Volcanoes! Land of Fire and Ice, Part 2

Beautiful views on our hike up to the Bandera Volcano.

Beautiful views on our hike up to the Bandera Volcano.

We resumed our morning jaunt by walking up to the Bandara Volcano.

The air was dry and crisp, filled with the scent of old-growth Juniper, Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine. Interspersed among the conifers were Aspens and Gambal Oaks. It was cold enough to wear fleece jackets and and hats as we began our ascent.

The owner’s pet, a big fluffy tan dog, guided us to the volcano. We followed her, trudging half a mile up the hill and gaining 150 feet in elevation, to the blown-out cinder cone.

Soft rounded dormant volcano with lava tube. (Lave tube is underneath the long, rocky, mounded dirt.)

Soft rounded dormant volcano with lava tube. (Lave tube is underneath the long, rocky, mounded dirt.)

The views from the trail were magnificent. Off in the distant were the soft rolling mountains of ancient volcanoes. Now, rounded and loaded with trees, these sleeping giants complemented the panoramic landscape. Twenty-nine of these dormant volcanoes exist in this area, known as the El Mapais region. From one viewpoint we could see fifteen of them. Directly below us, a lava tube snaked its way through a chasm in the earth.

Lava Tube

Lava Tube

Over seventeen miles long, this lava tube is thought to be one of North America’s longest. Long ago, when the outer layer of lava hardened first, the hot flesh of the volcano poured through the hollow tube. Today, black, shiny, sharp lava rocks, dyed with the colors of white, yellow and red minerals are strewn haphazardly all over the mounded dirt tube and beyond. With the passing of time, these colors have been painted by calcium, sulphur, sodium and iron leaching from the lava rocks. Twisted old-growth evergreens sprout from among them and were scattered all around us throughout our climb. We continued on the trail to the source of this tube.

Part of the lava tube collapsed. The opening in the far left corner shows it continuing under the ground.

Part of the lava tube collapsed. The opening in the far left corner shows it continuing under the ground.

The air was cool and breezy at the crater breach, leaving us both a bit breathless but somehow invigorated on this chilly spring morning. The deep blue of the clear sky contrasted with the crater’s red and brown dirt. Dark green pines, which started at the top of the hole and spilled down into the inverted V-shaped cone, were sprinkled throughout the dirt and rocks.

Crater of the Bandera Volcano.

Crater of the Bandera Volcano.

This particular volcano is referred to as a cinder cone. Indeed, it resembled a cone rising up from the earth’s floor and then collapsing in upon itself. So much dirt had been blown out of it that now it gave the appearance of a funnel with approximately 1/3 of the side gone.

This reversed look was caused by two stages of one eruption of the Bandera Volcano. The first stage developed the cinder cone, which now rises 8372 feet above sea level. The second produced the massive lava flow which is nearly twenty-three miles long. At the end of the entire eruption, the lava suddenly fell back down the main vent, causing the bottom of the cone to be deeper than the outside lava flow. The crater now measures roughly 1500 feet across its mouth and is 800 feet deep.

The stillness at the volcano was interrupted only by the sound of the wind blowing across its mouth. One lone tourist joined us at the metal-fenced lookout point. We posed for some pictures and headed back down the trail, chatting with our newfound friend.

Once again, our furry companion led the way.

…to be continued next Wednesday

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