I've never been to see the Sunset Crater but if I did go I would definitely want Volcano Girl to come along and please explain to me what is a squeeze up? Is that a humongous hug of some sort where the person pops out of their arms and explodes joyfully in the sky?

For some reason people will get Sunset Crater Volcano mixed up with the nearby Meteor Crater. At Sunset Crater Volcano you will see a cinder cone rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape. Meteor Crater, is 35 miles east of Flagstaff on Interstate 40, is an impact crater measuring over 500 feet deep and 1 mile across.

Sunset Crater is a beautiful sight to behold. While eruption of Arizona's Sunset Crater is a fact. The legends of the nearby Hopi Indians are woven by storytellers even today. They call it "Earth Fire." Volcano Girl and I could be legendseekers, it would be glorious to watch the sun set in the chameleon sky from the rainshadow of the desert and hear one about this volcano and the wind god Yaponcha who long ago blew and blew.

The Hopis were greatly troubled by the wind...

    .....it blew and blew and blew -- all the time. The Hopis planted their crops, but before the seeds could begin to sprout, the wind blew the soil and seeds away. Unhappy and worried, all the people made prayer offerings of many kinds.

    But they accomplished nothing.
    The old men held councils in their kivas. They smoked their pipes prayerfully and asked one another,
    "Why do the gods turn such strong winds upon us?"
    After a while, they decided to ask for help from the "Little Fellows" who were the two little War Gods, two of the five grandsons of Spider Woman.

    "Why did you ask us to come?", was their first question.

    "We need your help," answered the old men. "Something must be done to the Wind."

    "We will see what we can do for you," said the Little Fellows. "You stay here and make many more prayer offerings."

    The Hopis make many kinds of prayer offerings--as many as there are prayers, and there are prayers for every occasion in life and death. They are reverently fashioned of various types of feathers, carved and painted sticks,and hand-spun cotton yarn.

    The Little Fellows went first to their wise old grandmother, Spider Woman. They asked her to make some sweet cornmeal mush for them to take along on a journey. Of course they knew who the Wind God was and knew that he lived over near Sunset Mountain in the big crack of the black rock.

    When Spider Woman had the cornmeal mush ready, the Little Fellows came back to the kiva where the men were holding their council. The prayer offerings were ready and also the ball that the Little Fellows like to take with them wherever they went. They liked to play catch with it. The men made bows and arrows for them to take on their journey which seemed much like going on a war party. The arrows were tipped with bluebird feathers, thought to be more powerful than any other kinds of feathers.

    The two Little Fellows started toward the San Francisco Peaks. The old men went along until they reached the Little Colorado River, and there they sat down and smoked their pipes. The smoking of tobacco among the Hopis, as among many other tribes, is strictly ceremonial. The sacred smoke carried the prayers of the Hopis to their Gods. Continuing their journey, the two Little Fellows played catch- ball from time to time.

    On the fourth day they reached the home of the Wind God who lived at the foot of Sunset Crater, in a big crack in the black rock. There he breathed through the crack, as he does to this day.
    The Little Fellows threw the prayer offerings into the crack and hastily put their old grandmother's sticky cornmeal mush into and over the crack, and thus sealed the Wind God's door.
    Phew--he became very angry, so angry that he blew and blew and blew, but could not get out. The Little Fellows laughed and laughed and then went home, feeling very proud of themselves and of what they had done.

    But after a while, the people in the villages began to feel very hot. Everyday the weather became hotter and hotter. People came out of their homes and stood on housetops to look toward the San Francisco Peaks, to see if any clouds were coming their way. But they did not see even a wisp of a cloud, and they seemed not to feel a breath of air. They thought they would suffocate.

    "We must do something right away," everyone said or thought.
    So the men made some more prayer offerings and called the two Little Fellows again.
    "Please go back to the House of the Wind God at once and tell him that there must be peace between us. Then give him these prayer offerings and let him out. This heat is much worse than the wind."
    The Little Fellows replied,
    "We will go and see what we can do with the Wind God to make life more comfortable for you."

    After four days, they arrived at the House of Yaponcha--the House of the WindGod. The Little Fellows decided that the wisest thing to do would be to let the Wind God have a small hole open--just enough to let him breathe through, but not enough for him to come out of the crack in the black rock.
    So they took a little of the cornmeal mush out of the crack. Immediately, a nice cool breeze came out and a small white cloud appeared. It floated over across the desert toward the Hopi villages.

