The Wind Spirit Ethnogeology from Sunset Crater National Monument The volcanic eruption shot lava 850 feet into the air. Bombs of fire killed every plant within a five-mile radius. A cloud of gas soared over two miles up into the atmosphere. Then, it then rained down over 100 square miles. This was the fantastic eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano nine hundred years ago. Remarkably, people were there to witness it.
Ethnogeology is a branch of science that explores the link between traditional stories from native peoples and the geological processes that built the landscape in which they lived. Sunset Crater National Monument is the perfect place to embark on this endeavor.
For more than two centuries people lived in the Sunset Crater area. Their name has been lost, but their stories have been passed on orally to the descendant cultures of the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo. The Hopi still tell the story of the wind spirit, Yaponsta.
Yaponsta liked to blow strong gusts and dust devils across the landscape. This made life very difficult for the people. These winds would knock down the corn or cover the young plants with dust so that they could not grow. The people grew weak and frightened. They gathered in the kiva to discuss what should be done to stop Yaponsta. It was decided that they would need help from the twins, Palongawhoya and Pokunghoya. The two war gods were summoned and agreed to help.
They told the elders to prepare a number of pahos, prayer sticks, while they went and sought the advice of Grandmother Spiderwoman. Grandmother told the boys that they would need to seal Yaponsta into his cave if they were to stop the winds. She told them to use a corn mush to seal the cave. So Palongawhoya and Pokunghoya returned to the kiva, gathered the pahos and corn mush, and hurried off.
At the base of the crater, they found Yaponsta’s cave. They quickly ran to the cave and threw in the pahos. As Yaponsta turned to retrieve the sticks, the boys quickly sealed the cave. Now Yaponsta was trapped inside.
Many days passed and the people became worried. Without the winds, no clouds came to their land and so also no rain. Crops began to die. No cooling breezes blew down from the volcano and the people began to suffocate under the oppressive heat.
The elders gathered again in the kiva to debate their fate. It was again decided to call Palongawhoya and Pokunghoya. They asked the twins to go back to the volcano and release Yaponsta for it was better to deal with his winds than live in the situation they had created. The boys returned to the cave, but instead of removing all the corn mush, they created just a small hole from which only some of Yaponsta’s winds could be released.
Today, you can visit Yoponsta’s cave by walking the to the end of the trail at Wupatki Pueblo. When you stand before it, you may feel air moving in or out. Geologists call this a blowhole. Connected to this opening is a vast underground passageway. In the morning when cave air is cool and dense, air pressure is lower than the outside air, so air moves into the cave. During the day, as the sun warms the air outside the blowhole, it becomes less dense and air pressure outside the cave drops. Now the air in the cave has higher pressure and comes out.
Passing storms affect air pressure too and can therefore influence the cave’s “breathing.”
Back in 1965 spelunkers lowered themselves 18 feet down the blowhole. They found the passages too narrow to continue, but calculations suggest that the passageway system has a volume similar to a cave 165 feet high and wide by 50 miles long.
NaturePods shares many stories to help you appreciate inhabitants of these special places. Don’t miss Yoponsta’s cave when you visit Sunset Crater National Monument. Sunset Crater, Walnut Canyon anNature Tracksd Wupatki National Monuments are all featured in the upcoming Flagstaff Area Monuments NaturePod, due out this summer.
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