During the Coal Mine Canyon Day Trip we will first visit a field of lava at the base of the Sunset Crater Volcano. We will then visit the Wupatki Indian Ruins. Then we will visit the beautiful Coal Mine Canyon at the edge of the Painted Desert. Fewer than a couple hundred visitors each year see the amazingly colorful formations that line the upper end of the ravine.
- Trip Outline
- Sunset Crater Lava Vista
- Wupatki National Monument
During the Coal Mine Canyon Day Trip we will first visit a field of lava at the base of the Sunset Crater Volcano. We will then visit the Wupatki Indian Ruins. Then we will travel to visit the beautiful Coal Mine Canyon at the edge of the Painted Desert.
About Coal Mine Canyon
On the border between the Hopi and Navajo Indian Reservations in the vast desert of northeast Arizona, Coal Mine Canyon is a long way from any famous attraction and is not signposted in any way yet has become quite well known because of the amazingly colorful formations that line the upper end of the ravine.
Coal Mine Canyon is six miles long by six miles wide at its largest point. The canyon has amazing orange, red, pink, and black colors. A thin layer of black coal is visible along the canyon cliff walls.
Coal Mine Canyon sits at the edge of the 120 mile wide Painted Desert, a sparsely settled region without many roads but covered by extensive areas of exposed, weathered rock.
Canyon Formations and Colors
The canyon is composed of an unbelievable array of intricately eroded spires, hoodoos, gullies, fins and cliffs, of every color imaginable. The rocks around the rim are soft and crumbly (various thin layers of the Dakota sandstone group), lying on top of thicker bands of the Entrada Formation, with red, white, black and gray the main colors. The top strata have wildly contrasting tints in quick succession – red then white then orange then black, over a vertical distance of just a few feet. The bright red layers are the result of coloration of shale due to partial burning of the underlying coal. The erosion forms are similar to many other Southwest parks such as Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Cathedral Gorge and Red Rock Canyon, but none of these can match the variety of both color and form on show at Coal Mine Canyon.
Hiking the Rim of Coal Mine Canyon
Although there is no obvious path into the canyon, faint trails lead east and west along the rim, and towards some of the ridges that project outwards; there are two main promontories, each gradually narrowing and ending at isolated pinnacles with vertical drop-offs all around.
One must be cautious while walking along the rim as the slopes fall away steeply in most directions. The formations appear similar for a mile or so along each side of the ravine, with the south rim having the best features. Trails along the canyon floor can be seen from the rim but a route down is not evident. In the distance to the north are smooth, pastel-colored badlands at the mouth of the canyon, representing a much more advanced cycle of erosion of the same shales and sandstones. This rolling landscape extends a long way, past the ends of various other tributaries of the gorge and of nearby Ha Ho No Geh Canyon and Blue Canyon, all of which have similar formations and are even less visited.
Coal Mine Canyon is certainly a remote-feeling place; windswept, lonely, with evocative debris like the shell of a 1950s car at the head of one ravine, and several long-abandoned buildings on the rim. Similar eroded scenery is found in various places in this part of the Navajo Reservation, such as around Moenkopi Wash and along Ward Terrace. Coal Mine Canyon is excellent for hiking and photography. So prepare for both of these activities well!
We will make a short side trip to visit the unique balanced rocks known as Globe Rock. They are somewhat of a mystery.
Sunset Crater Lava Vista and Wupatki National Monument
We will begin our journey by first exploring both the Lava Vista of the Sunset Crater Volcano the then the Wupatki Indian Ruins.
NOTE: There is a separate $25 fee you will have to pay to enter the Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument. The Wupatki ruins close at 5pm.
Coal Mine Canyon Day Trip
Time : 7:00 am
DepartMeet in and Depart from Fountain Hills at 7 am. (Hotel Pick-up Included) Travel on-road 3 hours to the Lava Vista. You are more then welcome to bring food, snacks, and drinks and eat in the Jeep during our travel up and back.
Sunset Crater Lava Vista
Time : 10:00 am
HikingYour journey begins with an incredible hike through lava fields from the Sunset Crater volcano which erupted in 1085 A.D. You will have about an hour to explore the lava field.