    When the Little Fellows reached home, everyone was pleased. The Hopis have been grateful to the Little Fellows ever since. The winds have been perfect--just strong enough to keep the people happy but not strong enough to blow everything away.

    Every since then, every year in the windy month of March, the chiefs and the high priests of the three villages on the Second Mesa give prayer offerings to the Wind God, Yaponcha.

For hundreds of years the wise peoples of this area survived and flourished by learning to adapt. They understood the natural cycle of the land and allowed sun, water, and earth to influence their culture which is preserved today for all to enjoy. While The Battle of Hastings was building in Europe, the Nahuatlaca, Aztecan tribes sailed the Colorado and San Juan. With their canoes they used the rivers as highways to transport faster relatively heavy loads in all directions, better than by land. Nine hundred years ago earthquakes shook the area for five years, then the crater began as ash and cinders, erupting from a fissure in the ground. No doubt the ancient peoples of this painted desert wilderness watched as the volcano erupted blanketing the area with black cinder. From the Colorado River they watched the heavy eruptions with its dark menacing clouds by day and the dark reddish sky by night. Ash from the volcano was picked up and carried on the winds, eventually covering 800 square miles of the Colorado Plateau. It was a frightening and impressive spectacle that continues to be told and retold through the traditions of storytellers many who say that it was Spider Woman who had something to do with creating this crater.

When it erupted columns as high as several hundred feet continued on and off for over a century and a half. Three fourths of Sunset Crater erupted in a violent explosion of scoria that formed the cinder cone. One fourth of the magma erupted as lava flows travelling from the base of the crater leaving several black rivers of hardened lava. Over half of the lava now forms the Bonito Lava Flow which erupted from the west and northwest base of the cone and covered an area of almost two square miles. The Kana-a lava flow erupted from the base of the east side of the cone and traveled down a wash for six miles. A nearly symmetrical cone made of dark gray scoria and scattered bombs. (Volcano Girl would protect me from those bombs I'm sure!) About 1,000 feet tall and 1 mile across at its base, it was a Strombolian eruption meaning it was the kind that is defined by 'volcanic jetting of clots or fountains of fluid basaltic lava from a central crater.' For perhaps 200 years more, Sunset Crater continued its eruptions. Today some sites say it is dormant while others call it extinct. The last eruptions spewed red oxidized iron and sulfur scoria around the summit, giving one of the youngest scoria cones in the mainland United States a permanent "sunset" effect as noted by John Wesley Powell:

    "...A portion of the cone is of bright reddish cinders, while the adjacent rocks are of black basalt. The contrast in the colors is so great that on viewing the mountain from a distance the red cinders seem to be on fire. From this circumstance, the cone has been named Sunset Peak . . . which seems to glow with a light of its own."
The primary crater at the summit is 400 feet in diameter and the topmost cap of oxidized, red spatter is what makes it look bathed in the light of the sunset. The red, pink, and yellow colors at the top of the cone are silica, gypsum, and iron oxide that formed from fumaroles. Nooo you don't serve fumaroles with sour cream and salsa but they can be hot! If you REALLY want to know what one is you can look it up in Volcano Girls handy dandy guide to volcanic and geologic terms glossary.

About 10,000 B.E, the prehistoric paleo inhabitants of Arizona appeared then sometime around 2,000 B.C. Cochise Man began farming the area planting primitive corn fields. By 300 BC the Hohokam settled in the southern areas and during the Christain era the Anasaz came to the Four Corners area. Five hundred years later a collection of peoples called the Sinagua began farming near the San Francisco Peaks. By using tree rings found in the remains of buried Indian pit houses, archeologists have determined that it was in 1064 AD that Sunset Crater burst onto the scene becoming a part of the San Francisco Peaks . Here is a brief time line of the volcanos eruptive history:

