Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

On the penultimate day of our drive across the country, Tom and I got to Flagstaff early in the afternoon.  We wanted a little extra time in Flagstaff so we could stock up on groceries before heading into the wilderness of the Arizona Strip.  We got there so early, however, that we also had time to visit a couple of National Park sites.  First up was Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

I expected to see volcanoes in Hawaii.  But the number of volcanoes in the western US has surprised me.  It seems there are volcanoes everywhere out here.  We saw them in Washington, Idaho, California, Utah, and now in Arizona.  Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is an excellent example of the number of volcanoes in western US.  The ranger at Sunset Crater told us there are over 600 cinder cones in northern Arizona alone.  Wow!

Sunset Crater

The indigenous people who lived in the area, precursors to the Puebloan people, watched from a safe distance as Sunset Crater exploded about 900 years ago.  The explosion burned their pit houses and destroyed their crops.  But, as the people moved a short distance away, they found that ashes from the volcano also improved their crops by holding moisture in the soil.

John Wesley Powell, famous explorer of this area, named Sunset Crater for the red and yellow colors of its rim.  As the Grand Canyon expanded tourism, people also began to visit Sunset Crater.  In 1928 a movie company proposed blowing up Sunset Crater.  Residents of the area pushed for its protection and President Hoover established Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in 1930.

Tom and I drove to the Visitors Center, which was just a short distance from our campground.  We hiked the short Lava Flow Trail and talked to a volunteer who was answering visitor questions.  We didn’t really stay very long.  It reminded us of a mini Craters of the Moon and we have really had our fill of volcanoes.  Cinder cones don’t look very different from one another, although Sunset Crater did have more of a red color than usual.  Probably because of all the Navajo sandstone in the area.

I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip to see Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument  It is, however, a great short stop if you are in the Flagstaff area.