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Thursday, August 4, 2011


Rocky Mountain Bee Plants Surround SP Crater
North of Flagstaff

Roughly 71,000 years ago, the death throes of SP Crater volcano rocked the flatlands north of Flagstaff. During SP’s final moments, molten lava oozed from its base onto the surrounding high-desert plains, essentially bleeding the mountain to death. Over the course of its active phase, SP shuttered and quaked, splattering taffy-like ribbons of liquid basalt for miles across the landscape before sputtering out. Today, this extinct cinder cone volcano cuts a jaw-dropping silhouette on the skyline, attracting hikers in search of a challenge.
Not for the faint of heart, this “hike” involves a 600-foot, 32-degree climb on loose cinders – tantamount to clambering up a ramp of marbles. Once on top of the crusty rim, a 400-foot-deep internal vent gapes below. Quicksand-like substrate and an extreme slope make venturing into the vent dangerous, so it’s smart to stay on the rim. The 0.75-mile circumference hike around the vent features far-reaching views of the Vermilion Cliffs and Navajo Mountain in Utah. To the north, the 5-mile river of lava that signaled the end of this hill’s active phase flows out in a silent, lithic swan song.
LENGTH: 1.5 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION: 6,400-7,021 feet
RATING: moderate
DOGS: not recommended for dogs

DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 185 miles one way (3 hours)
GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, go 32 miles north on US 89 to just before milepost 446. Turn left (west) onto an unmarked dirt road south of Hank’s Trading Post; you’ll see the flattop cone of SP Crater looming on the horizon. Set your odometer and go 0.5 miles, veering left at the fork. At the 4.8-mile point, go right at the second fork. At the 6-mile point, go right again, continue 0.5 miles, and park at the base of the mountain.
Note: The roads are very rough with deep ruts. A high-clearance vehicle is required. Drive slowly and beware of roaming cattle.

INFO: Arizona State Land Department, 602-542-4631 (general info); 928-774-1425 (Flagstaff office)

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