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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Walking Wupatki: Part 2

Wupatki National Monument
Citadel ruins and Citadel Sink

Nalakihu Pueblo
Whether this stone-hewn, hilltop structure was a swanky living space, fortress, ceremonial gathering spot or a Middle Ages-era marketplace we will never know for sure.  What is certain though is that this second stop on the Wupatki-Sunset Crater circuit will stoke your imagination.  A paved trail--suitable for strollers and walkers--leaves the parking area heading uphill on an easy grade. The site consists of two ruins.  The first is a tiny field building called Nalakihu (Hopi for “House Outside the Village”) that archeologists think was used by farmers in the 1100s.  Slabs of sandstone and lumps of black volcanic basalt mortared together in intricate layers form several rooms overlooking a stark landscape of improbable farmlands.  But farm the ancients did---using ingenious techniques like check dams to coax crops from brutal terrain.
View from the Citadel
Above Nalakihu sits the impressive citadel.  As the trail swings around the backside of the butte, a large sinkhole depression comes in to view.  This is "citadel sink" which formed when an underground limestone cavern collapsed. On the summit, a swath of geological wonders fills the horizon.  The flat-topped cone to the northwest is SP Crater---an intriguing destination for anybody looking to scale a cinder cone.  Framing the sinkhole are the San Francisco Peaks--the remains of a strato volcano that at one point towered to 16,000 feet before blowing its top Mount St. Helens-style shaving it down it its present 12,633' height.  The paved trail ends at the top of the butte, but those with sturdy footwear can enter the site (be careful on the loose rock) to check out how the citadel structure was built into the natural stone of the butte and ponder the millions of unanswered questions buried in the rubble.
LENGTH: 0.2 mile
RATING: easy, barrier free
ELEVATION: 5,380'- 5,440'
HOURS: open year-round sunrise to sunset
PETS: are not allowed on any park trails in buildings.  
Please do not leave pets in cars---heat can be fatal.
THE RULES: as with all archeological sites, it is illegal to take or damage anything.  Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Also, do not climb or sit on the fragile ruins.
From Flagstaff, travel north on US 180 to milepost 444.5.  Turn right and continue  4.3 miles (or 0.3 mile past the Lomaki site) to the Citadel Ruins parking apron on the right. Roads are 100% paved.
INFO: National Park Service, 928-679-2365

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