Prior to the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano, sometime between 1040 and 1100, this area was occupied by farmers who lived in small, scattered hamlets adjacent to their fields. These prehistoric people, whom archeologists call Sinagua, literally witnessed the birth of a mountain. But no evidence has been found that they were surprised by the eruptions, and no human remains have been found to indicate that deaths occurred as a direct result of the volcanic activity. When the eruptions began, they apparently moved out of harm’s way.
The San Francisco Volcanic Field has now been dormant for 800 years. What are the chances that residents of Flagstaff and vicinity will experience a volcanic reawakening? Geologists tell us it is simply prudent planning to be aware of the volcanic history and potential of this landscape - a history that spans 6 million years. It shouldn’t be a surprise if (or when) a new mountain is added to the more than 600 already here.
In the meantime, a working seismograph exhibit at the Sunset Crater Volcano visitor center records volcanic and earthquake activity from all over the world. These events occur regularly and serve as reminders that geologic processes continually affect the earth and its inhabitants.
Did You Know?
The San Francisco Peaks, backdrop for Flagstaff and much of northern Arizona, were named in 1629 by Franciscan missionaries in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. This was more than 200 years before what was then a small town in California acquired a similar name.