First Time at Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater, Wupatki, and Grand Falls

If you have ever hung out with Lee you know he has boundless energy, but today was packed full even for us. Flagstaff has three National Monuments in close proximity to each other, plus in his research he found a special surprise for me, but I’ll tell you about that later.  This is a picture-heavy post, so let me jump right in.  First up was Walnut Canyon and based on pictures I had seen I really didn’t have high hopes.  It just goes to show you that you should never assume, because this place and specifically the Island hike option are one of my favorite things we have done in the lifestyle to date! About 1,000 years ago a volcano exploded in the area, and the native people were forced to migrate.  Most moved north and built the pueblos we will see later, but some moved to this canyon and built houses right into the cliffs.  The Island hike is 1 mile, 240 steps, and looks way worse than it is.  Seriously, the stairs are built well and even though it was a good work out, my knees didn’t bother me at all.  Probably because the trail is down into the canyon and walks around the main island they lived on. I was so fascinated by what we saw I didn’t even care we were walking.  Absolutely, positively amazing and so worth the effort.  The entrance fee was $8 and totally worth it, or free with the America the Beautiful Pass.

The Walnut Canyon Visitors Center

There is a wheelchair accessible area where you can view the canyon, as well a rim tour that is accessible.

The view when you walk outside. Stunning

The surrounding cliffs have rooms built into them

Most of the homes were on the island though, and that’s where the walk takes you. See the path to the left of the big circle rock.

The path goes right to the ruins

And you can walk inside them

The path continues around the Island. The sunny side of the Island has completely different  vegetation than the shady side

I loved all the plants along the walk and signs saying what the natives did with them.

At the base you can see the visitors center way at the top

240 stairs, but there were benches strategically placed to encourage breaks, and they really weren’t that bad

After Walnut Canyon we went into Flagstaff and ate at a Chinese Buffet we had found.  The price was reasonable, but the food was only so-so, but we were carbed up for our next monument visit.  Sunset Crater Volcano was next, and of the three things we saw that day the most disappointing.  The price at $20 would have been way too high, but that price also included the Wupatki area which I loved.  We went ahead and bought an America the Beautiful pass to replace the one we lost, so it was “free” for us.

The first trail was the A’a Trail on the lava flow. It was marked as “Easy”, and only .2 miles,  but I found it harder than the Island trail because the path was so rough. Make sure you wear good shoes and watch your footing, because the surrounding Volcanic rocks are very sharp

Walking out was black sand which reminded me of the beaches in Hawaii

There were three other trails, but in the end we only did the Bonito Vista trail because it was paved and walked through the lava field.  The others were around the base of the volcano and just weren’t that appealing to me.  The volcano itself was kind of a bummer, because you couldn’t see down inside it so it only looked like a hill.  The lava flows and the cinder hills around it were kind of neat though, and it was interesting how little had been reclaimed in the 1,000 years since the eruption.

Sunset Crater

I liked the foothills though

The Bonito Vista Trail

Hard to capture how big the lava fields were

Cinder Hills


This shows a lava hot spot

Next up was the Wupatki ruins where most of the people migrated after the volcano eruption.  There are four major sets of ruins, and each one has it’s own trail.  We didn’t choose to walk every trail in its entirety, but we got up close and personal with Wukoki ruins which was our favorite.

The Wukoki site. Staff was working on the path but we were able to walk around

I loved the architecture

The doorways were very small


See how they built the walls using existing rocks so cool

Loved it!!

They also had a nice visitors center, with very helpful staff,  and I finally found a new hat.  I have been looking for a hiking hat for weeks, and couldn’t find anything that didn’t give me a headache or I thought would work with our lifestyle.  Lee found me the perfect one and although it was pricey at $52 I thought it was worth it because it has a chin strap, adjustable sizing band, is collapsible, but the brim has structure.  I know, pretty picky, but an annoying hat can ruin a hike.


I liked this display of Hopi dolls. The ones with legs are the more modern ones created for tourists

The rounded bottom ones are the more traditional design which I actually preferred

Lee found out at the visitors center that these holes that we see all over the desert are started by one small rock chip and the wind and rain over time widens the hole. They are really neat and each one is its own artwork.


Super happy in my new hat and since the money went to the National Park Service I felt better about the purchase.

