Scenic Northern AZ



     The San Francisco Peaks are the most prominent feature of the Flagstaff area.  Comprised of several peaks that are the eroded remains of a large stratovolcano, the San Francisco Peaks are a testament to the continual change of the San Francisco Volcanic Field on the Colorado Plateau.

     The San Francisco Peaks have long been a landmark for this area, and visible to early explorers for miles around.  The Peaks were originally named after a mission built by Spanish friars in 1620 in the Hopi village of Oraibi in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. by To the Native Americans, they are considered as sacred, the home of the Kachinas, and in watching the summer monsoon storms gather around the Peaks, there is always a sense of awe and wonder.

     The San Francisco Peaks are part of a much larger area known as the San Francisco Volcanic Field, which spans about 50 miles and has an area of about 1,800 square miles.  Consisting of almost 600 volcanoes and vents, mostly basalt cinder cones, the San Francisco Volcanic Field is almost six million years old.  Most of the Field lies in the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests, and contains young volcanoes along the southern border of the Colorado Plateau.  Almost all of the hills and mountains between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon are young but extinct and dormant volcanoes of the San Francisco Field.  While most volcanoes form along the


boundary of tectonic plates, the San Francisco Field appears to be the result of localized melting, or a "hot spot," fixed deep within the earth's mantle which holds a stationary position, creating volcanoes in a progressively eastward direction while the North American plate moves west.  The result is a chain of volcanoes, not unlike that which created the Hawaiian islands.  Most of the vents in the San Francisco Field are cinder cones, but the San Francisco Peaks themselves are the remnants of a much larger stratovolcano, built on the accumulation of cinders, lava and ash over hundreds of thousands of years.

     The stratovolcano which forms the present San Francisco Peaks was once a much larger mountain that formed between one million and 400,000 years ago, and it is the only stratovolcano in the San Francisco Field.  Sometime in its history, it experienced a devastating eruption event similar to what was seen in Mount Saint Helens in 1980, in which a significant portion of the mountain was ejected laterally creating the Inner Basin we see today.  The Peaks themselves are the jagged rim of this crater, so by following the lines of the existing Peaks to the apex of the mountain that once was, you can get a good idea of how San Francisco Mountain used to look.  Also present in the immediate vicinity of the Peaks are several large lava domes, such as Mount Elden which is an exogenous dacite dome, formed by several overlapping lobes of lava.

     The most recent volcanic even in the San Francisco Volcanic Field was the eruption of Sunset Crater about 950 years ago, and which was witness by the local Sinagua residents of the Wupatki area around 1064 AD.  This is considered the most active area of the Field, and while volcanologists say that future eruptions are likely in the next few thousand years as that has been the pattern for the last six million years, for now the area is considered dormant.  When an eruption does occur, scientists believe it will happen in the eastern side of the Field in the vicinity of Sunset Crater.  Scientists project that the eruptions will be spectacular, and locally small, posing very little hazard to residents due to the remoteness of the area in which they will probably occur.

     Without the formation of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Northern Arizona would be little more than an arid, flat plateau.  The mountains, most notably the San Francisco Peaks, create a much more dramatic and scenic area, with the higher elevations providing the environment for lush evergreen forests that span several life zones.  The area also has four distinct seasons which, coupled with our moderate climate, sets the stage for fantastic outdoor activities and sports.  During the summer months, many choose to hike the trails that abound in the San Francisco Peaks wilderness, some hiking to the top of Humphreys Peak for an absolutely incomparable panoramic view of Northern Arizona.  Cycling is also very popular, with several rural and urban bike trails.  When the Autumn begins painting the Peaks' many aspen groves with gold and reds, sightseeing and wildlife spotting are very popular.  The winter usually finds the San Francisco Peaks robed in a blanket of snow, perfect for downhill skiing and snowboarding at the Arizona Snowbowl, located on the Inner Basin, as well as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the wilderness around Flagstaff.





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