Arizona has some of the weirdest places to visit. Those places make the greatest memories! One of the first weird places I want to point out is the Wupatki Spirit Totem.

Wupatki Spirit Totem
Wupatki Spirit Totem
Photo compliments of Mary Kooiker
Not for reuse

Wupatki Spirit Totem, Flagstaff, Arizona

The Spirit Totem is located on Deadman Flats at the edge of Navajo land outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. There is no absolute history behind the totem. Locals say the totem has been around forever. As far as I understand, the Wupatki Spirit Totem is named so because it’s close to the Wupatki National Monument. Travelers leave tokens at the totem, although no one knows why.

Perhaps it’s better to know about the totem before leaving a piece of you behind!

What happened at the spirit totem?

According to the archives of the Coconino Sun, a man froze to death on the flats over 100 years ago. Scott Thybony, who lived in the area for some time, gathered that a CO Bar cowboy told of a man stabbed to death on the land. Thybony’s interview with Pete Epsil, a local, told the story of a man who got mad at his horse and shot it and then shot himself. A dead man often leads to a spirit for our Wupatki Spirit Totem.

However, Thybony points out that these instances took place after 1900. The earliest record of the name Deadman Flats was 1892. Thybony then found a manuscript in which a Navajo elder told the following story:

“A Navajo elder related an incident. . . On a fall afternoon, the story begins, a Navajo man, woman, and boy were herding horses in upper Deadman Flat. The woman was in the lead as they approached a gap in the hills. Suddenly she spotted a party of New Mexican raiders being guided by Hopi scouts. . . From horseback, he (the boy) picked off the pursuers with his bow and arrows. Finally, the New Mexicans cut their losses ad turned back, leaving behind their dead and a name for the wide opening among the junipers.”

Is there an explanation for the totem?

Pamphlet that tells the story of the Hopi God of Death. I.E. Weird vacation spots in Arizona: Wupatki Spirit Totem.
Pamphlet that tells the story of the Hopi God of Death
Photo compliments of Google Images

These stories are interesting, but it still doesn’t explain the creepy totem.

A painting of a similar face or totem is found in the Desert View Watchtower, painted by Hopi artist, Fred Kabote. However, in the book Watchtower Desert View (Colter, 2015) all of the paintings have descriptions – except for that one.

In the book A Field Guide To Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest (Patterson, 1992, p. 3) there is a sketch of a similar totem called the God of Death or Maasaw (also spelled Masau. I have kept the spelling true to each document). Pages 104 – 105 of the book explains this evil Hopi god of death in further detail.

The Field Guide reprinted this story from the pamphlet Southwest Museum Leaflets 14 Hopi Indians of Arizona (1940). Here is a story the Hopi told:

Track of Maasaw (God of Death) in Myth

“They found a place where (there were) many footprints. . .Four days our uncles searched for the maker of the footprints. Then our oldest uncles saw, coming over the west mesa, a ‘who-was-it.’ Our uncle went to meet the stranger who was hideous and terrible, covered with blood and loathsomeness. . .when they came together our uncle took hold of him and it was Masau. . .(He, Masau, said) ‘Look in the valleys, the rocks, and the woods and you will find my footsteps there.'”

Looking over this information I (hypothetically) find the following:

  1. The hideous and evil god of death approach the Hopi Indians.
  2. The Navajo Indians rightly slaughtered bandits on what may be historically Hopi land.
  3. A man kills his horse and commits suicide.
  4. A man is stabbed to death.

Points 2, 3, and 4 take place on land that has (possibly) Masau the Hopi God of Death posted on a totem on the edge of the land.

Would you vist the Wupatki Spirit Totem?

Directions to Wupatki Spirit Totem. One of the strangest vacation spots in Arizona.
Directions to Wupatki Spirit Totem
Photo Compliments of Google Maps
Click the link for detailed directions

I went to visit the Wupatki Spirit Totem. I took pictures by the totem, but I didn’t touch the totem. I didn’t leave a relic at the totem, either. The Wupatki Spirit Totem is just too creepy to me!

According to Thybony (2017): “The Wupatki Spirit Totem is located on the East side of US Hwy 89, about 100 yards. north of milepost 443. It’s about 1.5 miles south of the Wupatki National Monument.” There is a dirt spot to park by the totem.


Would you want to visit the Wupatki Spirit Totem? What would you leave? Do you want more creepy travel ideas?

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