Hiking in the Rain at Sunset Crater Volcano

As my husband and I pulled into the parking lot of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a bolt of lightning pierced the sky behind us. The jagged needle touched and disappeared, leaving a crack then a low rumble vibrating in the air. Clouds had been gathering for several hours and flashes of lightning had been threatening from the sky for the last 45 minutes or so.

But rain is hardly a deterrent for my husband and me. We’d spent more than half of our time on the Inca Trail wet from mist and rain. We wore rain gear on more than one journey on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. When everyone else headed out of Bryce Canyon at the sight of a cloud, we headed in, rain ponchos in hand.

So that strike of lightning in the distance didn’t faze us. Instead, we pulled on our backpacks and headed for the mile-long trail at the base of Sunset Crater.

Another bolt of lightning splintered the sky. A few drops of rain fell, then the sky opened up and rain poured down in fat, cold drops. People came running off the trail, their hands held above their heads in a feeble attempt to stay dry. The path became a one-way street, and we had little choice but to step to the side so people could pass. But once they had, we stepped back on the now isolated trail and walked on, our rain jackets zipped up.

Sunset Crater National Monument, located in Arizona, is the site of an ancient volcano, which left a wake of sooty debris in its path. Protected by the National Park Service in 1930 when Hollywood wanted to blow it up for a movie, Sunset Crater isn’t spectacular in size, fame or composition, but as we walked, heads down, in the pouring rain, I couldn’t help but notice the details of the ground.

The ground is covered in tiny black volcanic pieces, which would normally leave a fine black layer of dust on our ankles and shins, but in the rain, it was like walking on a pebbly beach. What should have been an inhospitable environment somehow managed to foster a variety of vegetation, including the cliffrose, which was nearing the end of its fuzzy pink prime.

This plant and all the others scattered at the base of Sunset Crater don’t take cover when it rains; in fact, they embrace it as a way of life. Without the rain, this would be a different place.

We found soggy shelter briefly under the overhang of a tree gnarled by a history of unrelenting wind and lightning. I pulled the hood of my jacket off and shook out my hair. The rain came down in shimmery silver and gray sheets, creating a hum in the air around us. Sunset Crater, with its dark gray soot and reddish highlights, stood in the background, a scar from years of human foot traffic visible across its side.

How is it that humans have no hesitations about walking all over the land, carelessly leaving their mark on the Earth, but turn their backs and run at the first sign of inclement weather gifted by Mother Nature? I looked at the scar, tasted the rain on my tongue and felt the volcanic ground underfoot.

The rain was too heavy to pull out the camera and capture the moment, but it couldn’t be translated to film anyway. Moments like these are meant to be experienced and remembered, not cataloged on a hard drive.

“Ready?” My husband reached out for my hand.

“Yep.” I pulled the hood of my rain jacket up and we continued on our walk at the base of the crater.

10 Responses to “Hiking in the Rain at Sunset Crater Volcano”

  1. Amiee

    Rain in the desert is such a welcome sight – I’m surprised more people don’t run around in it!

  2. Gray

    How come? Because we don’t want to get struck by lightning, that’s how come. You crazy kids. 🙂 Seriously, though, this is so beautifully written. The volcano sounds well worth the trip.

    • JoAnna

      So lightning is a concern but really, the chances of actually being struck are slim. I’ll take the chance. 🙂

  3. joshywashington

    here’s to fearlessly stepping into the rain! very nice writing my fiend, I am a sucker for a volcano adventure.

  4. Suzy

    Beautiful words of southwestern rain. I was just catch in the rain in Barcelona and just embraced it without an umbrella. It is definitely an interesting feeling to see the crowds dissipate and you have the streets to yourself.

  5. Mary R

    I know what you mean about the staring down at tiny volcanic rocks. I had a similar experience hiking to the crater on Mt Fuji!

    It is interesting that humankind spread the world on foot in the harshest conditions, and now a little sprinkle sends people running for shelter!

    • JoAnna

      I love the comparison Mary! I think my most memorable moments take place in adverse weather. Most of our hike on the Inca Trail was in the rain – after four days we were prunes!

  6. Wildlife Tours

    Excellent post, i love running in the rain, i agree it is worth the risk as the chances of getting struck by lightning are so slim and if you have great scenary as well live at the crater then go for it

    • JoAnna

      Lightning is a minor concern, but rain? Come on, people! You’re not going to melt!

  7. Bob

    Nice piece, Joanna. Beautifully written.


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