Scenic Northern AZ



     Located 15 miles north of Flagstaff, Sunset Crater National Monument is the youngest volcano in the San Francisco Volcanic Field.  Even though the eruption occurred almost 1,000 years ago, the lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as they did when erupted.

     In a series of eruptions, sometime between 1040 and 1100 (1064 is the date most commonly derived by tree-ring evidence), a series of eruptions created the 1,115 foot cinder cone that would come to be known as Sunset Crater.  The eruption destroyed all the plants and vegetation within a five-mile radius, and impacted and displaced the local Sinagua populations in the Wupatki area.  The eruption must have been truly frightening to them as it is estimated that the mountain shot a torrent of lava 850 feet high, and was accompanied by earthquakes and an ash cloud which towered over two miles into the sky.

     The eruptions of Sunset Crater covered an estimated 64,000 acres in volcanic ash and debris.  The lava flows produced by the eruptions are now known as the Bonito and Kana-a flows.  About 75% of the magma that was ejected from Sunset Crater erupted explosively as scoria, which


built the cinder cone and covered the area with ash.  About 25% erupted as lava flows.

     There are many stories about how Sunset Crater got its name, but the rumor is that John Wesley Powell first coined the term as the red and yellow cinders, formed by oxidized iron and sulfur, along the summit of the mountain reminded him of a sunset.  In 1887 Powell was visiting the area, and is said to have originally named it "Sunset Peak."

     Sunset Crater is federally protected and is a National Monument.  During the late 1920s, a Hollywood film company announced plans to detonate large quantities of explosives inside the mountain in order to simulate an eruption for a movie, which would have effectively destroyed it.  Public outcry over the plan eventually found its way to the White House, and President Herbert Hoover proclaimed it a national monument in 1930.

     Sunset Crater National Monument now has a visitor center and museum, and a hiking trail with a self-guided tour that leads below the slopes of Sunset Crater, and skirts the Bonita Lava Flow, giving visitors a close-up view of the twisted and jagged lava field.  Another point of interest along the trail is an ice cave, formed in an old lava tube, which contains ice all year long.  The old trail which once led to the summit of Sunset Crater was closed in 1973 due to the damage caused by hikers.




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