Volcanoes are an obsession of mine. When I was very little the lava cave in the Albuquerque Natural History Museum was a constant price of adventure. I was so terrified, my heart beat drummed in my chest and I could barely walk over it. It still makes me hold my breath. As an adult, every few months I find a new one to read about or a video to watch. They are beautiful, catastrophic, and strange parts of the world that I don't really understand. They are at once: fissures, creators, destroyers, and beautiful. History makes them seem godly and cruel. Pompeii was destroyed by Vesuvius. Tambora sent the entire world into a disastrous climate spiral, yet it yielded and colored Romantic age art and literature (most knowingly: Frankenstein). Mt. Bromo in Indonesia, is has been a long-time favorite.
One of my favorite things about Albuquerque are the daily volcano sunsets. I mean, how many people can say they grew up in a place where the sun rises over the mountains and sets over volcanoes.
It's a daily occurrence that is also prehistoric.
The volcanoes on the Albuquerque West Mesa were active--according to some sources--200,000 to 70,000 years ago. Though there are actually five volcanoes--the three largest sit the closest proximity to each other and are known as the "Three Sisters" or the " Tres hermanas" (or were when I was in kindergarten). They are named--South to North-- JA Volcano, Black, Vulcan, Bond and Butte. Most of them were spatter cones-- the volcanic field made of underground pressure creating fire fountains of magma into the air (like every volcano cartoon we ever imagined). They also likely erupted simultaneously, which created "curtains of fire" on the horizon.
Vulcan, the largest of the volcanoes, sits about 600 feet above the valley-- compared to the 10,000 ft. elevation at Sandia Peak on the East side of the Rio Grande Valley. According to one source from Sandiapeak.com, the Sandia Mountains were created when the underground volcanic activity of the tectonic plate to cause a fault in the earths crust into an upthrust that that lasted millions of years and resulted in the stately Sandia mountains. They were called Sandia, (Spanish for 'watermelon'), because of the pink alpenglows that can descend as the sun casts it's farewell over the volcanos on the West Mesa and into evening.
Back to Outlaw Summer:
Vulcan is my favorite. ----->
My name is still written in a book somewhere on Vulcan. July 2009- on one of the best days of my life.
Most visitors to Albuquerque will head to Sandia Peak for a wonderful view of the city. Though the crest is beautiful and the Tram is fun to ride, in my opinion, the Volcanoes have an equally stunning view.
I most recently visited with my cousin, Jeff, who had never hiked this area before. I have just ended my first week back at work after Cape Cod, and Jeff has just returned from Israel. After a full heart of travel, needing this kind of space is important to me. Jeff is an artist. He is working on a series of paintings of renowned individuals--World-Changers--and these paintings take as much emotion to produce as talent (of which he has his own kind of 'fire-fountain'). I thought about this as we were hiking: How much of a natural synthesis is needed to produce any kind of art? Place is an important part of our make-up, whether it is a newly discovered place, or a place full of memory. Place or placeless-ness holds memory context, spiritual growth, and catalysts for moving forward.
Part of my goal this summer is to be 'in place', and spending an evening at the volcanoes was the best way to start off the NM part of this journey. Jeff's experience in Israel was almost impossible to imagine. It sprinkled rain over the West Mesa, and there was, as always, the same spotlight of sun over a particular area <-----of the Air Force Base. It might be that I always visit at a certain time of day, but I swear, that light is always in the same place. My memories of this place are all beautiful, some now-sad, some always-glorious, (and one a scary near-death-by-rattlesnake), but all are gems unlocked by each new hike in the alpenglow.
Tangent: Science still can't fully explain how volcanic lightning works. Lighting is formed by a separation of charges, and when it occurs at the time of a volcanic eruptions, the lightning is a dusty mixture of rock, ash, and ice colliding into static charges.