Listen to your Ranger
This is a National Park Service Ranger guided backpacking trip into the Wupatki backcountry that is offered on a limited basis in April and October. Details are available online at the NPS Wupatki website. You submit an application for a drawing. If your name is drawn, you pay a fee (currently $50) to reserve your spot on the trip. Do not attempt this trip on your own. The Rangers provide context on what you are viewing and protect fragile sites that are still being archeologically excavated. The NPS has monitoring stations to protect these sites and there are criminal penalties and fines for intrusions. This is not a normal trip description for these reasons. This is an incredible trip to some of the most awesome ruins in Arizona so I am trying to describe it here without compromising it.
We met at the Visitor Center at 08:45 hours on Saturday. Our group had the maximum of 11 people. The two Rangers gave us a briefing on Leave No Trace ("LNT") ethics, then drove us to a trailhead. We were not allowed to take GPS units or hiking sticks. They do not want GPS coordinates revealed that might compromise an archeologic dig. This high desert environment is fragile and metal hiking pole tips will cause damage that can't be corrected. By limiting the number and timing of trips, they conserve the ecology of the areas such that the areas can heal between seasons.
There is no water on this trip, so we had to carry a minimum of 2 gallons of water each. We needed every ounce. This adds 16 lbs to the normal backpack load.
On Saturday we hiked a circuitous route of approximately 8 miles and visited several ruins. We stopped often for side excursions and this 8 mile hike took 6 hours. We learned the difference between prehistoric and historic sites. We learned the difference between female Hogans and male hogans. We got to our campground in late afternoon and set up camp. The Rangers then took us to Crack in Rock. We learned the legend behind Crack In Rock and it is awesome. I won't reveal the secret in this trip description. No technical climbing was involved, but if you are afraid of climbing or heights, this may not be a trip for you.
We sat around the campfire ring and talked before turning in.
We broke camp and hit the trail by 08:00hours. Sunday is a different circuitous hike. Saturday is Ruins day with some petroglyphs. Sunday is Petroglyphs day with some ruins. We hiked for about a half hour then dropped our packs and hiked to a couple of mesas to look at petroglyphs. The lead Ranger had encyclopedic knowledge of these petroglyphs and helped us explore the meanings. Subtle differences were explained. Some non-technical climbing was involved. The Rangers kept us out of sensitive areas that have not yet been fully excavated. We stopped several times for side excursions. We saw numerous interesting features created by erosion.
We arrived back at the trailhead by late afternoon. We debriefed, filled out evaluations and went back to the Visitors Center and our vehicles. You can only do this trip once every three years. I hope to be back.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.