Wednesday
Jul112012

National Monuments Near Flagstaff

Tour Description: Three very different national monuments are located within 20 miles of Flagstaff: Walnut Canyon, which preserves the 800 year old dwellings of Sinagua Indians in caves in the Kaibab limestone of Permian age; Sunset Crater, a cinder cone formed by an eruption in 1065 A.D.; and Wupatki, in which are located a series of Sinagua pueblos dating from the 1100s.

The tour starts at Walnut Canyon National Monument, a beautiful, wooded stream valley. High on the sides of the valley are the ruins of dwellings sheltered by overhanging Kaibab limestone cliffs. The ruins can be viewed from the visitor center on the rim of the valley or by taking stairs (240 steps) down to a loop trail that passes 25 of the cliff dwelling rooms. Physical abilities of the participants will determine which option the tour will take. A second 0.7 mile Rim Trail overlooks the canyon and requires no uphill or downhill walking. It is also optional. An excellent museum in the visitor center explains the life of the Sinagua here.

The tour then goes to Sunset Crater, a spectacular 1,000 foot cinder cone, well preserved by the dry climate and its young age. The visitor center has displays illustrating the origin of the volcano and other nearby volcanic features. On the way to the visitor center the tour stops to examine the Bonito lava flow, a basaltic flow of aa lava originating at the base of the volcano in its dying phases. Beyond this is the one-mile Lava Flow Trail at the volcano's base that shows a variety of interesting features. This trail is optional for tour participants.

The tour leaves Sunset Crater and travels along the eastern edge of the Painted Desert, arriving in about 25 miles at the visitor center of Wupatki National Monument. Here, the museum explains the history of the pueblo ruins and the life of the Sinagua who lived there. Behind the visitor center are the ruins of the main pueblo, a multi-level, high-rise with about 100 rooms. It is made of sandstone slabs from the Moenkopi formation of Triassic age, widespread in this area. A self-guiding tour takes visitors around the outside of the pueblo and then to a circular ball park and a large kiva (meeting room). Nearby is a "blowhole", a natural opening that takes in and discharges large quanities of air in response to changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure at the surface. After viewing the features of the pueblo, the tour returns to Flagstaff.

Recommended Length: A tour of the three national monuments can be accomplished in half a day. However, three-quarters of a day would give more time for enjoying the scenery and learning about each site.

Price Range: Tour rates for a half-day tour of the three national monuments are $100 for a group of up to 4 people and $150 for larger groups. A full day tour is $250 for a group of up to 4 people and $300 for larger groups. Shorter tours of less than a full day are proportionally less. Not included is the cost of transportation, which can be arranged. Entrance to Walnut Canyon is $5 per vehicle and to Sunset Crater/Wupatki is also $5 per vehicle and is not included. Meals are available at restaurants in Flagstaff.

Note: Tours other than the ones described here can be arranged to match your interestsPlease discuss this with us.