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Sunset Crater Volcano ~ Pictures of Old Volcanic Eruption in Az
Arizona Vacation Experience
Arizona has been visited three times by my husband and me while on vacation to that warm and sunny state after some company related meetings in the Phoenix area. We chose to head out in different directions each time to see more of what Arizona contains by way of natural wonders.
When I say "warm and sunny" the sunny part holds true all year long with Arizona receiving the most days on average of sunshine in all of the U.S. states.
The temperatures can be sizzling in the southwestern part of Arizona in the summertime averaging between 80 degrees to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit but cools off to around 40+ degrees to almost 70 degrees in January of each year.
In the northern part of the state near Flagstaff where elevations are much higher, it can be quite cool in January averaging in the teens to 40+ degrees or so warming up in summer to highs around 80 degrees Fahrenheit on average.
Thus when packing appropriate clothing to take while vacationing or doing business in Arizona, it all depends upon which part of the state one will be visiting as to what to plan and pack for the occasion.
We would be heading north after the meeting and it was the month of February so we knew ahead of time that we would need some coats and/or jackets to wear over our clothing in order to stay warm and comfortable.
Sunset Crater Volcano
North of Flagstaff is the magnificent Grand Canyon which people come from all over the world to see and experience in different ways. Obviously my husband and I visited there but since we were in that part of Arizona we also wanted to see other sites of interest.
About fifteen miles north of Flagstaff off of U.S. Highway 89 north is the national monument of Sunset Crater which was established in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover.
Except for the fact that the lava flows and ashes are no longer incendiary, one could almost think that this volcanic eruption happened just a few years ago.
In fact this eruption took place sometime between the years of 1080 to 1150 from all accounts.
Even though my husband and I flew over the Kilauea active volcano in Hawaii some years ago via a helicopter ride and also viewed the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island via a land tour, we never got this close to an actual mount of a volcano where one could gaze up at the 1,120 foot (340 meter) high cone of an ash and lava strewn landscape.
This is all a part of the so called San Francisco volcanic field of volcanoes and this surreal landscape is in the north central part of Arizona with snow capped San Francisco Mountain peaks offering a dramatic backdrop to the blackened area around Sunset Crater.
Why the name Sunset Crater you might be wondering?
Because of the minerals that came spewing out from deep inside the earth when this most recent eruption of the San Francisco volcanic field took place, the top of this mountain of ashes and cinders seems to glow with a perpetual look such as what the glancing rays of the sun might illuminate as it retires for the night sky to take its place.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
This area of the protected national monument encompasses 3,040 acres of land and Sunset Crater is surrounded by the Coconino National Forest.
Thus one drives through lush wooded areas filled with ponderosa pine trees and other predominantly evergreen types of shrubs and trees before coming upon this stark landscape which changed the face of the earth instantly when this volcanic eruption took place centuries ago.
Prior to that occurrence Sinagua Indians lived, farmed and hunted in this part of Arizona but obviously evacuated for a time until they gradually migrated back sometime later when they learned that the rich volcanic ash provided good nutrients for their crops.
Most of their crop production was done utilizing methods of irrigation as Arizona has a dry climate with little rainfall. The main sources of water in addition to mountain streams and lakes is the mighty Colorado River and some of its tributaries which run through the state.
This holds true today as it did back in earlier times preceding the volcanic eruption.
Today man made dams have created a number of other lakes (in addition to the naturally occurring ones) which hold water and provide not only water but also electric power for the people residing in Arizona.
Cinder Cone Volcano
Sunset Crater volcano is of the type classified as a cinder cone volcano. Imagine a tall conical shaped hill with a bowl shaped concave depression at the top. That would be the appearance if one were gazing directly down at the topographic summit of Sunset Crater.
When the volcano erupted spewing volcanic bits of super heated magma into the air, this pyroclastic explosion captured gases which were mixed into the resulting hunks of rocks and smaller cinders and even tiny bits of ash.
This fine ash dust can remain suspended in the air for some period of time darkening the skies and even causing airplane flight disruptions in service due to clogging of the engines thereby causing malfunctions. The eruptions from the volcano in Iceland in 2010 grounded many trans-Atlantic flights and others causing world-wide headaches for business and vacation travelers.
Of course during the time of the Sunset Crater volcanic eruption, airplanes did not yet exist.
For many years tourists were allowed to climb to the peak of Sunset Crater but due to erosive action from the many footprints, climbing to the top is no longer allowed.
Lava also flowed from breaks in the volcanic sides and one can hike along a one mile ( 1.6 km )trail viewing the substantial Bonito Lava Flow which decimated trees in its path.
Tourists used to be able to walk in a lava tube at Sunset Crater which has also been closed due to a partial collapse.
Lava tubes are similar to to a pipe with a hard outer core transporting water through the center. In this case the outer edges were once molten magma which eventually hardened forming a roof and then sides. Eventually as the magma quits flowing the bottom of the tube also hardens.
These cave-like lava tubes can be various sizes and are often quite large. My husband and I got to walk through a portion of the Thurston Lava Tube when in Hawaii.
The lava flows and rocks, cinders and ash from the Sunset Crater volcanic eruption covered an area of over 800 square miles and slowly, ever so slowly vegetation is taking hold and reclaiming some of this landscape.
It will probably take many centuries into the future before vegetation once again covers this area as it did in the past.
If you or someone you know wants to look at the effects of a past volcanic eruption up close and personal, then Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona should be on your bucket list of places to visit.
The visitor center has exhibits and one can learn much about the forces of Mother Nature in this locale.
As you can tell from the photos and videos included in this post it offers quite the dramatic landscape!
Be sure and visit the Wupatki National Monument just 15 miles down the road. For one park service fee you can see both of these national monuments.
Would you enjoy visiting Sunset Crater?
Be sure to visit this nearby national monument where the native Americans used to live.
- Wupatki National Monument ~ Photos of 12th Century Indian Ruins in Arizona
Largest Indian pueblo ruins in Arizona dating back over 800 years. See photos and videos of this remarkable site not far from the Grand Canyon.
© 2011 Peggy Woods