Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not yet a millennium

with 28 comments


I identified the previous picture as coming from our October 21st visit to Arizona’s Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you a picture of the volcanic features that are the site’s main tourist attraction. According to the flyer the National Park Service gives visitors, the volcano is estimated to have erupted between 1040 and 1100, so it’s not even one millennium old. In geological time, that was practically yesterday.

Notice the lava in the foreground, the ponderosa pines in various places, and the heavy covering of ash that is still acting over a large area to keep new life from springing up.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2016 at 4:44 AM

28 Responses

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  1. Volcano cones are interesting. We visited one in NE New Mexico on our way to Taos.

    Jim Ruebush

    December 8, 2016 at 6:30 AM

    • Was it Capulin?

      Your mention of volcano cones reminded me that the medical term pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is reputed to be the longest English word published in a dictionary:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2016 at 6:48 AM

      • It was. Very iconic look to it.

        I’ve never used that word in conversation. I need to find a doctor friend to try it on.

        Jim Ruebush

        December 8, 2016 at 6:57 AM

        • I see that the URL pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.com is available. It’s a bargain at just $3,120 at GoDaddy. You’d better snatch it up. Then you can bring it up in conversation and drive people to your website—assuming they can spell pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2016 at 7:05 AM

        • I’m not good at remembering dates, but I’ve always remembered 1066: the Battle of Hastings. It’s fascinating to realize these two events happened within the same time frame.

          I was surprised to see so much ash remaining, too. My suspicion is that the environment has slowed recovery, just as it’s aided recovery at places like Mt. St. Helens. For example, I’ve read that the early spring eruption of Mt. St. Helens, and the presence of a snow pack, helped to preserve underground life. Even though Flagstaff gets snow, it may not have had that protective blanket.

          The soil colors mix nicely with the ash. Is it the colors of the volcano itself that have given it the name Sunset Crater?


          December 8, 2016 at 7:50 AM

          • Before I knew 1066 as the year of the Battle of Hastings, which became so important in the development of the English language, I knew 1066 as the number of the house I grew up in. (It had been 40, but bureaucrats, always eager for unnecessary complexity, decided everyone needed four-digit house numbers.)

            The United States Geological Survey came to the rescue in answering your question about the origin of the name Sunset: “The cone is named for the topmost cap of oxidized, red spatter, which makes it appear bathed in the light of the sunset.” The article at


            goes on to say: “In the 1920’s, H.S. Colton saved the cone from severe damage by averting the attempt of a Hollywood movie company to blow it up in order to simulate an eruption. This led to the establishment of the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.” Hooray for H.S. Colton, and shame on Hollywood.

            Steve Schwartzman

            December 8, 2016 at 8:18 AM

        • This link should show Capulin.

          Jim Ruebush

          December 8, 2016 at 9:59 AM

          • I drove past it decades ago and seem to remember stopping briefly, but it’s worth more exploring on a future trip.

            Steve Schwartzman

            December 8, 2016 at 10:06 AM

  2. Love Northern Arizona! We have been to Sunset Crater many times. Did you get a chance to check out the Indian Ruins that were further down the road around the park? They are amazing.


    December 8, 2016 at 7:50 AM

    • We’d never heard of Sunset Crater or Wupatki until we stopped at an information center on our way north from Phoenix. We stopped first at the crater and then at the Indian ruins on our way from Flagstaff to Utah. For a photographer, both places, and so many others, warranted more time, but even on a trip as long as 26 days I could only accomplish a small fraction of what I would like to have done.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2016 at 8:07 AM

      • Well you will definitely have to go back and visit more of Flagstaff, The Grand Canyon and even Sedona sometime! Wonderful places with tons to explore!


        December 8, 2016 at 8:10 AM

        • You’re fortunate to have grown up in a part of the country that’s so much more scenic than Austin. We spent a week in Arizona two years ago; this trip was intended to fill in a little more of what we missed then. If you’d like to see the Arizona pictures I showed from the previous trip and the ones that have appeared so far from the new trip, you can scroll down through the posts at


          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2016 at 8:46 AM

  3. That is truly remarkable because in the aftermath of Mt. St. Helens’ eruption life returned very quickly. I imagine the difference is water.


    December 8, 2016 at 7:55 AM

    • Water is a plausible explanation, given the very different climates in the two places.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2016 at 8:48 AM

      • Here’s a wonderful link that includes satellite images of Mt. St. Helens from 1979 to 2014. I thought it was interesting that prairie lupine, which can take nitrogen directly from the air, rather than from the soil, was the first plant to establish itself on the Pumice Plain: the last area to show signs of recovery.


        December 8, 2016 at 10:42 AM

        • While I noticed gradual progress overall in the revegetation, I seemed to see setbacks at times, most likely due to normal fluctuations in the weather, particularly rain, from one year to the next. I’ve never been to Mt. St. Helens, but you’ve made me want to go there.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2016 at 10:54 AM

          • As it happened, I went to college at University of Puget Sound that fall. As the plane came in to land, I could see great piles of ash that had been pushed out of the way, much the way plows pile up snow here. In parking lots, along roadways, etc. Our biology instructor showed us films of the area but I suppose it wouldn’t have been safe to take us there. My brother was playing the church organ in Moses Lake the morning it blew. He said even there the sky turned black. Cars were covered, and engines quickly became clogged with ash trying to drive home.


            December 11, 2016 at 9:01 AM

            • When you move back to Washington, you’ll get your chance—and a safe chance at that—to visit Mt. St. Helens.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 11, 2016 at 9:56 AM

  4. HI Steve!
    I’m posting again on wordpress, it took me a while to come back.
    Nice photo, I love how the shadows give a really good depth to the photo.

    Pablo Buitrago Ángel

    December 9, 2016 at 2:21 PM

  5. […] north in Arizona from Sunset Crater on October 21, 2016, we soon came to Wupatki National Monument, which we, like most people, visited […]

  6. I’ve never heard of this park. Your image is really nice. This would be a neat place to check out!


    November 10, 2022 at 12:09 PM

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