Wupatki National Monument is a protected site in Northern Arizona once inhabited by ancient pueblo people. The area’s first inhabitants arrived in about 500 A.D. After the eruption of the nearby Sunset Crater volcano, which enriched the soil with volcanic ash, the population grew to around 2,000. In 1225 the site was permanently abandoned. Desert life at Wupatki was difficult.
We visited the site in late July 2021, just after an unusual summer monsoon rain. As we walked the trail through the ruins, a park ranger was sweeping water off the path. He remarked that it had been over five years since they had rain, and he had never seen anything like that downpour.
One of the unusual features of this ancient settlement was a ballcourt surrounded by a short wall. The wall retained the water in the circular ballcourt forming a pool 105 feet (32 m) across. The ranger said it was the first time he had seen that ballcourt filled with water. Then something unusual happened. Small creatures began swimming in the “pool.”
Tourists, who thought the creatures were large tadpoles, alerted the staff who came to look. Lauren Carter, the lead interpretation ranger, examined them and did some research. She found that they were small crustaceans called triops. “Triops” is Greek for “three eyes.” These three-eyed creatures looked like miniature horseshoe crabs.
Even though the pueblo people abandoned the site centuries ago, desert life at Wupatki still exists. Triops eggs can survive in the desert soil for decades until the rain arrives to create a pool of water so the eggs can hatch. After that, they begin filter-feeding and molting until they mature in about a week. Then they lay eggs to produce a future generation.
There is also aerial desert life at Wupatki. Ravens and common nighthawks flying overhead quickly spotted the rare creatures swimming in the pool. They swooped down to gobble up some nourishment. The pool dried up in 3-4 weeks, the triops were gone, and the desert returned to its normal dry state. Thus, desert life at Wupatki was hidden away until the next significant rainfall in five or ten years, or perhaps decades.
I am amazed by God’s design for life on this planet, even in places where you can’t see it. Desert life in Wupatki has a purpose. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Faher feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)
— Roland Earnst © 2021