Wupatki Nat’l Monument – Ancient Indian Ruins & Great Camping in AZ!

Flagstaff's San Francisco peaks seen across the meadow outside Bonito Campground.

Flagstaff's San Francisco peaks seen across the meadow outside Bonito Campground.

Coconino Forest's ponderosa pine woods.

Coconino Forest's ponderosa pine woods.

Wildflowers at Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ

Wildflowers at Bonito.

Sunflowers and San Francisco Mountains, Flagstaff, AZ San Francisco peaks, Flagstaff, AZ

San Francisco peaks.

National Forest Service campground, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ

Bonito Campground.

NFS Campground, Coconino National Forest, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ Coconino National Forest, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ Coconino National Forest, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ Meadow near Coconino National Forest Bonito Campground.

The meadow that used to be filled with

sunflowers is now parched and cracked.

Sunflowers outside Coconino National Forest Bonito Campground.

Some sunflowers line the road.

Ponderosa Pine outside Coconino National Forest Bonito Campground. Sunset Crater National Monument

Sunset Crater just before a downpour.

Nalakihu Dwellings in Wupatki National Monument.

Looking down at Nalakihu from Citadel Pueblo.

Nalakihu Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

Nalakihu Pueblo.

Box Canyon Dwellings in Wupatki National Monument.

Lomaki Box Canyon dwellings.

View from inside Wupatki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.

View from inside Wupatki Pueblo.

Lizard spotted at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ Lizard spotted at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ Box Canyon Dwellings at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Lomaki Box Canyon dwellings.

Lomaki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Lomaki Pueblo.

Window in Lomaki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Lomaki Pueblo.

Citadel Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Looking out at the high desert plains from Citadel Pueblo.

Wupatki Pueblo and Kiva at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Wupatki Pueblo and its round Kiva (gathering place).

Wupatki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Wupatki Pueblo, home for about 100 people.

Blow hole at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Mark plays with the blow hole's breezes.

Imminent thunderstorm and downpour in Coconino National Forest outside Sunset Crater National Monument

Our picnic is cut short by looming black skies.

Lightning in Coconino National Forest outside Sunset Crater National Monument

Lightning!

Bonito Campground & Wupatki Nat'l Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

August, 2011 - We crossed the Sea of Cortez from just north of Bahía Concepción on the Baja side of Mexico to San Carlos on

the mainland side in late June, a 75 mile jaunt.  It was the very best sailing day in our entire seven months spent cruising the

Mexican coast: bright sunny skies, flat seas, and a sprightly wind drawing us along on a close reach.  Our arrival in San Carlos was

the first step of our re-entry into civilization and the US, and each stage of re-entry was a shock.

Perhaps the most jarring

moment in this process was our

first trip to a Super Frys

supermarket in Phoenix.  What a

staggering abundance of

gorgeous produce, so beautifully

presented and in such perfect

condition!  Mark and I stood and

stared in amazement, mouths

open in awe.  "Where's my

camera?" I cried.  Our friends

thought we were nuts.

Getting to Phoenix from San

Carlos required an 11 hour bus ride,

and we then returned to San Carlos by

truck (a mere eight hour drive) to deliver

some things to the boat and relieve the

boat of other things

we didn't need any

more (winter

clothing!).

Then over the next

six weeks we

skidded from being

merely bone tired to

being utterly

exhausted as we ticked off the endless items on our "to do" list of

chores.  We lived as perennial house guests, bouncing between

generous friends' homes.

The madness culminated with finding new tenants for our

townhouse.  Sleeping on an air mattress in our empty

townhouse during a frantic week of repainting the interior, we

realized we had come full circle.  Four years of traveling, with

only the briefest visits to Phoenix, and here we were back in

our townhouse again, surrounded by the same smells, the

same noises, the same sensations that had been the essence

of our old home.  What had the last four years meant?  Had we

grown or just taken a big detour through life?  There was no

time to think about that; there were chores to do!

Once our

responsibilities were

behind us, we grabbed

the trailer out of

storage and dashed up

to Flagstaff as fast as

we could go.  We made

a beeline for Bonito

Campground, our all-

time favorite

campground.  Despite

being die-hard

boondockers, we splurged on a weeklong stay there while we re-familiarized

ourselves with the RV lifestyle and restocked the trailer with everything we had

pillaged from it for the boat.

