Plan B Trip 2020 – Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments

We were on the last couple days of this unplanned adventure.  We needed to get from Flagstaff where we  stayed the night to Page, Arizona.  It was about a 4 hour trip, but we had a whole day to get there.  So we looked at the map and discovered a 35 mile loop road through 2 National Monuments.  We were coming from the south, so our first stop was at Sunset National Monument.

The visitor center just recently opened and was small but had a few interesting displays.  We learned that with the founding of Flagstaff in 1876, the volcanic area became a tourist attraction.  These visitors explored the lava flows and took the rocks as souvenirs.  They also looted the nearby Wupatki area of artifacts.  The final straw came in 1928, when a film crew came to the area and wanted to create a landslide on the side of Sunset Crater.  Activists, fearing the area would be damaged permanently, pushed for protection of the area.  In 1930, President Hoover, established a national monument to protect 3,040 acres of volcanic terrain.

Sunset Crater is the youngest volcano in the San Francisco volcanic field.  To the west of the monument is the San Francisco Mountains.  The mountains were named in 1629 in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, by Spanish friars.  The tallest mountain in Arizona is Humphreys Peak and is the second of 4 peaks located in the range.

Our first stop in the monument was the Bonito Lava Flow.  This flow came from the bottom of Sunset Crater’s cone.  The trail takes you through mostly Aa lava, which is jagged and rough.

To the south of the lava flow, is Lenox Crater.  This is a cinder cone that erupted 1,000 years ago.  The trail takes you up the ash and volcanic cinder debris area.

It also gave Jim an opportunity for a “between the tree” picture, as well as a pine needle dome left from melting snow.

The trail takes you to the outer rim of the crater.  The pumice field is very impressive.

Since we were in a motor home, pulling a Jeep, we were not allowed to drive to the lookout.  We settled for views along the road.  Sunset Crater, erupted around 1085 and is one of 600 hills created in the surrounding area, from volcanic forces.  The cone is 1,000 feet high, and comprised of heavy debris that accumulated around the vent. Ash dusted 800 square miles of the surrounding area during the eruption.

We continued the loop and stopped to look at the native bushes in the park. We liked that they were identified with markers.

As we neared Wupatki National Monument, the landscape began to change to a painted desert.

We stopped at one interesting roadside exhibit.  The park service is experimenting with self-propelled informational speaker systems.  As long as you are turning the wheel, you can hear the information.  It was not as easy as it looks.

Wupatki National Monument was originally placed on the Register of Historic Places in 1966, to preserve the Native American ruins.  The monument covers 35,253 acres, 3 major Pueblo complexes and 29 small structures.  It is assumed that the area was abandoned due to the volcanic activity in the area.  The inhabitants were able to farm and live with virtually little or no water.  The visitor center had numerous exhibits describing the cultural of the ancient Pueblo people.

Behind the visitor center is the Wupatki Pueblo complex.  It is believed that as many as 200 people lived here. It is believed that there were 100 rooms, complete with a tower.

It really was fascinating.  It is believed that as many as 2,000 people lived nearby and Wupatki was the community gathering place, as it was the largest pueblo for 50 miles.

There was evidence of cooking with fire pits.  They used an ingenious method of holes in the walls for the removal of smoke.

The complex also contained 2 circular areas.  One was the community room, where ceremonies would have taken place.  The other is the ballcourt, which was used for sports, socialization, and perhaps after a rain fall, a reservoir.

Our next stop was Wukoki Pueblo, which means big house.  This building could be seen for quite a distance. They were also one of the closer neighbors to the Wupatki pueblo.

The pueblo inhabitants were very small people…as evidence by the doorways.

This pueblo also had a very good view of the San Francisco Mountains.  It almost seemed like they had a balcony to enjoy the view.

We made a brief stop at the Citadel Pueblo.  The building at the base, once served as the original visitor center for the national monument.  It was returned to it’s original historical condition when a new visitor center was built.

The Citadel was built on a small knoll and was 3 stories high, with a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. There is not much left of this pueblo, but it is a great little hike.

Our last stop was at the Box Canyon dwellings.  These were built on either side of a small canyon.

There have been 800 years of farming practices discovered. This occured in carefully placed pockets of soil.  The Box Canyon inhabitants, farmed in the small canyon between the dwellings.

We decided to continue onto Lomaki Pueblo.  This sits on the edge of a small gully.

It was amazing that these ancient dwellings are still standing.

It had been a very interesting day of learning about volcanoes and ancient dwellings.  It was well worth the 35 mile side trip.