Explore Geology
geology fieldnotes title


National Monument


cover of park brochure

park geology subheading
Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

The volcanic field so crucial to the lives of southwestern Indians eight centuries ago is unchanged in many ways from the era when three cultures gathered for a time in the vicinity of the newly erupted Sunset Crater. Lava flows near the cone seem to have hardened to a rough surface only yesterday. And the ruined pueblos at Wupatki look from a distance as though they could still be home to an isolated people living, like the hardy Sinagua, practically "without water."

Today a paved road through these two protected areas provides easy access to Sunset Crater and some of the Wupatki ruins. Walking trails allow visitors close-up views. Equipped with a container of drinking water, thick-soled footwear, a hat, a map, and perhaps binoculars, explorers on foot will encounter the stunning artistry of nature and ancient man.

A short trail alongside the Wupatki Pueblo passes within touching range of what was once a multi-story residential complex, as well as the nearby amphitheater and ballcourt. The geological features along the trail are also worth inspecting. A monocline - a one-sided fold in the underlying sedimentary layers where the land rises slightly - acts as a backdrop for the ruins. The youngest rock layer, the reddish Moenkopi sandstone which provided the principal building material for the pueblo, is visible in several spots. Near the ballcourt is a good example of a blowhole, an opening in the Kaibab limestone layer that "inhales" and "exhales" air moving through interconnected underground cavities. Earthquake activity created fissures in the limestone called earth cracks, which can be found in the western half of the monument. Spatter cones rise like small pyramids throughout the San Francisco volcanic field.


1) Magma - molten rock and gases
2) Central vent
3) Cloud of ash, cinders, and bombs
4) Cone formed from larger lava framents
5) Lava flow from base of volcano

Formation of a Cinder Cone

Cinder cones, such as Sunset Crater, are formed by explosive eruptions. Magma, a mixture of molten rock and highly compressed gases, rises upward from its underground source. As the magma ascends, the extreme pressure drops and gases are released. The relatively thick magma and the high gas percentage causes an explosion out of the central vent.

Solidified rock pieces- of various sizes - fall back down around the vent, creating a mound. Another kind of eruption, involving thinner magma with a lower gas content, produces lava flows that may issue from the side or base of the cone.

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo for this park can be found here.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading
cover of Roadside Geology of Wupatki/Sunset Crater book

Roadside Geology: Wupatki Crater and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments.
Hanson, Sarah L., 2003.
Arizona Geological Survey.
ISBN 1-892001-19-5
paperback, 32 pages, full color photographs

This book gives an overview of the geology of Wupatki and Sunset craters as well as a road guide to stops in the national monuments. Detailed descriptions of the geology at each stop are included.


Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading

Park Specific Text Here

Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/wupa/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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