Situated a short drive northeast of Flagstaff is Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. I'd visited the Monument briefly about 40 years ago as a novice traveler, and was eager to re-explore the site.
Sunset Crater was the most recently active volcano in the region. It last erupted about a thousand years ago, around 1085 AD. The eruption was significant and natives living in the immediate area had to evacuate, abandoning their homes and crops. The eruption caused a 6 mile fissure in the ground, spewing molten lava hundreds of feet into the air. As the lava cooled and the volcanic activity decreased, we were left with the landscape you can visit today.
The area affected by the eruption covers about 900 square miles. The center of the monument is the crater itself (a cinder cone, one of 600 in the region). There are several short hiking trails that take you through the lava fields, many through a rugged field of lava rock. Here are snapshots taken from some of these trails:
Plant life was slow to return to the area, as the cold dry climate of the region had difficulty eroding the lava into soil. Over the years lichens and mosses were established and today you can see ponderosa pine, juniper, and a few other hardy plants that can survive in the harsh environment.
The ponderosa pines of the monument were quite interesting. The one shown in the following two photos had one of the largest and most prominent roots I've ever seen on a tree in America -- a good adaptation for the dry climate of Sunset Crater.
The dead ponderosa pines we saw in the Monument have an interesting assortment of shapes, and often a lovely wood grain.
From the eastern side of the Crater, you have views of the Painted Desert below and in the distance.
We were lucky enough to see a few pronghorn antelope grazing nearby. They are among the fastest land animals in the world.
There are a number of places where you can see similar volcanic landscapes -- Hawaii and Iceland come to mind. But it you're traveling to the Grand Canyon, a stop at Sunset Crater is a nice way to spend a half day.