Volcanoes, Lava and Magma Flows
Lanzarote has over 100 volcanoes which make up an amazing lunar landscape. Created after a devastating eruption in the 18th century, these eruptions lasted over five years from 1730 to 1736 and destroyed over 26 villages across the island defining the landscape you can see today.
This landscape of craters, twisted lava rock and black sand beaches blend together into a place of unique beauty, expressed through a pallet of black and grey, deep umber and sedimentary shale. It’s a landscape you can lose yourself in, a dream of another place otherworldly and raw.
Timanfaya national park covers around 20 square miles of Lanzarote and includes areas of inactive volcanoes and a small area (Islote de Hilario) of geothermal activity thought to be caused by a magma intrusion just under that part of the island. This area is highly regulated and policed by a troupe of rangers who stop any travellers/hikers from visiting those volcanic peaks (calderas). This type of thing drives me absolutely nuts if I’m honest. I researched the area extensively and from what I learned there are only a few no-go danger zones which any hiker with any sense would stay away from.
Here is an excerpt from www.lanzaroteguide.com which shows how regulated the national park is, mainly to allow for the monetization of the tours.
While visitors are not allowed to roam freely around, they do get to view the park from one of the coaches that carefully threads its way around the ‘Ruta de los Volcanes’ – a narrow road, closed to normal traffic, that snakes through the most spectacular areas of the National Park. This short coach trip around the park is included in the entry fee, and, notwithstanding the somewhat dated audio commentary and music, shouldn’t be missed.
Some people may say ‘What’s wrong with you? That sounds like a perfectly nice day out.’ I have to be honest this is my idea of hell in a handbasket. Trouped around the place while being piped facts from an audio commentary, unable to touch/smell the surrounding landscape. I'd rather not bother, so I decided to go my own way. After a little internet research and checking Google Maps for the closest Caldera to the border of the patrol zone we set off on a real adventure, a mission to find the tiny track which would lead to the base of an inactive volcano.
Lunar Landscape and the Spirit of Man
The road to Mount Doom proved to be a little off the beaten track. On the way, we passed these strange fields of sunken concave holes all in lines running to the base of the volcano. This mystery proved a real head-scratcher and inspired many theories as we drove through this surreal landscape of lava flows. I had an idea that they must be some form of farming but later research uncovered the truth and a great example of human ingenuity.
This pockmarked landscape is a field of furrows, a farm with a difference. The holes contain young grape vines for the islands artisan wine industry. High wind speeds on Lanzarote can cause problems in the initial growth stages but the highly nutrient-rich volcanic soil is perfect for growing grapes along with other crops which thrive in soil that absorbs water and retains moisture for long periods of time. Ash also acts as an insulator, keeping root temperatures consistent. The holes are dug to keep the young vines protected until they mature and spread above the lip of their concave homes.
There is a beautiful ingenuity about this set-up and a lesson about the human spirit that even this cynic can't ignore. In the 18th century before the eruptions mentioned above, Lanzarote was a lush island with a strong agricultural economy. When the volcanoes erupted the whole island was buried in ash, decimated by lava flows and transformed in its entirety into a blackened rocky wilderness. These fields of volcanic ash represents the hopes I see in human endeavour. We as a species are capable of terrible destruction through our inventive nature but equally capable of growth and transformation working with nature. It's this duplicity of intent we need to change in our habits, the ingenuity of these fields give me hope that one day we can achieve this change.
Ha ha, lets shake off that philosophizing with a GIF of me juggling volcanic rocks.
The Accent of Mount Doom
We found the road to the base of the volcano after becoming lost in the vastness of the lunar landscape a few times. I remember driving down the road in our rather small Corsa and it becoming increasingly impassable. This seemed to be a theme in Lanzarote once you got off the main roads, disconcerting when you find a large boulder lying in the middle of a road in a supposedly inactive area. How the hell did that 10 tone rock get there? I had to give up about 2 miles from the base of the volcano as we were in danger of damaging the car. I parked it up at the side of the road and we proceeded on foot.
As we walked along the road, we could see the jagged lines of craters big and small scaring the skyline, like teeth tearing the sky apart. The vista looked like something from the final passages of Lord of the Rings, fire mountains in the distance as the wastes of Mordor stretched all around us. The analogy didn't end there as the vegetation consisted mainly of scant moss and thorny bushes.
As we reached the base of the volcano, the road turned into a path, littered with lava rock and completely swamped by flows of sharp magma. It was at this point that the harsh landscape of Lanzarote started to take its tole. I had set out on this hike in a pair of trainers and by the time we reached the slope of the volcano they were torn, soles flapping loose like a gutted lizard. Despite all this, I absolutely loved this hike. The wind whipped across the lava field and we were the only people as far as the eye could see. There is a lonely luminosity in the clarity of the light contrasting with the black ash that inspires a kind of nostalgic aching, I'm not sure what for, but this is how the place made me feel. Perhaps it is the spirit of all that life decimated by the tumultuous earth, rising through the pores of the magma, tendril fingers of remembered growth tingling down the pathways of the mind. Perhaps it's just the wind and the jagged lines of the horizon.
As we ascended the final stretch of the cone, you could see the path of the lava flow from an extinct volcano clear as day (check the picture above), the cone in the distance blown apart from the awesome power of past eruptions. This picture still leaves me in awe of natures power, nowhere else I have visited has ever left me with this impression of a liquid landscape. As the day wore away with the soles of my shoes, we scrambled up the final slope to the precipice of the crater. This last slope comprised loose ash and small rocks, the air smelled like a bag of charcoal and I could feel that the ground was warm through the bottom of my shoes. I'm convinced to this day that this area was in the path of the active seam of magma that intersects with the crust beneath the surface of the island. We struggled to the top and found a sight worth all the toil.
The cauldron of the volcanoes crater descended at least 100 metres of sheer sharp rock. I looked around for a path down into its depths as I wanted to find out if the cap was hot, to confirm my theory that the areas was still somewhat active below the surface. If you look at the picture above, you can see the cracks in the rock at the base of the crater which caused me to think there must be some small movement in the rock to keep them open. I imagined looking through the cracks and seeing glowing magma flowing through a channel just beneath the surface. In reality, I doubt this would have been the case as the heat in the area would have been immense but I get like this when I encounter a mystery. In retrospect, I suspect the cracks were made by hot air being forced up from deep underground.
We circled all the way around the lip of the crater; it was surprisingly flat and easy to walk. There were one or two spots where the lip became thin, about an arm-span but other than that it was plain sailing. We reached the far side and stopped for lunch. I lay down on the black earth, meditating with the distance as I chewed my sandwiches. This is something I often do on a hike. After a long hike staring at the horizon causes an interesting optical illusion which catapults me into Zen every time. The distances recede while simultaneously staying still. It's a strange juxtaposition, my mind always quietens in this observation, as the landscape marches off in conflict with itself. Laying on the ground, the heat was noticeable, despite the wind warmth radiated from the earth, enveloping me in a comfortable glow I have to admit is a little strange. I guess that reminder of the impermanence of something we take so much for granted as solid and immutable, reassured me. Staring out at this liquid landscape, it was like a gentle warm reminder of my mortality, mother nature laughing in the most caring way at all my worries. Beyond all this, it was also just lovely to be warm, close to the ground and out of the wind.
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