The walk behind the visitors center was the Wupatki Pueblo Trail. It was a 1/2 mile long but had a fair amount of descent, which needs to be an ascent on the return,  and we decided just to look from the top of the trail. We already did our 248 step climb for the day.

I loved the round ball courts

Next up was the Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblo Trail

Loved the colors on this ruin

The Box Canyon ruins were great also and no one else was there

We could have spent more time, but there was one thing left that Lee wanted to see. The Visitors center had maps to Grand Falls on the Navajo Reservation and there was an easier but longer route on main roads or a back roads way to go.  Usually back roads have been friends to us but in this case I definitely do NOT recommend it.  None of the “roads” were marked and it was only Lee’s outstanding sense of direction that kept us on track.  Even so we passed three other vehicles and every time we stopped them to ask if we were going the right way.  It was that confusing.  Eventually though we made it to the main road of 70 and right past the cattleguard there is an unmarked left onto the Navajo reservation.  There was a Grand Falls Church sign on that corner, but no indication of the falls themselves.  We then went 9 miles on a well kept reservation dirt road and landed at the site.  It had restrooms, a pavillion, and a few viewing areas but nothing else you would expect to find for a natural landmark of this significance.  Don’t take my word for it though, here’s what we saw.

The pavillon

The view!! To give you an idea of the scale, it’s 185 feet tall, which is taller than Niagara. The main part of this picture shows only the first drop.

The falls were made when a lava flow changed the direction of the Colorado river and it’s tough to even tell you the scope of it.  I tried to capture it in pictures from the various locations, but it was huge.  Easily bigger than any falls we’ve ever seen.  There wasn’t a ton of water because we were at the end of spring, but Lee saw pictures where the water was full and I can’t wait to try and go back either earlier in the spring or in the summer monsoon season when more water is flowing.  The canyon itself was stunning though and even without the falls would have been worth the drive.  Both together were spectacular. 


To give you a feeling of scale, the pyramid shaped boulder in the lower right corner was at least 3 stories high





One of the best things we saw was a school bus driving along the top of the waterfall cliff.  For a moment it looked like it was going to go right over, but the road went down and crossed at the top of the falls.  Not sure what they do when the rains are higher, but we were nervous about taking our truck on that road, let alone a school bus.

The school bus top left

Here’s where it crossed the road at the top of the falls. During monsoon season this is not passable.

Lee’s panoramic

It was amazing, and I am so glad he found it, and like I said would love to go back again when there is more water.  It was a long day though, and we headed back, because we were pulling up stakes and heading back and meeting Cori and Greg at the Las Vegas RV Resort for a couple of days.  I highly recommend this campground if you are staying in town, but unfortunately we were only there a couple of days and then moving to Circus, Circus.  This is definitely not my favorite RV park in Vegas, but Lee was finally getting to spend his week with our youngest daughter and wanted to be located on the strip.

Before we ever went on the road, Lee and I talked about how we would make this week work.  He took our other two daughters to Las Vegas for a week after they turned 21, and we wanted to make sure our youngest would get a similar experience.  We set aside savings money to pay for it and my original plan was to hang out in the rig and largely let them do their own thing.  Thankfully, my mom has a time share in Vegas and when she heard we were coming here she booked it so I can spend the week with her in the time share, and Lee and Kay can have one-on-one Dad/Daughter time.  These weeks are really important to him and in my mind it is on a par with throwing a wedding. I am really glad I can spend time with Mom, and they can do all the fun stuff they have planned.  Since we are going to be separate this week, I decided to not even try to write the blog, so I will be taking a short hiatus.  It’s the first writing break I have taken since we have been on the road, and as much as I enjoy chronicling our adventures, I am also excited about having a week off.  Directly after my Mom and Kay leave we are pulling up stakes again and heading towards Oregon for our summer camp hosting gig.  I’ll catch up with you guys then, and thanks for understanding!

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8 thoughts on “First Time at Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater, Wupatki, and Grand Falls

  1. OK, I know this seems shallow given all the natural beauty you just shared with us — but can I please have the name brand of the hat you bought?? You had me at “adjustable sizing band”!

  2. What fantastic exciting things you have seen on this journey to the next! Love all the pictures.
    Both of you have a wonderful week off enjoying your families!!

  3. Pingback: Third Year – By The Numbers – Camper Chronicles

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