The Wupatki Ruins park and Sunset Crater are connected by a 35-mile loop road. Because we visited Wupatki first, we continued on the park road to Sunset Crater. You can also reach Sunset Crater via Highway 89, twelve miles north of Flagstaff.
En route to the crater, we stopped at a scenic overlook. The photo below shows the Painted Desert is the distance (barely discernible...unfortunately!) Honestly, it was beautiful in person.
Sunset Crater is a volcano that erupted for 6-12 months in 1064 AD. It is the youngest volcano of the San Francisco Volcanic Field (where there are over 600 cinder cones!) The Visitor Center exhibits provide information about the powerful geological forces in the region.
It is a 1,000-foot, cinder-cone, volcano that formed when molten rock sprayed into the air from a crack in the ground. The molten rock solidified and fell back to earth as large "bombs" and smaller cinders. The smallest cinders were carried by wind covering 800 square miles of northern Arizona with ash. All plants within a 3-mile radius were destroyed. Below is a photo of the volcano.
The final burst of volcanic activity involved red and yellow cinders from the vent that fell on the rim. The glow of these cinders is how the volcano got its name. Also, red cinder-covered centers mark a fissure where the last volcanic activity occurred. Can you discern them in these two photos?
Hundreds of thousands of people were encouraged to climb Sunset Crater resulting in extensive erosion of the cone. Climbing was subsequently banned over 30 years ago. The only way to see the rim is by making the strenuous hike on the O'Leary Peak Trail (we did not do this.)
The black soil everywhere from the eruption 900+ years ago is amazing. The lava formations at the base of the volcano are also crazy!
Admission to this park is $5/person or is covered by admission to Wupatki Ruins. John's senior pass gets us in for free. There are no restaurants, overnight accommodations or other services at this park.