Within the northern Arizona state lie the Springerville and San Francisco volcanoes.
The Springerville volcanic field consists of several hundred cinder cones and volcanic craters, many of which are located in a triangle bounded by AZ Highways 60, 260, and Forest Road 117 (referred to below as the “Triangle”). The land slopes upward from an elevation of 7000ft. along Hwy. 60 to 9500 ft. and higher in the White Mountains. The lower portions of the area, because of warmer temperatures and less precipitation, are covered only with grasses and brush. As the land rises, it becomes more densely covered with trees and other vegetation, and above about 8000 feet it is forested with conifers and aspens.
The entire slope from the Round Valley to the higher elevations of the White Mountains is dotted with cinder cones. In the higher locations, because of the dense vegetation, many of the cinder cones are not readily visible and are less well defined than in the lower elevations. In contrast, within the Triangle cinder cones and craters can be seen everywhere and literally define the landscape.
Traveling the roads bounding the Triangle by car provides many wonderful scenic views of this fascinating landscape. There are a number of pull-outs and other opportunities to stop and enjoy the views. These views can become outright spectacular when Mother Nature provides great skies or unusual light (as during the monsoon), or a snow cover in winter. While the scenery can be enjoyed from the major roads, to truly appreciate the beauty of this landscape one has to venture onto the backroads with a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, or, best of all, explore the land on foot. The back roads are rough in places. They are potentially impassable after heavy rains – even for vehicles with four wheel drive.
The land is “checker boarded”, i.e. some is privately owned, and much is state trust land. Entering state trust land requires a permit. Whether traveling on state or private land, visitors should drive their vehicles only on existing roadways. ORV drivers have done much damage by attempting to go straight up the side of cinder cones. Even one pass with an ORV usually damages the fragile surface irreversibly and often leaves a permanent scar on the side of the mountain. Hiking the volcanoes is very rewarding. However it can be demanding – some of the slopes are steep, and lava rock and loose cinders can make the footing difficult.
Over the years I have hiked innumerable cinder cones large and small, many of them multiple times. I never seem to get tired of hiking and photographing in the area. Each volcano is a potential photographic vantage point as well as a photographic subject. The graceful outlines of the craters and cones plus the right light can add up to wonderful opportunities for the photographer.
Much of the San Francisco Volcanic Field is similar to the Springerville Volcanoes. Some differences include that this area is more accessible, and the roads are better. A large portion of the land is privately owned, and of the private land large tracts are owned by Babbit Ranches. Babbit Ranches have explicitly permitted access to the public as long as people stay on existing roads and otherwise respect generally accepted rules about travel on private land.
The photographer Hart Kannegiesser provided the details and images for the Volcanoes of Northern Arizona destination.
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