The day I visited there were high winds and a resultant haze, so the "vista" of the painted desert is not quite up to snuff, but there were still things to see and it was an enjoyable stop. There are also bathroom facilities available at this venue.
Located along Loop Road just outside the boundaries of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuement is this wonderful area called Painted Desert Vista. This vista also is equipped with picnic tables so you can relax and take in the beauty.
GPS for Painted Desert: N35° 23' 26.34", W-111° 25' 55.524" - elevation 6201'
While Sunset Crater Volcano was erupting, two lava flows originated at the base of the cinder cone. The Kana-A Flow outside the present monument boundary in the Coconino National Forest, broke through the eastern base of of the volcano and flowed more than six miles to the northeast, filling a narrow valley. The Bonito Lava Flow came from the northwest base of the volcano, and pooled over a 2-square-mile area as much as 100 feet thick.
As we drove along the park you can see the Bonito Lava Flow and we were so impressed to see such a fantastic site. In awe and some what frieghtened to know how powerful mother nature was back then and still is.
From here, you can see a very vast beautiful valley of the Cinder Cone Hills.
In the valley in front of you lies a series of red cinder - covered vents, marking a fissure along which the most recent volcanic activity occured. Sunset Crater, the volcanic mountain on your right, began erupting in 1064 A.D. began erupting in 1064 A.D. and marks the northwestern end of this fissure.
Caution: No oversized vehicles. The overlook parking area is small, with tight turns.
Between 1040 and 1100 Sunset Crater Volcano eruptioned several times destroying all plants within a 5-mile radius. A fountain of fire, 850 feet high, was visible for miles around. An ash cloud rose 2.5 miles into the sky, and falling ash covered about 64,000 acres. Sunset Crater was the reason for the Bonito and Kana-a lava flow. Sunset Crater Volcano cone is about 1000 feet high and more than a mile wide at the base; the crater measures 400 feet deep and 2,250 feet from rim to rim.
Today Sunset Crater dominates the beautiful view this valley possess. It is a cinder cone of red-brown patches formed by oxidised iron and sulphur. Famed John Wesley Powell, who was an explorer in 1887 called it 'Sunset Peak'. You are not allowed to climb Sunset, but there is a small trail at its base you can enjoy.
This wonderful trail is accessible for people with disabilities since it has a paved path. So everyone can enjoy. Although there is not hiking, you still get to enjoy the vegetation and beautiful scenery.
There is parking and a restroom.
Distance 1 mile round-trip
Time 30 minutes round-trip
Difficulty Easy to moderate
Accessibility A 1/4-mile section of this trail is paved and fully accessible.
I really enjoy exploring these wonderful facilities. They are a wealth of information and so educational. They also are a great place to get out and stretch out your legs. Also there is usually picnic tables and restrooms too. They had some really neat exhibits here.
Since Sunset Crater Volcano is closed to hiking due to erosional damage. This is a great way to spend some time with the family. From the top of the trail, you can see the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater and its lava flow.
Distance 1 mile round-trip
Time 45 minutes round-trip
Accessibility Steep slopes covered with loose cinders.
Look for the sign and parking is just up ahead the road.
This is a rather difficult drive to get up to the crater itself. From there, you need to park and hike in further. I was advised not to try and drive the road off Hwy 89, at 3 1/2 miles from Sunset entrance. Up from is FS 546 and that leads after 3 1/2 miles to FS 779. The hike to the crater top is rated strenuous because of the eroded cinder rocks.
All around the park 10+ mile drive, you can see these peaks from all vantage points. They are actually part of a 3,000 square mile volcano peaks and cinder cones created over 400,000 years ago and dating back to 1.4 million years BC. The large center collapsed and now this region is a huge caldera called the Inner BAsin.
This is a 1/3 mile paved path at first, and then goes down into the crater flow for a total of one mile round trip. The trail runs right through some impressive lava flows and around to foot of Sunset crater. It is an eery feeling to be right next to this lava' jagged and been laying here in this state for over 1000 years, untouched. The Sunset Crater was going to be dynamited back in 1929 for a movie set, but it got stopped and that is when they made it a park to protect the environment.
This is a steep climb (guess 12% grade)up a mountain side of 300 feet. You obviously have to come back down again. I felt like I was going to slide down and lose my footing and it could happen rather easily. The hike of the 30o feet straight up is not easy either; no switchbacks to get your breath. All that said, the hike was exhausting, but fun. It is one mile, and took me 20 minutes, mainly because of coming back down quickly through the tree cover and on loose gravel and lava.
This is a different lava flow form Sunset, which is the newest in US at 1046-1100 time frame. Lenox is 250,000 years old, so it has smoothed out into a gentle depression, as in a bowl shape. In fact, many trees now cover the depression area, and it does not look much like a crater as we would think of one. Some of Sunset eruption did land into this crater, making it rough in spots. The views are very panoramic, though, and a stop at the top is a good payoff
This is the large designated area in the park. It is the lava flow that came off the Sunset crater and created a 2 1/2 square mile deposit of lava/basalt. Many areas have collapsed due to the gases that were escaping. That makes the hike treacherous. It is an open area that is not usually hiked. The reason is that it is difficult and dangerous to try and walk over and through the jagged, rough, and rugged lava rocks. I did hike in there for about 1 1/2 miles to get that feel of being on another planet and go somewhere few do go to. It was neat, but was a very tough hike and always watching where to step. Some lava collapses under your feet and you can go down, and get easily cut of sharp rocks.
This formation is called a Squeeze Up. It is formed when lava is squeezed through a crack in the surface like squeezing toothpaste from a tube. The squeeze up will also feature vertical lines from the walls of the crack.
This formation is called a Spatter Cone or a Hornito. It is formed when lava is forced up through an opening in the cooled surface of a lava flow, like a miniature volcano. Please observe the Spatter Cone from a distance because it is very fragile.