Geologically-speaking, 900 Years Old is Young

People hike the San Francisco Peak trails in Flagstaff, Arizona. Unknown to many hikers, the area is eroded remains of a stratovolcano that erupted at its latest 400,000 years ago. Also within the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a cinder volcano, eventually named Sunset Crater, spewed cinder/ash only nine hundred years ago. It is this cinder volcano, geologically-speaking, that is considered to be young. People can visit this area now referred to as Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

When you visit Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument take time to walk a couple of trails. The Lava Flow trail is a one mile long walk on cinders/ash. The basaltic rock is dark and high in iron, once spewed from a vent as the cinder cone grew in size. It is amazing now to see trees and other plants growing from the solid lava.

Another trail, the Bonita Vista Trail has, for three-tenths of a mile, a paved, wheelchair-accessible path. It loops around and also connects to an amphitheater area. There is also an unpaved trail continuing on through the lava flow of this area.

People who lived in this area were displaced when the volcano was active in its eruption and creation of the cinder cone. They were the Sinaguans who moved away from here. Evidence shows they moved to what is now named Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. If you visit the Flagstaff area, there are plenty of historic places to visit.

Walnut Canyon National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Who lived in the cliff dwellings near Flagstaff Arizona? When you visit Walnut Canyon National Monument you’ll discover the 12th century Sinagua people had inhabited this area. They were hunter/gatherers and knew how to dry-farm, thus the term “sinagua” was coined in 1939 by an archeologist from Spanish words meaning “without water”. These people knew how to use the land in the canyon and at the top to capture and irrigate their crops. It really is a fascinating place to visit when trying to appreciate how 300 families lived and survived in these cliff dwellings.

As you walk down hundreds of steps to walk the Island Trail, the living and storage spaces are in varying degrees of restoration. Many years ago, unfortunately, others had raided the dwellings and taken pottery, etc.

The dwellings off in the distance in the cliffs have been undisturbed and the places buried at the highest elevation are yet to be excavated and studied. They would be the most fascinating to see. I guess that is why some people today study cultural anthropology. Of course geologists would enjoy looking at the cross-bedding and studying the rock layers in this canyon. Biologists would make sense of how the Sinagua survived foraging as hunters and gatherers. None of it seemed to be an easy life so I can understand moving south as next generations found this area.

There is also a rim trail to walk and see the dwellings in the distance, along with their irrigation and planting techniques. One does not need to walk the whole way down to the Island Trail, especially if feeling the steep walk back would be to much of an effort. Signs do remind you “returning is mandatory”, so I included just one section of stairway, as I think there are over 700 steps, and a path to provide a sense of what you will encounter on the loop walk.

Also in this Covid-19 time, a one-way direction on the Island Trail is encouraged and masks are to be worn when within 6 feet of another person. All were compliant in meeting that responsibility. Visit someday when you can and marvel at the life and survival of the people so long ago.