    1064-1065 AD
      Eruptions reached surface through a 6.2 mile long dike that tapped a basalt source in the upper mantle.
      Initial eruptions probably formed a curtain of fire.
    1064-1065 AD continuing to 1090 or later:
      Black scoria tephra blankets region
      Initial construction of Sunset Crater cinder cone with black scoria.
    1064-1065 AD
      Kana-a flow begins.
      East flank of Sunset Crater collapses onto Kana-a flow.
    1100 AD
      Probable time of 512 flow and Gyp Crater eruptions.
      Construction of Sunset Crater cinder cone renewed or continued. Deposition of agglutinate layers.
      Tephra deposited on top of Kana-a flow and vent 512 flow. 1180 AD
      Bonito lava flow begins.
      Scoria deposited on flow units coincident with Bonito flow.
      West flank of Sunset Crater cinder cone rafts away agglutinate layers.
      Construction of Sunset Crater cinder cone renewed or continued. Deposition of unconsolidated black scoria layers.
      Tephra deposited on top of Kana-a and Bonito flows. Deposition of red scoria on Sunset Crater cinder cone summit, cementation of crater rim scoria by vapor-phase minerals.
      Bonito and Kana-a flows extruded.
      Eruption of black lapilli and bombs result in minor collapse of the east rim of the crater and formation of the small crater on the east side of the summit.
      No, or minor deposition of tephra beyond the cone margin.
      Eruption of rows of small red scoria cones on top of the black scoria tephra blanket east-southeast of Sunset Crater was after or coincident the above.
The next group of people to appear in the area were the Spanish Missionaries who named the mountain range there The San Francisco Peaks after St. Francis the patron saint of ecology. However, long before the Spanish explorers arrived the peaks were the "center of Hopi cosmology" and the Navajos named them as the "House of the Evening Light" using them as one of the four cardinal points of the Navajo universe Before the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano, natives of the region lived in mud covered pithouses and farmed the open meadows.The people moved away for several years and then returned during a wet period to farm the ash rich soil. There are about thirty cinder cones in the area and by far the most puzzling question that remains unanswered is why did these people vanish. Rainfall, springs, and intermittent streams provided a precious source of drinking water. Beans, corn and squash were planted along the washes and placed on terraced slopes to take advantage of rain runoff. Check dams also helped ensure crop success. Today the pueblos and houses of these people, once filled with the work of adults and the laughter of children, now stand in silent testimony to civilizations past, filled only with the sound of the wind. The lives of the Sinagua people of northern Arizona, who built the masonry dwellings of Wupatki, were profoundly influenced by the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano. It seems as though they foretold the impending eruption and relocated to settlements in Wupatki, Walnut Canyon, and the Verde Valley.

Those who moved to Walnut Canyon took advantage of the desert heat by building lodgings in the cliffs that faced to the south and east needing only three walls. Each room is made of Kaibab Limestone the forth being a natural ledge and impregnable fortress. Archaeologists think they probably learned to build these prehistoric condos from the Anasazi, who had been living in the Wupatki basin for years. After visiting the ruins in the early 1900s, novelist Willa Cather wrote:

    "All the houses in the canyon were clean with the cleanliness of sun-baked, wind-swept places, and they all smelled of the tough little cedars that twisted themselves into the very doorways."
Looters and cattle allowed to range freely among the ruins have taken their toll over the years. A campaign by Father Cyprian Vabre established Walnut Canyon as a national monument in 1915. From the visitor center you can hiking up a one mile steep loop and visit 25 of these rooms averaging about eighty square feet each.

Beginning around 1120 and 1195 AD a towering stone village called Wupatki, meaning "tall house" appeared. The people built their homes on an island of red Moenkopi sandstone that lays in a wash exposed by years of erosion. Cutting them into large slabs they arranged them in orderly stacks, reinforcing them with mud mortar, creating beautifully built pueblos. At its peak the community consisted of more than 100 rooms. During the 1800's the ruins were used by sheepherders as a camp and later looters invaded causing further destruction in the area. By 1924 a group of concerned people got together and petitioned the federal government to designate the area as a national monument. Today these sacred places of the modern Pueblo culture are a part of the National Park System. Various Hopi clans are traced back to these sites. As a source of cultural identity that provides a bond with ancestors. Vandalism and theft of artifacts weaken these ties, when you vist their home remember you are a guest, please leave everything in its place.

The Hopi call their ancestors Hisatsinom, meaning "People of the past." More often you may hear the people of the area called Sinagua derived from Spanish language; sin meaning without, and agua or water.

