Cinder Lake lies just south of Sunset Crater, northeast of Flagstaff Arizona. Access to it can be had from several directions, but the best seems to be forest road 776 which is marked as the "Cinder Hills ORV area" on a sign along highway 89 just south of the turnoff into the Sunset Crater National Park.
In the 1960s, the Astrogeology branch of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff created an artificial crater field at Cinder Lake in order to train astronauts as well as test equipment and techniques for lunar exploration. They used a Lunar Orbiter image to re-create an actual lunar landscape by setting off charges of the right size to make craters of the right size, as well as setting them off in the proper sequence to get the overlaying ejecta layed out in the same order as seen in the lunar image.
If you liked my Cinder Lake geocache, you might like the geocache Off world, off road.
On Thursday May 29, 2003, we made an excursion of our own out onto the Cinder Lake crater field. We drove up to the Flagstaff area on Wednesday May 28 and camped the first night at Cinder Hills right next to Sunset Crater northeast of Flagstaff. My first goal of the trip was to find the USGS simulated Moonscape. Back in the early 1960s, they used explosives to blast a bunch of different sized craters to train astronauts and test equipment and techniques out on Cinder Lake just south of Sunset Crater. I had always wondered where the simulated moonscape was, so I did some research and found out approximately where it was. We arrived too late on Wednesday night to do anything but set up camp, so Thursday morning, we backtracked to the edge of Cinder Lake. Cinder Lake is a pretty good sized, relatively flat and barren lake of cinder that is used by ATVers and 4x4s today. From the north edge of the lake, I could just make out what looked like the craters, so we drove out onto the lake, heading for an orange-tan colored area about a kilometer or so away. It turned out that the colored area was the ejecta blanket of one of the larger craters and it was on the western edge of the crater field. As I climbed out of our "rover", I paused and in honor of Jack Schmitt, exclaimed: "There is orange soil here!" All of the craters have been overrun by the ATVers - they are apparently a favorite for them since they are the only rough terrain on the cinder lake. But it was cool to walk in the footsteps of some of my childhood heroes and I really wanted to bunny hop across the cratered surface as I remember them doing on the Moon so long ago. Doing some geology similar to what the astronauts did on the moon, we figured out that the cinder must only be about 3-4 feet deep as the shallower craters up to about 3 feet deep did not show the orange-tan ejecta while the deeper craters more than about 4 feet deep did and the orange-tan ejecta is just the underlying soil of the region. We also noticed that cinder fragments inside the craters had numerous bits that had a shiny coating while fragments outside and far from the craters did not - clear evidence of some shock from the crater formation due to fragmentation damage and a reminder of what was really found on the Moon too!
These images are a bit large, so be patient waiting for the download....
This main crater field is in the largest part of the Cinder Lake and is over-run by off road vehicles. A 2nd crater field is southeast of this in a more isolated area roughly east of the garbage dump and is surrounded by a fence marked for no vehicular traffic inside. It is better preserved. We were able to visit this area on a 2nd excursion and here is a webpage with some images of the area: Southeast crater field
For more info on Apollo, check out my Apollo webpage and its links as well.
Last update: March 23, 2013