Visiting Quiet Ancient Ruins: Seven ideas for embarking on a meaningful journey into the past

Previously posted in November of 2014. I believe I experienced the windiest day of my life at the Wupatki National Monument in Arizona last weekend. As I leaned into the barreling winds, walking amongst the ancient ruins, I felt like I was rushing along and not really taking it all in even though I was there all day. As I stopped to take photos, I felt like my time in each area was as fleeting as the intermittent tidal winds tearing through the desert grassland. I was just passing by when there could have been something more.

Wupatki National Monument

How could I have given my travels more substance? Well, I’ve thought of some ideas that I’d like to go back and try. I think a lot of ideas will work with kids and adults alike in many quiet ancient places.

1. If you are camping near an ancient ruin that you plan on visiting, grab charcoal from the campfire (or bring along other sketching tools), a sketch pad and a camp chair. Find an inspiring spot at the ruin. Sit and analyze a particular structure or area. Instead of using pencils or crayons, use the charcoal to sketch a large pueblo structure, a window scene, vegetation or even a close up of a few bricks.

Wupatki National Monument

2. If experiencing an ancient monument and you have kids in tow, ask them open ended questions. I’d want to know what they would bring with them if they knew they had to move in order to escape a volcano’s eruption like the people in the Wupatki village had to do. How soon would they have started planning and packing? Where would they go to escape? Why?

Wupatki National Monument

3. Bring a notebook and write a short poem using the five senses, maybe even imagining what you would have experienced if you had been living in this village a thousand years ago.


4. As you walk through this monument, there are many reminders and explanations of why you should not move or take shards of pottery that are readily found on the ground. Instead of taking pottery, it may be fun to pretend to be excavating the site, especially with kids. Bring a small measuring tape, find a pottery shard and sketch it (be sure that you are also staying on the trails). Measure the shard’s dimensions and label your sketch with them. You may even want to measure the shard’s location in relation to man-made structures. Since the pottery from Wupatki comes from many regions, you can use the sketch to compare it to photos and exhibits in the visitor’s center to guess which type of pottery you found, ultimately drawing a sketch of what you think the entire pot looked like.

Wupatki National Monument

5. While walking through the monument, make it a goal to think of three questions to ask the ranger at the visitor’s center. This would be cool to do with kids too. They can “interview” a ranger and get practice using a research skill that may not be practiced at school.

6. It might be an intriguing challenge to draw a map of the village from a bird’s eye view.

7. If your kids have cameras, they can do a photo scavenger hunt. Find and take a photo of an animal, a view from a window, a silhouette, a family member smiling without looking at the camera, an inspiring man-made structure, and a breathtaking landscape.

Wupatki National Monument

When visiting the past, it can be easy to rush by while trying to see as much as possible. If you take your time, and focus on a strategy to connect with the site you are visiting, the past may not seem so long ago. You create stronger memories and become a part of the history of the ancient ruin with its ancestors along side you.

If you are interested in visiting the Wupatki National Monument, visit There are actually three Flagstaff National Monuments. You can visit them all on your travels.The Sunset Crater Volcano is an amazing site that I never dreamed existed in Arizona.There is a short hike that takes you through the lava flows. The website is Visit Walnut Canyon to learn more about the Sinagua and the extremely varied plant and wildlife,

Cinder Cones and Foliage

Cinder Cones and Life Taking HoldSunset Crater National Monument

About misslittleowl

A teacher writing about local happenings, school adventures, intriguing books, desert gardening, and whatever else she stumbles upon that needs sharing.
This entry was posted in For Teachers, Road Trips, U.S. Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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