Photographing Native American Ruins in Arizonia

Mary at Wuptaki National Monument
Mary at Wupatki National Monument

Mary and I had a chance to visit three Native American ancient dwellings on our last trip to Arizona.  We visited Tonto National Monument near Apache Junction; Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff; and, Wupatki between Flagstaff and Page.  We are always inspired by the ingenuity of these ancient people and the beauty they left behind.  Here is what you might see.


Tonto is about two hours from Phoenix.  There are two houses; one that you can just walk up to and one that you need a scheduled guided tour.  These are cliff dwellings and it is always amazing to think about how these were built and how people lived in them.  After a half mile hike, almost straight up, you will find a 3,000 square foot house with several rooms.



Walnut Canyon National Monument is 20 minutes from downtown Flagstaff and is a must see if you are there.  There are many ruins tucked into the canyon and under-hangs.  You can walk into several of them and see many more on the hillsides.

There's one.
There’s one.
You need a 200 mm telephoto lens to get this composition
Mary inside one of the dwellings at Walnut Canyon
The main trail is about ten stories below the rim of the canyon.

This was our second visit to Wupatki National Monument which is not a cliff dwelling, but a very large building with several out buildings.  It is 45 minutes north of Flagstaff and a great stop off if you are driving to Page.  It’s 20 minutes off the highway, but well worth the side-trip.  No hiking here.  Its an easy walk around the ruins.

1604_PSA_Arizona_Infrared_753 1604_PSA_Arizona_Infrared_790-Edit

Here are a few hints..

Get there early – I always recommend you get to your desired locations early, preferably right when they open to get the best light and avoid the crowds.  We were all alone at Tonto for a good 20 minutes which was delightful.  By the time we walked down the hill, there were well over a hundred people on the trail and in the ruins.

Wide angle and telephoto – you could photograph all of these sites easily with a wide angle lens and a point and shoot.  However, at Walnut Canyon, you really need a 200 mm lens to get close to the ruins up in the cliffs.

Think black and white – Mary and I have infrared cameras that we use mid-day and covert the raw files to monotone or black and white while processing.  Even if you are using a color camera, think about converting the images later to black and white.

Be patient and be ready to walk – if you can not avoid the crowds by arriving early, then bring your patience with you.  Though these national monuments are very well maintained and have walkways and stairs, there is a lot of walking and resting, so plan your time accordingly.

Here is our very popular blog post about Mesa Verde – probably the most famous Native American Indian in America.

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