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Sunset Crater: Pictures of a Volcanic National Monument in Arizona

Arizona is a fabulous state filled with beauty and natural wonders. Amazing canyons (Grand!), mountains, and desert scenery await visitors.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

North of Flagstaff is the magnificent Grand Canyon, which people from all over the world visit to see and experience in different ways. But few people know that about 15 miles north of Flagstaff off of U.S. Highway 89 North is the national monument of Sunset Crater, which was established in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover.

This nearby (and comparatively little-known) national monument gets much less love than the Grand Canyon, but it is certainly worth a visit.

Except for the fact that the lava flows and ashes are no longer incendiary, one could almost think that this volcanic eruption happened just a few years ago, though it actually took place sometime between the years of 1080 to 1150 from all accounts.

Surreal Landscape

A part of the so-called San Francisco volcanic field of volcanoes, this surreal landscape is in the north-central part of Arizona. Snow-capped San Francisco mountain peaks offer a dramatic backdrop to the blackened area around Sunset Crater.

One can gaze up at the 1,120 foot (340 meters) high cone of ash and lava strewed landscape.

Look at the ash and volcanic debris right by the side of the road at this national monument.

Look at the ash and volcanic debris right by the side of the road at this national monument.

The Naming of This Crater

How did Sunset Crater get its name?

Because of the minerals that came spewing out from deep inside the earth when this most recent eruption of the San Francisco volcanic field took place, the top of this mountain of ashes and cinders seems to glow. It has a perpetual look, such as what the glancing rays of the sun might illuminate as it retires for the night sky to take its place.

Colors from the Sunset Crater volcanic debris in the foreground with San Francisco peaks in the background.

Colors from the Sunset Crater volcanic debris in the foreground with San Francisco peaks in the background.


This area of the protected national monument encompasses 3,040 acres of land. The Coconino National Forest surrounds Sunset Crater. One drives through lush wooded areas filled with ponderosa pine trees and other evergreen types of shrubs and trees before coming upon this stark landscape. The face of the earth instantly changed when this volcanic eruption took place centuries ago.

Before that occurrence, Sinagua Indians lived, farmed, and hunted in this part of Arizona. They evacuated for a time until they gradually migrated back sometime later when they learned that the fertile volcanic ash provided proper nutrients for their crops.

Most of their crop production was done utilizing methods of irrigation, as Arizona has a dry climate with little rainfall. The primary sources of water, in addition to mountain streams and lakes, is the mighty Colorado River. There are also tributaries of that river that run through the state.

Today human-made dams have created several other lakes in addition to the naturally occurring ones. The lakes provide not only water but also electric power for the people residing in Arizona.

Yours truly at this national monument

Yours truly at this national monument

Cinder Cone Volcano

Sunset Crater volcano is of the type classified as a cinder cone volcano. Imagine a tall conical-shaped hill with a bowl-shaped concave depression at the top. That would be the appearance if one were gazing directly down at the topographic summit of Sunset Crater.

When the volcano erupted, spewing volcanic bits of superheated magma into the air, this pyroclastic explosion captured gases that were mixed into the resulting rocks, cinders, and tiny bits of ash.

The ash dust can remain suspended in the air for some time. The ash darkens the skies causing airplane flight disruptions in service due to clogging of the engines, thereby causing malfunctions. The eruptions from the volcano in Iceland in 2010 grounded many trans-Atlantic flights and others, causing world-wide headaches for business and vacation travelers.

Of course, during the time of this volcanic eruption, airplanes did not yet exist.

My hubby at this national monument

My hubby at this national monument


For many years tourists could ascend to the peak of Sunset Crater, but due to erosive action from the many footprints, climbing to the top is no longer allowed.

Lava also flowed from breaks in the volcanic sides. One can hike along a one-mile (1.6 km) trail viewing the substantial Bonito Lava Flow, which decimated trees in its path.

Lava Tube

Tourists used to be able to walk in a lava tube at Sunset Crater, which has also been closed due to a partial collapse.

Lava tubes are similar to a pipe or tunnel with a hard outer core transporting water through the center. In this case, the outer edges were once molten magma, which eventually hardened, forming a roof and then sides. Finally, as the magma quits flowing, the bottom of the tube also solidifies.

These cave-like lava tubes can be various sizes and are often quite large. My husband and I got to walk through a portion of the Thurston Lava Tube when in Hawaii.

Changing Landscape Over Time

The lava flows and rocks, cinders, and ash from this volcanic eruption covered an area of over 800 square miles. Ever so slowly, vegetation is taking hold and reclaiming some of this landscape. It will probably take many centuries into the future before vegetation once again covers this area as it did in the past.

Bonito Lava Flow sign and information

Bonito Lava Flow sign and information

Bucket List Site

If you want to look at the effects of a past volcanic eruption up close and personal, then put Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona, on your bucket list. As you can tell from the photos and videos included in this post, it offers quite the dramatic landscape!

The visitor center has exhibits, and one can learn much about the forces of Mother Nature in this locale.

If you wish to see a nearby site, the Wupatki National Monument is just 15 miles down the road.

