Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is located 12 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona, and 150 miles north of Phoenix, a rapidly growing metropolitan complex of more than two million people. Flagstaff has a population of approximately 55,000 and offers numerous services for the extensive ranching, lumber, and tourist activities of northern Arizona. Private lands between Flagstaff and Sunset Crater Volcano are being subjected to the increasing urban influences of residential and business development. As population and development increase both locally and regionally, demand for all types of recreation on public lands will increase accordingly.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a very small enclave within a geographic area dominated by the much larger Coconino National Forest; preserving the integrity of natural systems and processes within the monument requires close coordination with the U.S. Forest Service. Among the challenges: preserving unfragmented natural systems; conserving wildlife populations; maintaining the natural character/condition of ponderosa pine forest and pinyon woodland vegetation; controlling the spread of invasive, non-native plant species; and maintaining the integrity of natural systems for ecological research.
Although volcanic features and natural resources within monument boundaries remain relatively undisturbed, this is not the case immediately outside the monument boundaries. A popular off-highway vehicle (OHV) use area is located adjacent to the monument within the Coconino National Forest. Heavy use causes increased noise levels, visible dust clouds, and long-term scarring and erosion to the cinder cones and other geological features that are closely related to the Sunset Crater Volcano eruption. Such scars are not easily healed, as the National Park Service has learned from the trail that once existed to the top of Sunset Crater Volcano. This trail was closed in 1973 because of excessive erosion (foot traffic and erosion had turned the trail into a hip-deep rut). Despite intensive efforts to obliterate the trail, the scar is still clearly visible on the volcano’s side.
Pumice mining on the slopes of San Francisco Mountain also affects the monument viewshed. This impact is particularly noticeable from the Lava Flow Trail, where the story of Sunset Crater Volcano and its relation to the greater San Francisco Volcanic Field is most actively interpreted.