Wupatki National Monument
Time : 11:20 am
Explore the RuinsWe will continue to travel on-road for 20 minutes to the Wupatki National Monument (which closes at 5pm). There is a $25 fee you will have to pay to explore both the ruins and volcano. You will have about an hour to explore the ruins.
1pm Depart Wupatki
Time : 1:00 pm
Travel to the CanyonAt 1:00 pm we will depart the Wupatki ruins and travel 2 hours and 30 minutes to Coal Mine Canyon. By around 3:30 pm the lighting on the canyon is breathtaking!
Time : 2:30 pm
(Also known as Balanced Rock)We will take a short side drive and hike to visit the unique formation known as Globe (Balanced) Rock. They are somewhat of a mystery.
Coal Mine Canyon
Time : 3:30 pm
3:30 pm Explore the CanyonThere is a very short 1/2 mile off-road drive to the rim of the canyon. You will have 2 hours to walk around and explore the canyon rim from the top to enjoy the wonderful views. This is a perfect time to break out some food and snacks. It can be cold and very windy so prepare well. (NOTE: There is a strenuous and very steep way to hike down into the canyon.) We will drive to other vantage points to view this canyon and possibly the even more remote Ha Ho No Geh Canyon.
5:30 pm Depart the Canyon
Time to Head HomeBefore it gets dark we will need to depart the canyon around 5: 30 pm to begin our journey back home.
Dinner in Flagstaff?
(Optional) Dinner or Drive Through?We will travel on-road to Flagstaff where you will have the opportunity if you wish to eat dinner. You are more then welcome to eat food and snacks in the Jeep during our travel back if you prefer.
Time : 9:30 pm
Drive HomeDrive 4 hours (from the canyon) back to Fountain Hills (or your hotel).
Sunset Crater Lava Vista
You will have the opportunity to explore the Bonito Lava Flow and numerous volcanic features while walking at the base of the Sunset Crater Volcano. This volcano last which erupted in 1085 A.D. forming a 340-meter-high cone (1,120 ft).
Sunset Crater is the youngest in a string of volcanoes (the San Francisco volcanic field) that is related to the nearby San Francisco Peaks. The Sunset Crater eruption produced a blanket of ash and lapilli covering an area of more than 2,100 square kilometers (810 sq mi) and forced the temporary abandonment of settlements of the local Sinagua people.
- Lava Flow Trail Distance: 1 mi (1.6 km) round-trip
- Time: 1 hour
NOTE: There is a $25 park fee you will have to pay separately. (this fee covers both the Wupatki ruins and Sunset Crater)
For more information visit the website for the: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument is one of several sites preserving pueblos (villages) of ancient peoples, but unlike the Tonto, Montezuma, Casa Grande Ruins and Tuzigoot monuments which contain only one main building, here there are many ruins scattered over a large area of desert northeast of Flagstaff. The pueblos all have a distinctive deep red color and were made from thin, flat blocks of the local Moenkopi sandstone.
The main ruin at Wupatki is a three-story pueblo. Named after the Hopi word for “tall house,” Wupatki Pueblo contained as many as 100 rooms during the 1100s. In total there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within Wupatki National Monument, but five of the largest (Wupatki, Wukoki, Lomaki, Citadel and Nalakihu) are close to the main road, and these are the only sites open to visitors.
NOTE: There is a $25 park fee you will have to pay separately. (this fee covers both the Wupatki ruins and Sunset Crater) Visit the main website to learn more: Wupatki National Monument
The Wupatki National Monument contains the ruins of an ancient civilization just northeast of what is now Flagstaff, AZ. Having lived in the area for 400 years, they were displaced by the fiery eruption of Sunset Crater. A few generations later, at Wupatki and Walnut Canyon, families returned to grow crops for another 100 years in the shadow of Sunset Crater. By the year 1180 thousands of people were farming on the Wupatki landscape. By 1250, when the volcano had quieted, the pueblos stood empty. The people of Wupatki had moved on and established new homes. At least 125 different kinds of pottery have been found at Wupatki. This suggests that a rich culture lived and traded here during the 1100s.
Trip NameDeparture DateGroup (Min-Max)Pricing