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Photo Post: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona

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As I drive south from Wupatki National Monument, junipers begin to replace the sparse scrubland of the high desert north of Flagstaff, Arizona. But it’s not long before the juniper woodland gives way to hardened lava, rolling hills, and ponderosa pines.


I search for the namesake peak of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument between the pine branches as I drive around one hillside to another, and then—there it is: a clean, Platonic-ideal-form cinder volcano with a ruddy, “sunset” gradient from red to gray on its side.

I’m momentarily distracted as a striking Steller’s Jay flies by, its own blue-and-ashy-gray feathers painted the complete opposite of Sunset Crater’s gradient.

Encountering Pueblo Dwellings in Arizona’s Wupatki National Monument

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When you think of ruins, what comes to your mind? Maybe the flattened apartment blocks of Roman Pompeii, a once-glistening palace for a Moorish caliph, or the spindly skeleton of a Lisbon church.

For many Americans, our imaginations often turn to history-rich Europe, where the remains of empires, wars, and natural disasters are easy to see. But that’s a shame, because we can find reminders of the past in our own backyards.


Sure, they may not be on the same scale as Mexico’s monumental pyramids in Teotihuacán or Chichén Itzá, but the cliff dwellings and villages built by Ancestral Puebloans make the Southwestern U.S. the best place in the country to encounter places that were inhabited almost a thousand years ago.

Colorado’s Mesa Verde and New Mexico’s Chaco Culture are some of the biggest marks the ancestors of today’s Puebloan peoples left on the Southwest, but they’re either in the isolated Four Corners region, off long dirt roads, or both. Wupatki National Monument, by contrast, ma…

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: A Precious Slice of the Sonoran Desert

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I was hunting for arches. No, not Utah’s Arches National Park, crawling with tourists, but a tiny two-paned window high up in the hills of one of Arizona’s remotest national monuments. It was a double arch—one stacked on top of the other—found in the aptly named Arch Canyon, that drew me one warm May afternoon.

Sure, I could see the striking splotches of blue sky shining through the rusty earth from the comfort of my air-conditioned car, but I wanted more; I wanted to see the arch from the other side, and to see it much closer up. So, I parked my car at an empty trailhead that began on an unpaved road nine miles deep from the highway and set off with my camera, some water, and perhaps a little naïveté.


Whimsical green columns sprouted up all around me, some from a central trunk and others from the desert floor all bushy like. Globular chollas vied for space in the neighborhood with creosote trees, but what was most striking was the lack of any noise at all. Hardly a breeze was blowing…