A volcanic eruption can be a good thing. For about one hundred years beginning around 1,100 AD, native people successfully farmed dry land containing just a few springs in what is now Arizona because a volcano nearby erupted about the time that rain increased. Dumped volcanic ash held water for generations and made growing crops possible. The ancestors of the Hopi prospered until gambling took over, crops were ignored, and prayers for rain became less frequent. Their main community is now in Wupatki National Monument and the volcano is Sunset Crater.
Wupatki is not the name of the community. It’s a Hopi word meaning “something long cut short”. Hopi ancestors settled in the crater area because there was lots of red sandstone for building a double-walled long-cut house that contained 100 rooms on 3 levels, a huge kiva, and a ball court also used for ceremonies. A blowhole expelling the breath of the Wind Spirit Yaapontsa is near the court. It was the largest community in a densely populated area now about 30 miles north of Flagstaff. A large portion has not been excavated to preserve ancient artifacts. Four other Wupatki pueblos can be visited, and east of Flagstaff is another National Monument called Walnut Canyon containing a cliff dwelling like Mesa Verde. Cliff dwellings were far less common than pueblos.
Hundreds of communities, now archeological sites, remain. Several are in Agua Fria National Monument that sprawls along I-17 north of Phoenix. If you attempt to see these, be advised that typical passenger cars will definitely have difficulties on its unpaved road. Ruth and I gave up after less than a mile.
Women held real power in Wupatki. The men built the structures but the women repaired, preserved, and owned them. Men were wintertime weavers. In addition to doorless sleeping rooms, men built storage rooms for processed food. Corn, we now imagine, was stacked like cordwood in them. The clever Hopi learned how to vent living quarters so that food could be cooked inside, and they created indoor drains to get rid of water. An open plaza area was on the back side of their pueblo. It was the hub of village life and reminded me of a crude Italian piazza. These were sophisticated folks who became expert barterers of scarlet macaws, copper, turquoise, etc.
According to the National Park Service brochure that reports on both Wupatki and Sunset Crater, the volcano quieted by 1250 and these pueblos were abandoned probably because food storage rooms emptied. Between then and now, Basque sheep herders lived in them; and now tourists delight in imagining what life must have been like here in northern Arizona when the Crusades were occurring in Europe and the Middle East.