On the brisk desert morning of our proposed third day of our summer 2021 trek to the American West, we leave Petrified Forest and head due west and turn northward just before Flagstaff to briefly stop at Sunset Crater National Monument. About 1,000 years ago, a sudden eruption spewed molten lava and cinder ash and formed a cone and crater still extant today. It forever changed the landscape of north-central Arizona and must have disrupted the lives and culture of Native Americans who lived and hunted these once forested highlands.
Today, the cone dominates the landscape rising 999 feet above the surrounding hills. Visitors have been forbidden to hike to the rim not because of the threat of further eruptions but because of the fragile soil composed mostly of ash and cinders from that cataclysmic explosion centuries ago. A few trees, bushes, and grasses are eking out a shallow existence on the pyramidal slope and an occasional jackrabbit hounded by a coyote or two cautiously bound across the lunar-like landscape.
Stopping for lunch gives us a few moments to plan for an upcoming highlight as we approach the Grand Canyon. We will camp outside the National Park and take an afternoon and the next morning to explore and awe at chasms, pinnacles, and sunset and sunrise colors. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and we will deviate from our general plan of sleeping in most mornings so we can enjoy the sunrise over the canyon.