With the heat upon us in Phoenix, we were ready to go up north for at least a weekend. Our favorite spot to camp in Arizona is Sunset Crater National Monument. Fitting this year, with the National Parks’ 100 year anniversary as well. IMG_0160-1

We got our camping gear, already pre-packed since I try to keep it all handy, and took off relatively early in the morning. By lunchtime we were at the Bonito Lava Flow, and got one of the best camp sites. Early bird sometimes does get the worm. A lot of times we used to get in late and the best sites were already taken.

“Best campsite” for us just means the ones that look away from the campground. This time we were right by the hill above the campground. Setting us the tent took only a few minutes, then after a picnic lunch, we took off to explore.

It wasn’t our first time at Sunset Crater, but every time we go, we enjoy it as if it was our first. The dormant volcano looks beautiful, and walking on lava around the campsite is an experience we always enjoy. Some of it is simply black sand, in other parts tiny pebbles crush under our feet, and at some places the black rock is shiny and very sharp, places to avoid if we don’t want to get hurt.

Although walking up to Sunset Crater is not allowed, there is a smaller crater, called Lenox Crater which has a good trail up on and into it. We usually climb it when we are in the area, it is a lot of fun especially with kids.

Just a few steps away from the campsite, we walked into the forest through the lava flow. Bonito means beautiful in Spanish, and as we were walking through it, we felt the name fitting. The ponderosa pines and the delicate tiny flowers growing in the lava reminded us how special and resilient nature really is.

Above and beyond the lava flow, the squirrels, stellar jays, hummingbirds, ravens and one of the most beautiful views you can imagine, it was a special weekend for stargazing as well.

The Verde Valley astronomy club had set up a few telescopes at the visitor center for looking at the sun during the day with the special filter. Later at night, they had set up even

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more telescopes for viewing the night sky. They even had a show about the constellations visible at this time, then we, the visitors, were able to look into each of their telescopes and watch Jupiter with four of its moons visible, Saturn with its beautiful rings, Mars, the red planet, and a few constellations.

But we experienced the most spectacular sight in the middle of the night, when our daughter woke me up to go outside with her and see the stars. We had explained to her that after the moon would set, it would be even more dazzling.

Waking up at 2am to look at the stars proved to be absolutely worthwhile. Only in the high and dry country of Northern Arizona, in the dark spot far away from the cities, we could see the sky as clear as we did that night. The Milky Way lay across the night sky, clear and beautiful, with millions of stars around it. It was definitely one of those perfect moments that we would never forget.