Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another fascinating landscape

Last week we took another drive northeast of Flagstaff with Jacques and Claire. We planned on visiting Sunset Crator and the Wupatki Ruins. We packed up a lunch and made sure we had our Senior National Park pass and took off. This pass is the only thing great about getting old, so far. It costs $10 and it gets us, plus 3 people and a car, into any national park FOREVER. The only snag is that if we lose the pass we have to go to the place where we got it to replace it for free. That would be Scranton, PA. I don't think so. I'll pay the $5 to avoid Scranton.

Anyway, we stopped at the visitor center and got a map and headed to the first scenic view. As we drove along, out of nowhere, we noticed a huge, long pile of what looked like torn up highway from the Big Dig. It was a thousand year old lava field from the volcanos that existed in the area. The lava rock still looked very jagged and rough. A park ranger said it is because there is so little topsoil and rain that there isn't much erosion of it, if any.

At Sunset Crater, we parked and took a 1 mile walk through a lava field. There are many volcanos in this part of Arizona. There are several explanations for why there are so many in this area. You'll have to read the guide book to get the explanation, but it has something to do with the fissures between the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Province to the south. Got that? There are also different types of volcanos which are also explained in the guide. Speaking of which, the guide can be borrowed and returned or bought for $1. Pretty good deal. The San Francisco Peaks,seen in the background of the photo above, are the remnants one type of volcano. They are about 12,500 feet high now but were probably over 16,000 feet before erupting.

There is very little vegetation in the ashes from the lava. But what there is has adapted to survive. In this photo, you can maybe see the roots of a Ponderosa Pine that has toppled over. The trees face challenges of finding enough soil to root in and in capturing enough water as it drains out of the soil. They do this by spiraling the grain so it can bring enough water to all the branches and leaves evenly. It makes them more flexible but also reduces their strength. So, the are susceptible to toppling due to wind and soil erosion.

From here we drove out of the lava field and ash covered hills into a part of the "Painted Desert". It was an amazing site to see the grey ash end abruptly and see the multi-colored layers of rock in the distance. This is where the Wupatki Ruins are. They are one of a number of ruins located in this area. It appears that this area was built and occupied after the eruption of the volcanos. Maybe the eruption drew people to the area. Wupatki was settled by the ancestors of the Hopi and had 100 rooms, some for collecting scarce water, some for storage, some for community activities. They lived by farming and trading. There was no irrigation system so they may have carried water in some of the many pots found at the site. Archeologists think that upwards of 2000 people lived within a days walk of the ruins. Evidently, this ruin is more typical of the homes of the time as compared with the cliff-dwellings of the Sedona area.


  1. Pretty cool, Tony. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You've got something against beautiful Scranton....home of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company?

  3. Also, those pictures of the lichen-covered lava and the Wupatki ruins are fascinating!

  4. whats wrong with scranton?