Nearly all the lands within Wupatki National Monument in northern Arizona qualify for a formal analysis as to whether they merit wilderness designation, according to a survey by the National Park Service.
Wupatki preserves the remains of ruins and artifacts that trace the cultures that inhabited the landscape over the course of thousands of years. According to Park Service historians, less than 800 years ago the setting was the home of "the tallest, largest, and perhaps the richest and most influential pueblo around."
"It was home to 85-100 people, and several thousand more lived within a day’s walk. And it was built in one of the lowest, warmest, and driest places on the Colorado Plateau," the agency notes in a short history of the monument. "Human history here spans at least 10,000 years. But only for a time, in the 1100s, was the landscape this densely populated."
The Park Service's recent wilderness eligibility assessment of the monument determined that approximately 34,194 acres (96.5 percent) of land within the monument is eligible for a formal wilderness study.
The Wilderness Act and NPS Management Policies require that the Park Service review all areas within units of the National Park System to determine if any meet the criteria identified in the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 2006 NPS Management Policies. A wilderness eligibility assessment is a coarse evaluation of whether or not areas in a park should be considered for wilderness designation. This managerial evaluation is the first step under NPS policies in determining if NPS land would be eligible for future wilderness designation.
Wupatki National Monument is located 26 miles north of Flagstaff and was established to protect significant prehistoric archaeological sites. Wupatki National Monument is also home to many native plants and animals. The determination of wilderness eligibility increases the protection of this land from future development and reduces the overall impact of monument activities on the landscape until a more detailed study can be completed.
A wilderness study will be initiated in the future and include full public involvement. It will follow the National Environmental Policy Act to develop alternatives and any recommendations to the United States Congress for wilderness designation.