Forces Shaping Iceland Also Formed Arizona’s Landscape

SP Crater is one of Arizona’s great cinder cones, and proof of the state’s volcanic origins.

The Arizona Republic is missing a great chance to tell people something interesting about the state it covers. See, people here are reading about all the volcanoes spewing ash and lava in Iceland. All they’re getting from their paper of record is that these events are affecting flights to Europe.

Here’s the real story: that the same forces at work in Iceland also shaped Arizona. Many people are amazed to learn that Arizona ever had volcanoes, especially active ones as recently as 1100 A.D. I kind of take it for granted that people know this – but many don’t. I can say this first-hand from telling people about hiking Arizona’s many dormant cinder cones, Mt. Humphreys and the Superstitions Mountains. People look at me funny and say “Arizona had volcanoes?”

Three volcanoes in one shot: Me on the rim of SP Crater, the San Francisco Peaks in the background and Double Crater in the middle.

This is a golden opportunity to help readers -many of whom are probably new to the state- get some sense of their home. From the ancient caldera that forms the Superstition Mountains to the San Francisco Peaks looming over Flagstaff and many other lesser-known places, Arizona’s landscape is a legacy of magma, ash and gas. Northern Arizona is dotted with cinder cones. The most famous is Sunset Crater, but there are other great ones like SP Crater and dozens if not hundreds of others. You can even climb many of them and look down into the crater. And let’s not forget SP Crater’s 5-mile-long lava flow, which always makes a great sight for people flying over.

The Arizona Republic has the resources to make this a wonderful story that could give its paper the vaunted and sought-after sense of place newspaper executives crave. It has an excellent photography staff that could produce first-class visuals. It has the excellent Arizona Geological Survey with the expertise to speak, not to mention excellent earth science programs at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona (whose program ranked #1 in a survey by US News & World Report, for which this ASU grad congratulates you with no reservations at all).

Lava poured from this crater just 900 years ago – while humans lived nearby!

I’m sure the staff members at any of those institutions would be delighted to tell a reporter more about the parallels between the forces in Iceland that are grabbing headlines and the amazing geological past of our home state.

C’mon, Republic. Tell us an interesting story about our state. Give the educated people -the experts- a chance to bring our home state  to life. Make this place more than just Diamondbacks games, car accidents, tanking real estate and celebrity gossip.

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  1. It is nice to see someone bringing to attention other volcanoes in the USA. Most just examine Mount St. Helen’s. The southwestern scenery accented with craters is beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Guy McLaren

    Wow, an interesting post, I for one was unaware of the volcanic activity in Az. Are all the volcanoes dormant or are they dead?

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  3. physician assistant

    Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

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  4. admin

    It’s funny – most people think only of Hawaii when someone talks about volcanoes in the United States. But you’ll find them in New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, California … some are active, and some even have geothermal feature.

    Sorry it took so long to approve your comment, by the way. My WordPress comment feature is acting a bit funny!

  5. admin

    Hi there, guy. Here’s the thing … a lot of geologists are struggling with the terms “extinct” or “dormant.” Extinct seems to be going by the wayside. Now, the odds of most of the volcanoes here erupting again are slim, but sometime in the distant future there probably will be another active volcano in Arizona, probably northeast of the current field. Our most recent eruption was in about 1100 A.D.

    Sorry it took so long to approve your comment, by the way. My WordPress comment feature is acting a bit funny!

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