Here at 7000' elevation we finally began to take stock and get some perspective on all

that we'd been through.  When we left Phoenix in 2007, real estate was peaking at

astronomical prices.  Now, on our return, there was a sea of homes in various stages

of financial distress and foreclosure.  Few real estate signs were visible, however.  The

panic was largely on paper and online, and too often was manifested in midnight

moves.  Some of our once-wealthy friends were now scrambling to pick up the pieces

of their lives, while other less well-heeled friends were suddenly able to afford

gorgeous homes.

The city's everpresent, massive

expansion into the outlying pristine

desert was temporarily on hold while it adjusted to the new economy.  Our

memories of Phoenix as it once was were overlaid onto Phoenix as it is today,

and there were areas where the images meshed, and areas where they were

like two different places.

Some of the changes were within ourselves as well.  Our souls were the same,

but all this traveling had expanded our knowledge of the lands around us, and

we had come to know ourselves better too.  These thoughts swirled around us

as we rested and strolled about Bonito's pretty grounds.  Life aboard Groovy in

Mexico felt like a far distant dream.

The land surrounding Bonito Campground has changed too.  Last year this part

of Coconino National Forest was devastated by the Schultz wildfire which wiped out some

15,000 acres, mostly on the area's mountain slopes.  Campers at Bonito were evacuated

twice, first to escape the fire and later to avoid the erosion-caused floods.  As a ranger

explained to us, the floods altered the landscape forever and

even moved floodplains.  Many nearby homes were damaged

or lost, a young girl drowned, and the water rose to about 8' in

the campground's amphitheater, leaving the place buried in

sludge.

Knowing some of this before we arrived, it was with trepidation

that we approached the campground.  The meadow that is

usually teeming with bright yellow sunflowers at this time of

year was devoid of blooms and parched and cracked in

places.  But what a thrill it was to see and smell our beloved

ponderosa pine woods.  Bonito's soul is the same, just singed

a bit here and there.  The wildflowers still line the edges of the

roads and promise to return to the meadows.  The

hummingbirds still buzz the campers looking for easy

meals in feeders.  Some ponderosas have blackened

trunks, but the tops are green.

However, the Schultz fire was

nothing compared to the volcano

that erupted at next-door Sunset

Crater around 1050 AD.  Spewing

marble-to-football sized chunks of

rock into the air for a few months

(or possibly several years), the

evacuation of the local farmers

lasted for generations.  The

volcano layered the land for many

miles around in a thick blanket of

cinder.  In its last moments it spat

out a final burst of cinder that was oxidized to a rust color.  This gives the mountain a distinctive

orange-red top to this day, and the sun and shadows spend their days playing with the color.

We took a drive through the

nearby Indian ruins at Wupatki

National Monument.  These

were built 50-100 years after

the eruption by the so-called

Sinagua people who returned

to the area to find that the

blanket of volcanic ash now

helped keep rare moisture in

the soil.  They somehow eked out a farm life, living essentially

"sin agua" or "without water."

The ruins are like tiny dots on vast open plains, each located

several miles apart.  The San Francisco mountains line the

horizon, but there are few trees or other protection between the open lands and the sky.

We opted to start at the far end of the drive, visiting the more remote

ruins first. These were built above small box canyons that are

essentially ditches in the ground bounded on two or three sides by 100'

rock cliffs.  The cliffs provide the only weather protection in the area.

The Sinagua people understood real estate:  location location location.

It was early

morning and utterly

silent.  The

crunching of my

feet on the gravel paths made the cottontail

bunnies run, and lizards of all shapes and

sizes scurried for cover under rocks along

the trail.  We were the only visitors at each

ruin, lending a sense of magic to each

place.

At the biggest ruin, Wupatki Pueblo,

Mark played with the natural

"blow hole" air vent.  The

National Park Service has built

a structure around it, but the

blow-hole itself is the real deal,

blowing air out or sucking it in

depending on ambient

temperatures and air pressures.

As we returned to the

campground the sky turned

black, thunder rolled and

lightning streaked the sky.  For

seven months on the boat in

Mexico we hadn't seen a single

drop of rain.  The deluge that came now was fantastic.

We drove through it

laughing, barely able to

see the road ahead, and

we jumped back in the

trailer, glad to have real

shelter.  It was so great to

be back in our RV lifestyle

again.  The rain pummeled

our roof all afternoon, and

we fell asleep to the plink

plink plink of raindrops

overhead.  Little did we

know the downpours

would continue for several days.  The sun finally returned in full blaze

as we took off to head north to Dixie National Forest in Utah.