Storms over Wupatki Pueblo (all images courtesy of the National Park Service)

The Wupatki National Monument is one of North America’s most significant natural, historical, and cultural centers. In addition to its unique red-rock landscape populated by jackrabbits, coyotes, and eagles, the 56-square-mile park in North Central Arizona is home to more than 5,000 Indigenous archaeological sites. One of them, the Wupatki Pueblo, is a 900-year-old, multi-room stone masonry complex that once housed the ancestors of the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Yavapai, Havasupai, Hualapai, Apache, and Paiute. 

“Wupatki tells a long and irreplaceable story of human experience on the land through time,” said Ian Hough, an archaeologist and the cultural resources program manager of Flagstaff Area National Monuments. But this important symbol of human history and Native culture — which attracts some 200,000 visitors annually — is at risk. Centuries of seismic instability, flooding, and debris slides have threatened the park’s precious heritage for centuries, but increasing extreme weather events due to global warming have accelerated the vulnerable structures’ deterioration at an alarming rate.

Wupatki Pueblo

In response, the Getty has granted $1.3 million to the Center for Architectural Conservation at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. The funds will support the development of a conservation and management plan for the site, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary within the National Parks Service (NPS) in 2024. Penn’s Center for Architectural Conservation has been a longtime collaborator of the NPS, but the grantees will also partner with the Wupatki Cultural Resources Program, Vanishing Treasures Program, and the Western Center for Historic Preservation. Another team led by Paulo Lourenço, a professor of civil engineering at Portugal’s University of Minho and a specialist in historic masonry, will study Wupatki’s stone and earthen mortar construction systems. Together, the teams hope to develop innovative solutions to address Wupatki’s challenges that can also be applied to other climate-vulnerable cultural and natural heritage sites in the future. 

Another goal is to address the current conditions and threats to Wupatki’s delicate structures and landscape through a perspective that is more informed by Indigenous values and practices. To that end, the Penn team and their partners will rely on a network of local Indigenous community members and professionals. They will also work with the Conservation Legacy’s Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps to offer professional training, cultural heritage education, and career discovery opportunities to young people from Northern Arizona Tribes, initiating summer internship programs for Native students through Northern Arizona University. This part of the project aims to empower the next generation to steward Wupatki’s rich natural, historical, and cultural heritage responsibly.

Wupatki Pueblo at sunrise

Lauren Moya Ford is a writer and artist. Her writing has appeared in Apollo, Artsy, Atlas Obscura, Flash Art, Frieze, Glasstire, Mousse Magazine, and other publications.