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San Francisco volcanic field facts for kids

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San francisco peaks geo
USGS Digital elevation model of the San Francisco volcanic field
San Francisco volcanics 3D satforo
Satellite image of part of the San Francisco volcanic field, presented as a 3D terrain model. Note that North is to the right.

The San Francisco volcanic field is an area of volcanoes in northern Arizona, north of Flagstaff, US. The field covers 1,800 square miles (4,700 km²) of the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau. The field contains 600 volcanoes ranging in age from nearly 6 million years old to less than 1,000 years (Miocene to Holocene), of which Sunset Crater is the youngest. The highest peak in the field is Humphreys Peak, at Flagstaff's northern perimeter: the peak is Arizona's highest at 12,633 feet (3,851 m) and is a part of the San Francisco Peaks, an extinct stratovolcano complex.


This volcanic field seems to have formed from a geological hotspot. As the North American Plate moves over the spot, new volcanoes appear. Thus, the newest volcanoes are at the east side of the field. Most of the volcanoes are basalt cinder cones, but there are also large lava domes consisting of rhyolite and dacite.

Given that Sunset Crater is such a young volcanic feature of this area and that eruptions have occurred every several thousands of years in frequency, it is likely that there will be a future eruption in the San Francisco Volcanic field. However, it is impossible to predict when and exactly where a new eruption might occur. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) says that a future eruption would likely be in the eastern side of the volcanic field, where the most recent volcanic activity has occurred. Such an eruption is likely to be small and pose little hazard due to the remoteness of the area.

Visitation and usage

Popular tourist and hiking destinations in the volcanic field include the Kendrick Mountain Wilderness, 20 miles northwest of Flagstaff; and Sunset Crater, which is particularly popular because it is easily accessible and has interesting horizontal lava flows at the base of the crater.

Areas of the volcanic field have been used by NASA for testing techniques for exploration in a simulated extraterrestrial terrain environment. NASA has also conducted the Desert Research and Technology Studies (DRATS) tests here.

Notable vents

SP Crater
SP Crater is a cinder cone with a basalt lava flow that extends for 4 miles (6 km).
Black Point Lava Flow, Arizona
Black Point lava flow in the San Francisco volcanic field. Little Colorado River at lower right. Astronaut photo from the International Space Station, 2009.
Name Elevation Location Last eruption
meters feet Coordinates
Bill Williams Mountain 2,821 9,256 - 2.8 million years ago
Colton Crater (Crater 160) 2,246 7,368 35°32′42″N 111°38′10″W / 35.54500°N 111.63611°W / 35.54500; -111.63611 (Colton Crater) -
Double Crater 2,426 7,959 35°20′44″N 111°27′5″W / 35.34556°N 111.45139°W / 35.34556; -111.45139 (Double Crater) -
Kendrick Peak 3,175 10,418 - 1.4 million years ago
Merriam Crater 2,077 6,813 35°20′19″N 111°17′11″W / 35.33861°N 111.28639°W / 35.33861; -111.28639 (Merriam Crater) 20,000 years ago
Mount Elden 2,835 9,300 35°20′47″N 111°40′40″W / 35.34639°N 111.67778°W / 35.34639; -111.67778 (San Francisco Peaks) -
O'Leary Peak 2,718 8,916 35°24′05″N 111°31′36″W / 35.40139°N 111.52667°W / 35.40139; -111.52667 (O'Leary Peak) Pleistocene
San Francisco Peaks 3,851 12,633 35°20′47″N 111°40′40″W / 35.34639°N 111.67778°W / 35.34639; -111.67778 (San Francisco Peaks) -
Sitgreaves Mountain - - - 1.9 million years ago
SP Crater (SP Mountain) 2,140 7,021 35°34′56″N 111°37′55″W / 35.58222°N 111.63194°W / 35.58222; -111.63194 (SP Crater) 71,000 years ago
Strawberry Crater 35°26′38″N 111°28′40″W / 35.44389°N 111.47778°W / 35.44389; -111.47778 (Strawberry Crater) -
Sunset Crater 2,446 8,026 35°21′51″N 111°30′11″W / 35.36417°N 111.50306°W / 35.36417; -111.50306 (Sunset Crater) 950 ± 40 years
Sugarloaf Peak - - - 220,000 years ago
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