desert is dotted by the stone remains of pueblo settlements whose people mysteriously vanished after centuries of habitation.

At the south end of the park, scores of cinder cones gather like children to the towering mother volcano, Sunset Crater. The big, black conical pile of volcanic rubble stands at a foreboding 8,049 feet. Snow topped its crater only a day after I rode by on an early fall afternoon.