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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

LENOX CRATER & LAVA FLOW TRAIL

LENOX CRATER & LAVA FLOW TRAIL
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
San Francisco Peaks from Lava Flow Trail

Stranded at the trailhead.  That was me last Saturday when ALL of my hiking pals opted out on a planned hike in a remote area north of Flagstaff.  As we all know, it's not a real good idea to hike alone in seldom-traveled territory (see the movie 127 Hours) so, given that I still wanted to hike up north, I decided to alter my plans and solo hike a couple of the little touristy trails festering on my “some day” list.  That way, if I broke a leg or something, there would be several dozen people milling around ready to assist (or gawk).
O'Leary Peak from Lava Flow Trail
The new destination became Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and two easy lava-themed trails within the park. First up, Lenox Crater.  This short, up-and-back scenic trail climbs on crumbly volcanic ejecta to the top of an eroded cinder cone. The summit vent of this extinct fire spitter has long since worn way, but nice views of the eastern slopes of the San Francisco Peaks make up for the loss.  From this 7,000-foot vantage point, damage from the 2010 Schultz Fire appears as a massive swath of ash-brown stubble across the foothills.  At the trailhead, there's a fenced viewing area overlooking the rough-hewn geology of the Bonito Lava Flow—a fractured sea of basalt issuing from the base of Sunset Crater. It's a popular stop for people taking car tours of the park---so beware of rubbernecking drivers!  In terms of geological time, this volcanic event is very young, so the inky-black lava retains the sharp-edged rawness of new-borne rock.   Just up the road is the Lava Flow Trail.  This turned out to be much more enjoyable hike than I had anticipated.  The stark volcanic terrain is a mesmerizing maze of jagged Aa flows, acres of eerily fused pyroclasts and taffy-like rivers of Pahoehoe.  In addition, there's an ice cave, a splatter cone “mini volcano” and sweet glimpses of nearby 8,916-foot O'Leary Peak (a lava dome volcano).   Booklets available at the trailhead coordinate with numbered points-of-interest along the trail, providing a substantial dose of learnin' about the local geology, flora fauna and human history. Sadly, the day's (whopping) two miles of hiking went by in a flash--I was done by noon.    That provided the perfect excuse to squander the afternoon buying candles and coffee in historic downtown Flagstaff.
Lenox Crater Trail

LENGTH: Lenox Crater: 1 mile roundtrip
Lava Flow Trail: 1 mile loop and a 0.25 barrier-free interpretive trail
RATING: easy-moderate (uneven footing and loose rock)
ELEVATION: Lenox Crater: 6,940'-7,240'. Lava Flow: 7,000'-7,050'
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX:  166 miles one way
BEST SEASON: year round (may be snow in winter)
GETTING THERE:
Summit of Lenox Crater
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to the I-40 junction in Flagstaff.  Follow I-40 east to the US89 north exit.  Continue north on US89 to the turn off for Sunset Crater (FR545), located  just past milepost 430.  Turn right onto FR 545 and follow the signs 2 miles to the park entrance.  From the fee station, continue 1.3 miles to the signed Lenox trailhead.  The Lava Flow trail is another 0.5 miles farther up the road--can't miss it. 

FEES: $5 fee per vehicle.  Pass is good for 7 days.
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, visitor center
INFO: http://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm, Visitor Center phone: (928) 526-0502
MORE PHOTOS: Lava Flow Trail:

MORE PHOTOS: Lenox Trail:

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