    The Sinagua people, living in their pithouses, quickly moved out of the area as Sunset Crater began its eruptions. Once the volcano began to quiet again, the Sinagua and Kayenta Anasazi returned and built new homes and pueblos to the northeast of Sunset Crater, in the Wupatki area. The ash from the volcano may have made farming in the area slightly better by using the dry ash as a mulch. (They discovered they could preserve the scarce moisture longer by adding it to the native soil). A slight change in climate may have made water more plentiful as well.

    The Anasazi, Sinagua, and other cultures had long been trading among each other, and in coming together, these neighbors shared even more of their farming, construction and pottery making methods. The cultural mosaic in the Wupatki basin grew and flourished for well over 125 years.

    By A.D. 1225, however, most of the people were gone. Was it the extensive drought that began about A.D. 1215 that drove them away? Did poor soil conservation eventually lead to loss of topsoil and worsening crop yields each year? Or perhaps social unrest of disease disbanded the many pueblos here. For whatever reason, the residents eventually abandoned their homes in the Wupatki area.

For seven hundred years these people roamed the desert domain in search of reliable food and water; of building mud huts, cliff dwellings and stone pueblos. Today scientist speculate that it may have been a great drought that occurred between 1276-1299 A.D. that drove these people to extinction. Many, they think, were absorbed into the Hopi trading their identity for a sustainable future.

Volcano Gurrrl do you think we could take the fire look out road up to O'Leary Peak? And then go back down to the base of the crater to another trail of more fascinating volcanic features like squeeze-ups, hornitos, fumaroles and clinkers? I can't wait! Did you know that in the 1920s, a man by the name of H.S. Colton saved the cone from severe damage by stopping a Hollywood movie company from blowing it up in order to simulate an eruption? This led to the establishment of the Sunset Crater National Monument which was later designated Sunset Crater National Monument on May 26, 1930. It became Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in 1990.

We could be gurls on the moon! A few miles westward of the crater is the Bonito Lava Flow. If you've never been to the moon, this is what it looks like. As a matter of fact, it looks so much like a lunar landscape, Apollo astronauts from NASA, including Neil Armstrong trained there in the 1960s? In 1969 many scenes from the movie Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson was filmed there too! First we might want to stop and take in a program given by park rangers. Then put on our hiking boots and hike the Lava Flow Trail. Then at the Lenox Crater Trail we could experience climbing a REAL cinder cone. Be careful climbing on lava flows they can be sharp, brittle, and unstable. I heard hiking the Lenex Crater cinder cone takes 45 minutes altogether, ohhhh about thirty minutes to climb up then another fifteen minutes to hurtle down!

No back country camping is allowed and hiking on the volcano cinder cone itself hasn't been allowed since 1973. But we could stay at the Bonito Campground across from the visitor center Super Girl! It's open from late May through the middle of October. There are 43 sites first come first serve and only costs 10 dollars a night. We can watch the stars come out at night to play, what a deal!

Walnut Canyon, Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments combined receives about 500,000 visitors per year. Be prepared for the Wind God though! Spring is usually mild, but heavy snowfall can occur. Summer days are warm with temperatures in the 80s. Afternoon monsoons are frequent from July to September. In winter, snow and freezing temperatures alternate with mild weather. Poisonous snakes and insects are common, they won't bother you if you don't bother them so keep a safe distance. This is their home and they are protected by Spider Woman, St. Francis and Volcano Girl, not to metion Park Rangers!

To get there: The country that surrounds Flagstaff, Arizona is one of the most beautiful and fascinating in the Southwest. Within an eighty miles road trip there is everything from lush, green forests to the rugged, colorful desert. From Flagstaff, take U.S. 89 north for 12 miles, turn right on the Sunset Crater - Wupatki Loop Road and continue 2 miles further to the Visitor Center. The entrance fee is $3.00 per person and includes both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano. Open year round except Christmas from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Don't forget Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time year round.

for ailie 'cause I lava her:)


Great escapes:Northern Arizona :

Native American Lore:

Sunset Crater, Arizona:

Sunset Crater Volcano:

Teacher's Resource Guide:

Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments:

Read more at U.S. National Parks and Monuments!

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