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Wupatki National Monument was established as a National Monument in 1924 due to its archeological sites, which are among the oldest in the country. Experts estimate that the crumbling pueblo dwellings, at one point, consisted of between 80 and 100 rooms and were multi-storied. Discoveries of artifacts indicate that the dwellings were inhabited by Ancient Pueblo People for as far back as 500AD, and later abandoned in 1225AD, likely due to a volcanic eruption nearby. More recently, Hopi Native Americans lived and hunted in the area and gave the abandoned settlement its name: Wupatki, which means “tall house.” Indeed, these structures were once the tallest man-made structures for 50 miles around.
The closest town is Flagstaff, which is about 30 miles south. Flagstaff, in addition to its shopping and dining scene, is well known for its art and culture scene. The city holds several festivals throughout the year, including Flagstaff Festival of Science, Coconino County Fair, and Route 66 Days to honor the historic highway. Kickstart your Arizona RV camping adventure with a search for RVs in Coconino County.
Wupatki National Monument is unique in that, although it’s a large park, visitors are limited to a few short trails or embarking on longer hikes escorted by a park ranger. These restrictions are in place to protect the cultural site, which is exceedingly fragile and susceptible to graffiti and other damage. That doesn’t mean, however, that the park can’t be enjoyed. The trails, though short, are rewarding. Along the way, adventurers can enjoy sweeping views of the desert grasslands, rugged mesas and buttes that rise from the desert-like towers, and volcanic hills. To the west, the San Francisco Peaks loom.
The ranger-led hiking allows adventurers to veer off-trail into the grueling backcountry that passes by several archeological sites. There are a handful of options for hikers to choose from. Kaibab House Hike, Antelope House Hike, and East Mesa Hike are shorter, clocking around three to five miles each. Each pass by pueblo dwellings, historic sites, and petroglyphs etched into brick-red sandstone walls. The Crack-in-Rock is the longest and possibly the most in-demand one. The ranger-led hike leads stalwart adventurers over 20 miles of some of the most challenging desert terrain in the country. The region is very arid, and no water is available. All hikers are required to pack an adequate amount of water (the ranger will check).
Visitors to Wupatki National Monument can also venture up the Doney Mountain, which is a dormant volcanic cinder cone. Bring a camera and scour the landscape, both the ground and air, for life. At a glance, it can seem like a barren wasteland. However, with a little time, patience, and a dash of luck, wildlife will become apparent. Pronghorn antelopes, prairie dogs, and gophers are extremely common. Overhead, several species of raptor and carrion birds soar the vast blue sky, including vultures and golden eagles.
The lucky few may also spot predator animals like bobcats, cougars, and coyotes, which typically emerge after dark.
Because protecting these cultural remnants of a long-gone civilization is a priority, there is no RV camping at Wupatki National Monument. However, there are several options nearby.
RV camp in Coconino National Forest, which has three campgrounds. Bonito Campground boasts drinking water and flush toilets. There are 44 sites, all of which have picnic tables and fire rings. Pets are allowed if they are leashed at all times. Due to the high demand, it can be difficult to secure a spot.
Nearby Lockett Meadow Campground operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. The smaller campground has 17 sites, and campers can make use of a vault toilet. Each site has fire rings and picnic tables, also. This campground has no drinking water, and all guests should be prepared for extreme, arid conditions.
Prefer more modern amenities? RV camp near Flagstaff at the Flagstaff KOA. It boasts electric hookups, an on-site grocery store, and a laundry room. Campers can also access WiFi and TV.
Under the blazing blue sky and scorched red earth that stretches for endless miles in all directions, it can be easy to think that there isn’t much to see in Arizona. In fact, with a little patience and the help of a rental motorhome, there are several sights and attractions to explore. In between Wupatki National Monument and Flagstaff is a roadside attraction: the spirit totem. A trio of wooden stumps rise from the desert plains; its surface painted to resemble ashen faces. Their origins and history are unknown. Travelers often leave coins and turquoise stones as offerings.
Pete’s Route 66 Gas Station Museum in Williams, is a colorful piece of Americana’s history. The museum has on display several vintage vehicles that were abandoned at various points in the past few decades.
The heart of Arizona, Flagstaff, has several interesting museums, gardens, and other attractions for people to explore. The Museum of Northern Arizona highlights the area’s cultural and natural history. Permanent exhibitions include southwest art, Star Wars memorabilia, and dinosaur fossils.