Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
The Day the Earth Shook
Life in the desert for the ancient Sinagua Indian farmers was undoubtedly a challenge. They grew their corn along the rugged terrain of the San Francisco Peaks. They grazed their animals in the occasional open meadow. They had to contend with both drought and torrential rain. Still they flourished and were content to live in their pithouses, dugouts partially buried in the earth in order to keep cool. All that changed, however, when nearly 1,000 years ago the ground shook and the earth rumbled, erupting into a fiery volcano that destroyed the landscape and the tiny settlements that called the area home. In its wake was left entirely new mountains where once only meadows stood, including the Sunset Crater with its large cinder-lined cone, a timeless reminder of how dramatically life and landscape can change.
Arizona's Sunset Crater
The Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is located in the northern central part of Arizona, less than 15 miles north of Flagstaff, protecting over 3,000 acres of lava fields, cinder deposits and archaeological ruins. As the youngest of the Colorado Plateau volcanoes, Sunset Crater gives everyone from geologists to amateur sleuths insight into what the earth was like in the last millennium. The lava flows and cinder rocks are frozen in time, appearing red and clear as if they had cooled down just last week instead of hundreds of years ago. Amidst the hardened lava wildflowers and trees spout up, providing a gentle, colorful contrast to the powerful strength of the volcano. Even though the early settlers moved on to nearby Wupatki and Walnut Canyon following the eruption, fragments of the pithouses and early villages remain. Visitors can examine the volcanic landscape, stand in the very spots where hot, molten lava once flowed, and even follow in the footsteps of the astronauts, who trained for the first lunar landings at Sunset Crater National Monument in the early 1960's.
The Lava Flow Trail
While hiking is prohibited to the top of Sunset Crater to protect it from continued erosion, visitors can still experience the massive power of the volcano by walking the Lava Flow Trail. A gentle, one mile loop trail at the base of Sunset Crater Volcano, the Lava Flow Trail is a self-guided walk that takes visitors back in time to the early 11th and 12th centuries, before the volcano forever changed this impressive landscape. Views of the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks are visible from the Lava Flow Trail, further highlighting the dramatic differences between life before and after the eruption. This thirty minute walk is rated as easy to moderate, with a full ï¿½ mile section of the trail paved for full accessibility. Photographers will especially enjoy the vibrant color display put on by the wildflowers against their stark, volcanic backdrop and children will marvel at the "moon rocks" formed by the cinder deposits along the way.
Discover the Volcano
Discovery Packs are available at the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument Visitor Center and offer exciting tools to enhance your experience at the Monument. Inside you will find binoculars for enjoying far away vistas across the Peaks and a magnifying lens for close up examination of the cinder deposits and archeological remains. There are field guides about the plants, flowers and landscape that remain, drawing paper and pencils to capture your visual impressions, and a Field Journal to record all your observations and experiences.
Available at the Visitor Center, Discovery Packs are designed to be used not only at Sunset Crater, but also at nearby Walnut Canyon and Wupatki National Monuments as well. At the end of your visit, just return the Discovery Pack to the Visitor Center, taking your Field Journal home as a reminder of the exciting things you saw along the way. Families will especially enjoy the Discovery Pack however anyone with a sense of adventure or a curiosity about nature will be pleased as well. There is no charge for borrowing a Discovery Pack.
Getting To Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Entrance to the Monument is about 15 miles north of Flagstaff, AZ. Take U.S. 89 north for 12 miles. Turn right on the Sunset Crater - Wupatki Loop Road and follow it another 2 miles to the Visitor Center. The Monument is open from sunrise to sunset all year long. The Visitor Center is open every day except Christmas Day.
Sunset Crater Map
More Information & Related Attractions
Where To Stay
Sunset Crater is only about 15 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona where you can find a wide variety of Flagstaff hotels and Flagstaff bed and breakfasts. You'll also find an extensive list of hotels in Sedona which is south of Flagstaff AZ.