Eight hundred years ago, a savannah-like grassland covered much of this high desert with abundant grasses. The residents would have collected and burned much of the nearby fuel, necessitating long walks to adjacent areas to gather wood. Sparse annual rainfall forced the inhabitants to catch and save as much water as they could, or walk miles to other sources.
Since the use of the area by modern ranchers, the land has undergone other dramatic changes. Cattle grazing stripped much of the native vegetation away, allowing other plants, such as rabbitbrush, saltbush and snakeweed to dominate the vegetation. Although Wupatki National Monument was established in 1924, grazing continued until 1989, ending with the completion of a fence around the monument boundary.