May 18, 2003
Sunset Crater
Flagstaff, Arizona

Spent a pleasant, lazy, vacation-like morning reading in the campsite, then ventured out after lunch into Sunset Crater National Monument. We’d been here before, 10 years ago, when I first moved out to Tucson. The difference now was–Iceland.

Or rather, the fact that we’d both been to Iceland, about as volcanic a place as there is. After wandering Heimaey Island’s lava garden (less than 30 years post-eruption); walking up the side of still-warm Eldfell volcano; and walking amid the troll-like formations of Dimmuborgir (Icelandic for “dark fortress”), it was impossible not to make comparisons.

The Lava Flow trail, with its dark, bumpy, lichen-y lava was indeed reminiscent of Heimaey’s lava garden; and the side of Sunset Crater (seen at a distance–no climbing here) was a bit like Eldfell, for all that Sunset Crater has been dormant for thousands of years. The main difference was: the trees. Iceland’s trees are long gone, save for a few recent reforestation projects; but volcanic soil is fertile soil, and so pine trees were grew quite cheerfully upon this crater north of Flagstaff. They looked out of place, though only because I’d been to Iceland first.

The Sunset Crater eruption was older than the Heimaey eruption, too. The volcanic rocks were older, heavier than those in Iceland. The land felt at once less baleful and less enchanted here, for all that it was still compelling. Compelling, but less alive.

Still, the fertile soil was enough to draw three different Indian tribes to the area, some hundreds of years ago. We drove on beyond Sunset Crater to Wupatiki National Monument, where Sinaqua, Anazazi, and Cohonina lived in close proximity.

We wandered the trail around the Sinaqua ruins first, a red sandstone 100+ person dwelling with dozens and dozens of rooms–huge. Not a cliff dwelling–cliff swellings apparently weren?t really all that common– but thick brick walls the same color as the rocky outcrops around them.

I pondered the cold air rising from a sinkhole. The Hopi think of it the wind spirit’s breath, but it seemed more the earth spirit’s breath to me.

We both found the ruins most compelling in the open spaces away from the dwellings: the ball field and the assembly area, where the wind whipped clouds of sandy red dust about.

We visited one other ruin, the relatively small Wukoki ruin, a two or three family Anasazi dwelling whose rooms we could actually walk through. I had more a feeling of the past breathing over my shoulder here (Larry had more of one back in the Sinaqua ball field.) But again, I found myself making comparisons to Iceland–the feeling was there, but not as overwhelming as on the Althing?s assembly plains. All of which leaves one wondering how much of the feeling of walking in the footsteps of the past is real in the first place, how much the subjective desire to have such a feeling. (Interesting to ponder bow in the States I ask such skeptical questions more comfortably than I would have in Iceland, where I felt less sure of my skepticism–but that?s a topic for another post on its own.)

At any rate, not a bad way to spend a found day in Flagstaff.

Tomorrow (Monday) we find out whether our car can be made ready to go without ordering an entirely new brake line, or whether we need to wait another day for the relevant part to arrive.

Camp food: Canned turkey chili and rice, with cheddar cheese crumbled in.

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