Serene Ponderosa Pine Forest entering the monument
The Native people living northeast of Flagstaff must have wondered what made the ground shake under their pithouses and farming fields nearly 900 years ago during the birth of a volcano we now call Sunset Crater.

San Francisco Peaks from Lava Flow Trail
These early farmers had lived under the shadow of the volcanic San Francisco Peaks for 400 years.

Sunset Crater
Several generations later families returned to grow crops in the ash enriched soil.

Cinder Hills and Sunset Crater Volcano
While they were gone what began as molten rock spraying high into the air from a crack in the ground, solidified, and fell back to the Earth as large bombs or smaller cinders. As eruptions continued the debris accumulated around the vent and over time built the cone shaped mound seen today.

Gated lava tube
In addition to these eruptions were two large lava flows, the Kana-a and the Bonito. Partially cooled lava pushed through cracks like toothpaste from a tube, cooled and cracked into unusual shapes. Rivers of lava flowed below and eventually drained downhill to leave behind tube-like caves.

Spatter cone
As new gas vents opened, miniature volcanoes called spatter cones occurred.

Unknown flower growing out cinders
I walked the one-mile Lava Flow Trail at the volcano’s base. Sunset Crater was closed to climbing in 1973 to protect its fragile and crumbly slopes.

Ponderosa Pine
Life returns slowly to this rocky land. Ponderosa Pines spread roots far in search of water and to maintain stability against harsh winds in loose unstable soil.

About 400 year old Ponderosa Pine
I learned that Ponderosa Pines (one of my favorite trees) can grow either straight or dextrally, spiraling to the right. Although the spiral growth reduces the overall strength of a tree it increases flexibility and provides a more even distribution of water to branches and needles.

Painted Desert in the distance
From Sunset Crater, Forest Road 545 continues through the Coconino National Forest to my next stop at Wupatki National Monument.