Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sunset Crater Volcano; Photos Cannot Do it Justice.

Now when someone mentions volcano, I immediately think of the state of Hawaii; the Big Island still has active lava flows. I was on the island of Oahu twice; Diamond Head is a spectacular sight from a distance, not so much when you're up in the extinct crater. So, when traveling back to Utah along Route 89, after visiting Flagstaff, we saw the sign "Sunset Crater Volcano" with an arrow pointing at Route 545; we had to go check it out. I mean come on now, an actual volcano in Arizona!?! Roy and I ended up taking 120 photos; don't worry, I'll only be posting 16 of them, but no matter how many I share with you, they will not do this site justice.

You will not get the immensity of the landscaping; the walls of piled up boulders of lava; the feel of the soil; the feel of the lava rock itself; the twisted trunks of trees that did not burn.  As you walk the trail, the desolation takes your breath away and then suddenly, plant life growing up through the black soil, or between crevices in the lava rocks.  Taking a break upon the Lava Trail, the silence is eerie; there is obvious destruction as far as the eye can see, and yet it is beautiful.  Enough descriptive phrases, lets get to the photos, so you can try and get an idea of what we experienced.

The first map is of the general area; you see where the Volcano Monument area is in relation to Flagstaff, and how the road connects to Wupatki National Monument.  Hint, you will end up doing both Monuments; that's a given.

Map of General Area

Sunset Crater Volcano Map

As you drive along Route 545, you'll be in a well forested area and then suddenly the cooled lava flow will make its full presence known. Don't be surprised if you slam on the brakes to get a good viewing of it, and take photos. Being a cloudy day, I believe made the scenery around us look and feel more intense, or maybe it is like this all the time, no matter the weather.

After the Visitors Center, you end up at a parking lot near the beginning of a paved pathway.  A wooden bridge will take you over the first of the Bonito Lava Flow river beds; try to imagine lava running there instead of clear water.  The boulders are porous and yet can cut like glass, so be careful once you walk the actual lava trail.

Lava River Bed

There is a flatter section of black soil nearby with a dead tree; its silent story speaks volumes.

When the eruption year of the volcano was first estimated, it was by using the rings inside trees from the surrounding area (outside the burn zone of course); the year was 1065.  However, geologists were able to put a more accurate year to the time of eruption - 1085.

The paved walkway only goes for about a quarter of a mile before the Lava Trail begins; along the way you will appreciate the destructive force of the flowing molten liquid.

Here and there, take notice of how life is taking hold of this desolate landscape as plants grow in the blackened soil, and between crevices in the lava boulders.

The Lava Trail is a one mile, round trip, uneven path to the base of the crater; you will be walking over rough terrain, maybe even climbing over a boulder or two.  Take it slow and do not rub too hard against the lava boulders; they can be sharp.  Just ask my husband, Roy, how he ripped open one of his pants legs while pretending to be Indiana Jones.

Sunset Crater Volcano
Once you make your way back to your vehicle, get back onto Route 545 and follow it to the Cinder Hills Overlook for a fantastic view of the volcano.
Continue on Route 545 and the landscape will change from lava flow and forest to desert and sagebrush.  The San Francisco Peaks will be in the distance, to the left; as you enter Wupatki National Monument, prepare for a soul inspiring experience.  Till next time....
Mary Cokenour

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