Erupting less than 1,000 years ago, Sunset Crater is the youngest in an impressive field of volcanoes all around you. The 1,000-foot-high (305m) cinder cone we see today formed when basalt magma rose directly to the surface through a primary vent. Gas pressure produced a roaring fountain of lava estimated at 850 feet (260m) high.
Pressure blasted the lava into pieces, which cooled in flight and piled into this cone-shaped hill. As gas pressure decreased, lava oozed several times from the base of the cone. When the magma ran out of gas, lava spattered the rim. The volcano was short-lived, only months or a couple of years at most from birth to extinction.
The bright-rimmed cone impressed John Wesley Powell, who explored the San Francisco volcanic field in 1885. He wrote, "The contrast in the colors is so great that on viewing the mountain from a distance the red cinders seem to be on fire." His "Sunset" mountain became known officially as Sunset Crater.
Dzil K'?dz?tsoo? (Yellow top mountain), Navajo
Mahdt billah (lava or burnt land), Yavapai
Ha gudni K?? (where it burnt), Apache
Palatsmo (Red hill), Hopi
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In 1943, a volcano erupted in a corn field near the Mexican village of Par?cutin, creating a cinder cone almost identical to Sunset Crater. This volcano was documented from birth (1943) to extinction (1952) and helps us understand what happened here 1,000 years ago.
Like Par?cutin, the eruption that created Sunset Crater destroyed the fields and homes of Native peoples who had lived in this area for centuries. Some families may have relocated to lower elevations, establishing new farming villages preserved now within Wupatki National Monument.
Farmers observe Par?cutin volcano, where the ash fall and lava buried five villages and displace thousands of people.