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November/December 2008

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Mineralogy of Fumarole Deposits

At Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument



When viewed from a distance, the bright red color of the oxidized cinders at the summit of Sunset Crater Volcano give the mountain the appearance of being bathed in a perpetual sunset. This prompted John Wesley Powell, director of the U.S. Geological Survey in the late 1800s, to name the volcano Sunset Mountain. The name was later changed to Sunset Crater because of the depression, or crater, at the summit. In the late 1920s a Hollywood company filming the movie Avalanche was making plans to dynamite the volcano for a scene in the movie. To permanently protect the volcano, this area was established as a national monument by President Hoover in 1930. Originally called Sunset Crater National Monument, the name was changed in 1990 to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in an effort to avoid confusion with Meteor Crater, a nearby attraction. Early visitors to the park were allowed to climb to the summit of the volcano; however, the erosion caused by thousands of hikers each year was creating a huge scar on the side of the mountain. Thus, the summit of the volcano was closed to hiking in 1973. Today the trail loops around in the lava flows at the base of the volcano. From this trail scars can still be seen on the mountainside from the former trail.
Dr. Sarah L. Hanson is a professor of Earth science at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, and the park geologist at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Arizona during the summer.

Alexander U. Falster is the analytical laboratory and technical manager in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of New Orleans in Louisiana.

Dr. William B. Simmons is a professor of mineralogy in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of New Orleans in Louisiana.

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