Sunset Crater Volcano

Sunset Crater (from Arizona Leisure's website)
Sunset Crater (from Arizona Leisure’s website)

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is one of the less known, but extraordinary places, where we have an opportunity to learn much about Nature and Humanity.

The experience was special because Hilary Clark had made arrangements for the presentation of the Olmsted Play at the Amphitheater located in a magnificently beautiful and an educational marvel for all people who want to go beneath the surface of Nature, to be grasped by the evolutionary forces of Rock (geology), Flora and Fauna, with the emergence of humanity from thousands of years ago, and in contrast to our cyberspace world today.

Hilary Clark was a former Park Ranger at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (see their post about the event on their facebook page here) in Brookline, Massachusetts. Hillary wrote six important papers during her time at FLONHS from my perspective. These were descriptions of people and places that have influenced the growth and development of the conservation movement along with a number of works which focused specifically on a special place, The Arnold Arboretum. When you are with Hilary on a tour, the genuine love of the people and the place were communicated with intelligence, compassion and commitment.

Our agreement, which we came to when I was in Boston, was that on Friday, July 31st, I would meet her in Flagstaff, Arizona. It worked out perfectly. Hilary met me where I was staying, and we drove up to Sunset Crater Volcano for the evening performance of the Olmsted Play. A delightful, perfect group, most of whom were camping on the site.

Walking down along the path to the amphitheater surrounded by magnificent Ponderosa Pines, and my arrival at a giant lava flow from about 900 years ago was breathtaking. Beyond the lava flow and above the trees was Sunset Crater. Along with the Olmsted Play, there was a delightful presentation by Eric, who provided details of the formation of a volcano and the multiple ways in which history has been lived out by flora and fauna, with humanity being forced to retreat and/or move forward because of volcanic activity.

The story of volcanic action is not over. Beneath the surface of the earth, there are solid rock formations on fault lines and hot lava in a condition… that if the right combination of factors take place, humanity will be greatly disturbed again.

When I visited Sunset Crater the next morning, I knew I had to return. Something mystical, magical, spiritual. Also, “scientific facts,” which are often changed with more data (in undergraduate and graduate school I was preparing to be a scientist). My mind still attempts to think as a scientist. However, the power of the human spirit, combined with others in small groups and nations with strong identities and hundreds of religions across the world, each with their own interpretations and understanding, all make for more than a challenging situation for the continuing or the world society as we know it today.

As I stood before an immense open area near the base of a group the highest peak in Arizona, I read the information tablet describing the area, and I was deeply grasped when I read that this mountain range had been named by the Spanish religious leaders who traveled with (or just behind) the military conquerors of land and people. They named them the San Francisco Mountains, in honor of the most cherished Saint Francis, the Saint of Nature.

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