For entrance fees and information about one-time, annual, or lifetime passes, click on the source link at the bottom of this page.

Photo of this national landmark site

Photo of this national landmark site

Temperatures in Arizona

Arizona has been visited three times by my husband and me while on vacation to that warm and sunny state after some company-related meetings in the Phoenix area. We chose to head out in different directions each time to see more of what Arizona contains by way of natural wonders.

Arizona receives the most days on average of sunshine in all of the U.S. states. The temperatures can be sizzling in the southwestern part of Arizona in the summertime averaging between 80 degrees to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit but cools off to around 40+ degrees to almost 70 degrees in January of each year.

In the northern part of the state near Flagstaff, where elevations are much higher, it can be quite cold in January. It averages in the teens to 40+ degrees or so warming up in summer to highs around 80 degrees Fahrenheit on average.

We would be heading north after the meeting on this particular trip, and it was the month of February. So we knew ahead of time that we would need some coats or jackets to wear over our clothing to stay warm and comfortable.


National Park Service Site for Sunset Crater and Park Entrance Fees

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 04, 2015:

Hello Whatsittoyou,

It is too bad one can no longer walk to the top of Sunset Crater but it is being protected in this manner and is still fascinating to see.

Whatsittoyou from Canada on February 04, 2015:

It is too bad you can't climb to the top anymore, I am sure the view would be amazing. It would be nice if they could make a path that everyone had to stay on.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 29, 2012:

Hi Eddy,

Thanks for your hub visit to the amazing Sunset Crater in Arizona. It seemed even more so with some snow on the ground at the time of our visit. Appreciate your comment.

Eiddwen from Wales on September 29, 2012:

Wow anothere true gem/masterpiece.So interesting and the scenery is breathtaking. Up up and away here without a doubt.

Here's to so many more to come.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 27, 2012:

Hi TToombso8,

Hope that you get to experience Sunset Crater in Arizona someday. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on September 27, 2012:

Very cool, Peggy! I would love to go check this place out! Thank you for sharing your experience there with us! Voted up and more.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 27, 2012:

Hi Stacy,

The Meteor Crater is also an interesting place to visit. The fact that our astronauts have trained there makes it even more so. Sunset Crater is worth a stop even though they no longer let one climb to the top. There are so many places along your usual route between your home and going back to visit family. Nice!!! Thanks for the visit, comment and share.

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on September 27, 2012:

Ahhhh .... just another place to add to my list of places to visit. Often times when we are driving back home to Wisconsin we pass by this area. Might have to make a detour one day. Although for some odd reason when I first started this hub, the first thing that came to my mind was the meteor crater. I know - not even the same thing - but it brings up memories of my travels! :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 03, 2011:

Hi Ben,

That Thurston Lava tube on the Big Island of Hawaii is amazing! Am sure that you would enjoy walking through it as we did. Check out my hub on the all day tour of the Big Island if you want to see some photos of it. Hope you get there someday per your wishes and happy surfing! Just watch out for any great white whales!

Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on November 02, 2011:

I love it, so jealous of you and your husbands trip to Hawaii, that's where I was born! But sadly haven't been back, can't wait to surf there someday and on your recommendation, I'll look for those lava tubes!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 01, 2011:

Hi Ben,

As far as the Sunset Crater and Bonito Lava flow being "creepy"...it is simply what lava flows look like after a period of time. We were amazed at what active volcano flows look like as well as volcano tubes from long past active volcano flows when we visited Hawaii. Sooner or later vegetation starts creeping back in and taking hold obliterating evidence of past volcanic activity. Of course that takes time...LOTS of time! Our earth as well as other planets in our solar system (not to mention others further away) are always in a state of flux. Thanks for your comment.

Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on November 01, 2011:

I've never heard of Sunset Crater or the Bonito Lava flow Peggy sounds and looks wonderful and just a little creepy!


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 26, 2011:

Hi Prasetio,

Thanks for visiting this hub about Sunset Crater Volcano in Arizona. Glad to hear that you liked it. Thanks for leaving a comment and also a vote up. Appreciate it!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on October 25, 2011:

Wow...this was so beautiful. I am late to know this hub. Wonderful presentation and beautiful pictures. Thanks for share with us. Vote up as usual.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 25, 2011:

Hi Coolmon2009,

Did you get over to see Sunset Crater Volcano before or after visiting the Grand Canyon? Nice that this hub rekindled memories of your trip in any case. Thanks for your comment.

Coolmon2009 from Texas, USA on October 25, 2011:

Nice pictures and video, brings back memories for me. I visited the Grand Canyon back in 1993. Good article!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 24, 2011:

Hello donate-timeshares,

Arizona is loaded with sites worth seeing and Sunset Crater is just one small example. Hope you get there in person someday per your wish. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 24, 2011:

Hi Hello, hello,

That is a good question and I can't answer that...only hope and pray for peace. Glad to hear that you enjoyed the photos of Sunset Crater Volcano in Arizona. Thanks for your comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on October 24, 2011:

I love your hub. Those photos are fantastic. Gosh the world is so beautiful why can't people live in peace.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 23, 2011:

Hi Judi,

Arizona truly is a beautiful state! We have seen quite a bit of it on different occasions...but far from all of it. There are still things that I would like to see. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 23, 2011:

Hi Movie Master,

Glad that I could be the one to bring Sunset Crater Volcano in Arizona to your desktop. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Judi O from Texas on October 23, 2011:

Great article. Even though my brother lived in Scottsdale, we never traveled outside of Phoenix when we visited. Beautiful state!

