Cinder Lake history page

Cinder Lake

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.

Some images from Apollo training from the Cinder Lake crater field:

S69-55667 Pete Conrad and Al Bean of Apollo 12 practicing their geology excursion at the Cinder Lake crater field.
S69-55662 Pete Conrad and Al Bean of Apollo 12 training at the Cinder Lake crater field.
S70-H-1497 Dave Scott of Apollo 15.
S70-H-1498 Jim Irwin and Dave Scott of Apollo 15.
S70-53283 Jim Irwin and Dave Scott of Apollo 15 practice driving the LRV with the Grover training vehicle.
S70-53300 Jim Irwin and Dave Scott of Apollo 15 in the 1-G Grover LRV trainer.
S70-53284 Jim Irwin (Dave Scott mostly obscured behind him) of Apollo 15 using the LRV trainer.
The Cinder Lake crater field is still used today for testing equipment that may one day be used on other planets, for example as seen in this webpage describing some recent tests, in 3 parts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

More mentions of Cinder Lake crater field (some might be a little obscure, like the reference list that points to a paper written about the crater field...):
Geology trips by astronauts
cinderlake (This link seems to be broken)
Astronaut training at USGS Flagstaff (This one has some great pictures.)
Gemini Suit Test/

Our trip to Cinder Lake.

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!

Some of the pictures I took during our Cinder Lake visit:

These images are a bit large, so be patient waiting for the download....

This is a view of the crater field from forest road 776 running north of Cinder Lake.
This is another view of the crater field from FR 776 running north of Cinder Lake.
Partial panorama looking south from FR 776.
3D Anaglyph image of a crater with Sunset Crater in the background.
One of the raw frames (slightly reduced in size) from the 3D Anaglyph above.
Partial pan of one of the larger craters - note tan ejecta blanket. FR 776 is visible in the distance in this view generally northward.
This is 3D Anaglyph of yours truely on rim of one of the larger craters.
This is one of the raw frames (slightly reduced in size) used in the above anaglyph.
Our "rover" and one of our crewmembers exploring one of the larger craters.

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.

Here is a link to my friend David Kring's writeup of the Cinder Lake Crater Field. Cinder Lakes Crater Field, Arizona. Lunar Analogue Test Site.

Last update: June 26, 2019