(Nathan Munson photo)
For years following the eruptions, Sunset Crater Volcano and the immediate vicinity remained a burned and blackened blast zone. Over the centuries, small unique pioneering islands of vegetation have become established and these, in combination with the volcanic features, provide habitats for a surprising array of animal life. Cave-like lava tubes and cracks in the lava flows serve the needs of insects, spiders, lizards, and rodents. Bats also inhabit some of these spaces, flying out at night to feed. Birds, given their ability to fly freely between nesting and feeding sites, can be seen – and heard - throughout the monument. Among them are Steller’s jays, pinyon jays, black-chinned hummingbirds, white-breasted nuthatches, ravens, and crows. Golden eagles and several species of hawks watch from above.
For many animals, this is a tough place to survive. Vegetation is sparse and surface water is practically nonexistent. The Bonito lava flow, which covers more than 25% of the monument, is extremely inhospitable. But the monument is surrounded by pine forests which provide foraging habitat for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bobcat, and coyote, and are home to a variety of small mammals, including the Abert squirrel, cottontail rabbit, and porcupine. Some of these animals wander widely, sometimes into the cinders.