Quick: Name a state known for its volcanoes. It’s likely Hawaii came to mind to mind for you; or maybe California. Washington is also known for its volcanoes. Many of us are old enough to remember when Mount St. Helens erupted back in1980.
Volcanoes formed over 600 hills and mountains in northern Arizona.
Few people think of Arizona as a state with volcanoes, but did you know that much of the mountainous landscape of northern Arizona is the result of volcanoes that erupted in the region for over 6 million years? Powerful forces beneath the earth’s surface shaped more than 600 hills and mountains of the San Francisco Peaks volcanic field.
If you visit Sunset Crater National Monument northeast of Flagstaff, AZ you’ll see the evidence of volcanic activity up close and personal. I first visited Sunset Crater one day after a winter storm dropped several inches of snow on the area. Although the white stuff provided a nice contrast for the photos I’m sharing in this post, it’s actually quite uncommon to see snow here.
The 1,000-foot-high cinder cone pictured above remains in the spot where molten rock once sprayed high into the air from a crack in the ground. While aloft, it solidified then fell to Earth as large bombs or small cinders.
As new gas vents opened near its base, spatter cones sprouted from the ground like miniature clones of the larger volcano. As periodic eruptions continued, the heavier debris accumulated around the main vent. Small, lighter particles were carried away by the wind, dusting 800 square miles with ash.
Equally impressive, two massive lava flow beds now rest where molten volcanic matter destroyed all living things in its path.
How did Sunset Crater get its name?
It’s likely the eruptions lasted for six to twelve months, punctuated by a grand finale of red and yellow oxidized cinders that shot out of the vent and onto the rim. The colorful glow from these cinders reminded people of sunset and led to the volcano’s name.
Can you climb Sunset Crater?
Climbing and hiking on the cone are prohibited in order to protect the fragile landscape. However there are number of designated hiking trails with in the park that provide spectacular views of Sunset Crater and other volcanic cones in the area.
Is Sunset Crater still active?
No, the volcano is no longer active. People who study this kind of stuff estimate that it was last active during the time frame of 1040 to 1100 A.D.
Where is Sunset Crater in Arizona?
Sunset Crater National Monument is located in northern Arizona at an elevation of just above 8,000 feet (2,400 m). In contrast to the desert landscape at lower elevations that Arizona’s known for, the terrain here is made up of tall pine trees and other wildflowers and shrubs commonly found in mountainous areas.
Tap the map below for directions to Sunset Crater National Monument.
How far is Sunset Crater from Flagstaff?
From downtown Flagstaff, Sunset Crater is approximately 18 miles (29 km) to the northeast via Highway 89-A. Drive time is about 30 minutes, one way.
Have questions about Sunset Crater or other natural wonders in Arizona? Drop them in the comment box below.