The San Francisco Peaks as seen from the Lava Flow Trail
Published September/October 2014

Drive Through Arizona’s Explosive Past

Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road explores a volcanic landscape and pueblos from ancient residents

BYSusan Lanier-Graham
About 900 years ago, the ground north of Flagstaff rumbled and shook. A fountain of fire spewed lava and ash into the air, destroying much, yet also creating two sites now crowned as national monuments. The 35-mile Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road lets you explore Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the pueblo remains at Wupatki (pronounced wuh-POT-kee) National Monument.
 
From Phoenix, head north on Interstate 17 for the 2-hour, 140-mile trek. As you enter Flagstaff, Interstate 17 becomes Milton Road. If you continue on Milton Road for about 2 miles, the road turns to the right and becomes Historic Route 66. Continue through town for about 4 miles, and then head north on U.S. Highway 89 toward Page. In 12 miles, turn right onto the Loop Road for Sunset Crater and Wupatki national monuments.
 
In Lava’s Wake
Just after turning on the Loop Road, the first pullout on the right offers a panorama of the varied environments you can experience in Arizona. From where you stand in Bonito Park, the 12,600-foot San Francisco Peaks are to your right. You get your first glimpse of Sunset Crater to your left. The volcanic cone rises to 8,029 feet above sea level. Continue east on the Loop Road for 1.7 miles to the visitor center.
 
Back on the Loop Road, the left pullout for Lenox Crater Trail is about a mile ahead. If you walk down the hill from the parking area, you can explore the short, quarter-mile Aa Flow Trail (pronounced AH-ah), which gives you an up-close look at rugged formations and hardened lava flow.
 
Continue on the Loop Road for about a half-mile to the parking area for the Lava Flow Trail. This quick walk gives you unobstructed views of the lava flows and Sunset Crater. If you want a closer look, the 1-mile Lava Flow Trail winds along the base of Sunset Crater. 
 
The remains of Wupatki Pueblo and the ball court
The remains of Wupatki Pueblo and the ball court
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