Crack in the Rock Pueblo – Wupatki National Monument

Cool patch given to us by the rangers at the end of the trip!

Earlier this year, Joan put in for the lottery at Wupatki National Monument.  And the purpose of this lottery? A chance to hike to the “Crack in the Rock” Pueblo found within the national monument boundaries. Depending on park staffing, a few ranger-led hikes take in this Ancestral Pueblo dwelling not open to the public via self-guided tours. Though I’ve visited Wupatki before, I’ve never explored the typically restricted portion of the monument.

This guided hike is via an overnight trip only, off-trail, and requires carrying two-gallons of water. And it ended up being my first-ever guided backpacking trip.

On this trip, limited to fifteen people total (including NPS staff), we had two NPS archaeologists and an NPS interpretive ranger.  Meaning, we had world-class experts to guide us along the way to take in the Rock Images, Dine’ and Ancestral Pueblo dwellings, and other points of interest. Both Joan and I felt lucky to be in a position to enjoy this unique experience.

The NPS crew. PCO Joan

In addition to the rangers themselves, the education and experience of the trip members overall proved to be extremely high. Among the participants included an archeologist, a geologist, a botanist, and a geneticist. A lot of sheepskins among this crew in total. 🙂

The terrain differed from our usual haunts in Moab with more open ground and rocks that did not climb as sharply to the sky. But the open terrain of northern Arizona, with its views to the Painted Desert, has an awe-inspiring feel all its own.

The hike too in various Ancestral Pueblo dwellings:

With many of the usually expected artifacts:

And the unexpected, such as this shell that found its way to this desert landscape via ancient trading paths:

And the usual artistry found among the canyon walls:

We then went up the crack in the rock (Ah!) to get to the Pueblo dwelling that looked over the landscape.

Climbing up the crack in the rock. PCO Joan

Joan at the entrance to the building that leads to the crack itself below.

And the view from the top? Rivals any other vista I’ve seen from an ancient place.

We then made our way back to our campsite. A rare backcountry campfire and the conversation around it brought closed out the evening.

PCO Joan

The following day we made our way back to the visitor center via a different route. More dwelling, artifacts, and art greeted us along the way.

PCO Joan

And one panel, in particular, proved that the “fishing tales” trope is nothing new:

Perhaps the highlight of the Rock Images proved to be the archaeoastronomical panels that measured the passage of time on the solstice (I forget which one. Sorry!).

We soon made our way back. Appropriately enough, a portal of sorts greeted us before we went to the trailhead and the waiting NPS vehicles.

The guided trip to the “Crack in Rock” Pueblo proved to be an excellent opportunity and one I am grateful to have experienced with Joan.

The Wupatki sentinel

The Wupatki sentinel

More info?

  • Start first by reading the Wupatki National Monument page about the “Crack in the Rock” hike. This page has information about the hike conditions, logistics, how to get into the lottery, and other general information about the walk.
  • In reality, there are, at most, four hikes a year. Current staffing typically means two trips in April and two trips in October.  Including the NPS staff, only 15 people are allowed on the hike.
  • If you are coming from out of state, Flagstaff, AZ, is the closest major town at about thirty minutes away.  For further reference, Flagstaff is located a little over two hours away from Phoenix.  
  • Everyone meets at the visitor center for 8 AM. Remember that Arizona does not observe daylight savings time.  From there, you get shuttled up a rough service road to the trailhead via NPS vehicles.
  • Though the hike is ranger-led, it is not a “how to backpack” trip. A person should be comfortable with their gear and hiking in rougher off-trail terrain. There is not much elevation gain on the 8-10 MPD hike, but (other than an occasional social trail) no trails leading back and forth to the sites.
  • Having said all that, the NPS rangers always made sure of the safety and comfort of everyone. And being able to hike with archeologists who work in the park? Awesome!
  •  Yes, you do need to pack in two gallons of water. You are dry camping, and there is no water on the route. Even in the fall, the weather can approach 80F.
  • You are encouraged to take photos, but the NPS asks not to take waypoints, tracks, and or post the route online; for self-evident reasons.
  • If you are fortunate enough to go on this hike, savor it!
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Karl Gottshalk
Karl Gottshalk
2 years ago

What a great opportunity! What a trip! I never heard of this place. Incredible! Thanks for sharing.