What’s a Wupatki?

Box Canyon Pueblo

Box Canyon Dwellings © 2008 Bo Mackison

Wupatki isn’t a what, it’s a where. It is one of the five National Monuments we visited in Arizona when we were traveling the Southwest in October.

Wupatki National Monument is a high desert country that is 15 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The region is extremely dry and supports a few stunted juniper trees and desert creatures. It seems like a rather inhospitable place to settle and farm, but that is exactly what an early group of Native Americans did. As early as 500 AD, people we refer to as the Sinagua (“without water”) built homes and farmed small plots of land. They took advantage of water run-offs collected in a variety of pottery vessels to irrigate their corn, gathered edible plants, and hunted in the nearby mountains and desert grasslands where a larger variety of animals lived.

Doorway to the Bluest of Skies

Lomaki Pueblo – Doorway to the Bluest of Skies © 2008 Bo Mackison

The National Monument contains more than 2,700 ruins, the remains of structures that were inhabited until about 1400 AD. They constructed villages of multilevel, masonry pueblos. The Sinagua used red sandstone outcrops to act as a backbone for the bricks of fractured rock to make walls. To the north and west, the walls were built high to give protection against the winds; the walls to the south and east were terraced to take advantage of the winter’s sun. A water collection system was built into their flat roofs, and rain water was directed into storage pots.

These photographs are of Box Canyon dwellings, including Lomaki Pueblo, one of the smaller settlements in Wupatki. (Lomaki is the Hopi word for “beautiful house.”) Only a few of the pueblos are open for viewing. Most are protected against disturbance, but the buildings and area are not forgotten or abandoned. The Hopi and Zuni peoples believe their ancestors who lived and died here remain as their spiritual guides. They occasionally come to the grounds to enrich their personal histories and understanding of their clan.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Very spectacular shots. I love how you captured the shadows, light & sky in the second photo. The story adds wonderful context to your pictures. The extra info that you provide always makes your photos even more interesting.

  2. I’ve always love that area. The contrasts are extreme there with San Fransisco Peak in the background. Those people lived much more in harmony with the world than we do.

  3. suehenryphotography says:

    Very interesting — both the background on the images as well as the beautiful images themselves.

  4. So amazing and interesting. Beautiful.

  5. It always amazes me to hear about those who really struggled and succeeded to create farm land out of arid desert. Thanks for the ‘education’. Love the color in these images.

  6. Beautiful shots. I love the blue of that sky!

    I also enjoyed learning a little something about the place, too. Thank you. 🙂

  7. Chris Osborne says:

    Think of all the climbing on stuff I could do. That would be fun.

  8. I didn’t know what Wapatki was. Now I do.

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