This morning, we headed north up route 89 bright and early. Our original plan was to head straight for the Grand Canyon, but we decided to take a small detour and see Sunset Crater and the Wupatki ruins. Both parks are just off route 89, along a 35 mile loop of park roads. We debated, worried about losing time at the Grand Canyon, but in the end, we pulled off the road and headed for Sunset Crater.
Sunset Crater is a dormant cinder cone volcano that last erupted sometime in the 1200s. We were ready for disappointment, since the park ranger took great joy in telling us that we would be allowed to see the crater (it’s been closed to hikers since the 1970s) and it was bitterly cold and windy. However, our first steps out of the car and onto the trail brought us alongside a lava field with giant extrusions, like so much black toothpaste had just hardened at the trailside one day. We followed the short loop – about a mile hike – and saw some amazing lava fields and entire mountain faces black with volcanic ash. As we got back in the car and drove north along the loop, we were treated to amazing views of several lava fields and a far off view of the Painted Desert.
About 20 miles further up the loop (past some of the most amazing scenery so far), we pulled off at the Wupakti ruins. The ruins at Wupakti are very different from our trip to Montezuma’s Castle – these are free standing dwellings rather than cliff dwellings. The biggest ruin at Wupakti was partially reconstructed in the 1930’s, so it’s possible to get a real picture of how the village might have looked a thousand years ago. The ranger pointed out that reconstruction wasn’t entirely a good thing – the site has been drastically altered, gravesites have been disturbed, and people viewing the reconstructed site can be fooled into thinking we know much more about the past than we do. Despite all this, there was something eerie about sitting on the stone wall behind the ruins, imaging the women who once sat there and ground corn. The reconstructed ruins made the whole thing very real for me.
Due to our morning’s detour, we reached the eastern entrance of the canyon around noon. We had our best views of the canyon here, since the crowds were so much thinner. As we drove along the canyon, the traffic became thicker. By the time we reached Grand Canyon Village, the parking lots were full and it felt more like a carnival than a natural wonder. We did get some great views near the eastern entrance, and we had a nice walk along rim trail just past Grand Canyon Village, but in the end, I think I’ve been far more impressed by the red rocks of Sedona, the cacti of the Sonoran desert, or the lava fields of Sunset Crater than by the Grand Canyon.
We finished up our evening at the Lowell Observatory back in Flagstaff. We had a great view of Saturn through the 24” telescope and saw some amazing stars while we waited our turn. The skies out here are so much darker than at home. I’ve never seen Orion’s belt or the Seven Sisters with the naked eye before. Stargazing in the telescope line was far more exciting than my quick view of Saturn through the scope!
All of today’s pictures can be seen here.