Movie Master from United Kingdom on October 23, 2011:

I doubt I will ever get to visit Arizona, so I thank you for bringing it to me!

Great information and wonderful pictures of sunset crater.

voting up/awesome. Best wishes MM

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 23, 2011:

Hi acc12,

Fortunately my husband and I got to see both Sunset Crater Volcano and the Wupatki National Monument in the month of February after visiting the Grand Canyon and other sites. That is a great time of year to see these places! I have seen the Grand Canyon also in early June and I can assuredly say that the crowds of people at that time of year are diminished greatly in February! Of course with kid's vacation schedules...often summer is the only time one can take extended vacations. And you have kiddoes judging from all of those junior ranger park badges you have collected. :))

acc12 on October 23, 2011:

Awesome pictures of Sunset Crater! We were there in June several years ago and it was blistering hot! Having just explored Wupatki National Park in the 90 plus degree heat, just north of Sunset Crater on the same loop road, we cut our visit to Sunset short. Thanks for showing us what we missed! I'd recommend avoiding June - the sun was relentless.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2011:

Hello carcro,

That is what makes this Sunset Crater Volcano unique...at least for the present. Eventually, as you say, vegetation will finally take hold and obscure this type of scenery as we view it today. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2011:

Hi Cheryl,

It truly was something to be so close to this Sunset Crater Volcano and the sparcity of vegetation makes it seem like it erupted very recently. Thanks for your comment.

Paul Cronin from Winnipeg on October 22, 2011:

Great Pics, volcanos are incredible tools of nature. What's amazing is how hard it is to actually see an old volcano, they kind of blend into the scenery years after they stop smoking. thanks for sharing this!

Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on October 22, 2011:

Great hub and valuable information on Sunset Crater and the many areas visited in Arizona. Amazing photos and videos of the cinder cone volcano. A very different shape of volcano. I have included Sunset Crater on my future list of vacation spots.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2011:

Hi Om,

There is much to visit if in that part of Arizona...Sunset Crater Volcano being just one place of interest. Thanks for your comment. I'll be writing about other places soon.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2011:

Hi anndavis25,

Actually these were some old slides that we recently had converted into DVDs and my husband took a few of these photo shots. Usually I am behind the camera so seldom have pictures of me. The scenery is much more interesting anyway. Thanks for commenting on this Sunset Crater hub. Appreciate it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2011:

Hi thelyricwriter,

As is so often the case, visitors many times take in sites whereas people living closeby sometimes overlook or miss seeing them. You now know more about Sunset Crater Volcano in Arizona than you did previously. Ha! Thanks for your comment and hope that you are also enjoying your weekend.

Om Paramapoonya on October 22, 2011:

Sounds like a wonderful place. Arizona isn't too far from here. Maybe I should give Sunset Crater Volcano a visit at some point. Rated interesting and bookmarked for future reference. :)

anndavis25 from Clearwater, Fl. on October 22, 2011:

Hi Peggy. I'd sure like to visit Arizona. Feel that way every time I see all the hues of purple and red. Thanks for the pictures so beautiful, and you jumping in to personalize one or two.

Richard Ricky Hale from West Virginia on October 22, 2011:

up, useful, beautiful, and interesting Peggy. Always enjoy your travel hubs. I am glad you have had the chance to experience so many places. I wish I would have went there when I lived in Arizona. To be honest, I didn't even know about it. You have surely caught all the wonderful aspects of this place. Well done as always! Enjoy the weekend:)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2011:

Hi Charles,

Were you in Arizona on vacation or for another one of your art shows? I agree with you with respect to Arizona being a spectacular State filled to the brim with all kinds of beautiful and interesting sites. Thanks for commenting on this Sunset Crater hub.

charles criner on October 22, 2011:

Very beautiful Peggy. I went to Arizona just last week. It is an unusually beautiful place. Thanks for the information.........Charles.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2011:

Hello CMHypno,

That could probably be said for all of us. This world of ours is filled with so many interesting places! Sunset Crater Volcano is simply one of them. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on October 22, 2011:

Fantastic hub. This looks like an amazing place Peggy and the photographs are stunning. There are so many interesting places that I still have to visit!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 21, 2011:

Hello Alastar,

Nice that this hub was published in time for preparation for your travel plans to visit Flagstaff, Arizona and the surrounding area. There are so many places in addition to the Grand Canyon that are of interest like Sunset Crater Volcano (per the example in this hub) that are nearby sites. Enjoy your trip!

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on October 21, 2011:

Fantastic pics of Sunset Crater, Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon. This really comes in handy 'cause Flagstaffs a possible destination in future, so Sunset Crater will definitely be on the itinerary if and when. Your the best at these picturesque travelogue Hubs Peggy.

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