Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sunset Crater and Waupatki National Monuments

John was not completely correct about the squirrel I saw two days ago. The Kaibab squirrel is a distant relative of the Abert squirrel- I found out from a national park ranger yesterday that he was the one I saw. He can be identified from his relative by his lighter colored fur. Both squirrels are entirely dependent upon the ponderosa pines for food and habitat. Yesterday we took a side trip to Sunset Crater and Waupatki National Monuments before driving over to the Grand Canyon. There is a 35 mile loop road off of Highway 89 which connects both sites. I mentioned, in a previous posting, the presence of the San Francisco Mountains in the Flagstaff area. We discovered yesterday that the mountains are a large volcanic field with more than 600 hills and mountains. The volcanism has migrated from nearby Williams, Arizona during the past 6 million years.
 We walked the Lava Trail at Sunset Crater, which erupted sometime between 1040 and 1100. It is the most recent in the long history of volcanic activity in the Flagstaff area. The field has been inactive since the eruption of Sunset Crater. Large lava rocks and sparse vegetation is mostly what we saw along the trail. Unlike Hawaii, which has lush vegetation in its volcanic areas, plant life here does not as readily return after an eruption. The dry Arizona climate makes weathering of the ashes and cinders too slow for significant release of nutrients into the soil.
It is thought that people living in the area during the last eruption had time to leave. Pithouses found under the volcanic debris were discovered to be empty of personal possessions. A few generations later families returned to grow crops in the shadow of the crater. Slowly plants and animals returned too, some specially adapted to living on the lava. At the Wupatki National Monument there are the remains of masonry pueblos.
 People gathered in this village during the 1100s; what began as family housing grew into this 100-room-pueblo with a tower, community room and ceremonial ballcourt. By 1190, as many as 2,000 people lived within a day's walk and Wupatki Pueblo was the largest building for at least 50 miles. Other people have come and gone since the original occupants. During the late 1800s Basque sheepherders stayed here briefly.  In 1924 the village came under the protection of the national government. In the 1930s park rangers lived in the pueblo. The government, of course, charged them rent- $10.00 per month. There is a self-guided tour of the pueblo, which we enjoyed. It is possible to enter a couple of the reconstructed rooms and get an insight of how the people lived, adapted and even survived in this dwelling. Sections of the pueblo remain unexcavated.

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