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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Mt. Teide Volcano National Park on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands,

On our last big-ish trip while living in Paris, we went to Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands.  Tenerife is part of Spain, and lies a couple of hundred miles off the coast of northwest Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean.  We went there in part to escape the long, gray, rainy Paris winter.

This island has a huge volcano on it, though the volcano hasn't been active since 1909.  Mt. Teide is 12,198 feet tall, and is the highest point in Spain and of all Atlantic islands.  We spent one night in the lodge inside the national park surrounding the volcano.  We would have spent more nights, but it was fully booked months in advance.  The drive up to the park passes through cloudy forests covered in moss, but eventually opens out into barren lava fields with nothing but waves of jagged, black and ochre lava.  In some places a few hardy shrubs are starting to pop up, and sparse pine trees. mostly quite small, dot the area.

In the photo below, you can see that the volcano has some snow on top, despite being around the same latitude as the Sahara desert.  Altitude makes all the difference.  In the foreground of this photo are rock formations that were originally underground lava streams pushing toward the surface.  Over the last hundred years or so, the softer earth around this solid rock lava has eroded, leaving them standing vertical in the open air.  These are about one to two hundred feet high. 

This is the view of the island from the plane window.

After checking into our hotel, we took a short, hot hike through those lava formations.  The next three photos are actually the same photo. The first is the full view, and the next two are enlargements to give a sense of scale.  

See the trail in the valley in the photo above?  There are a couple of hikers looking at their map on that trail. The white arrow in the photo above points out where the hikers are. 

Here's a closer view where (hopefully) you can see the hikers.  Looking at this on a tiny phone screen, I'm not sure you'll be able to see them.  They should be plainly visible on a  computer monitor though. 

Later that night, we drove back to the edge of the national park, where pine forests were starting to establish themselves on the edges of the lava field.  Green trees in black lava gravel were a pleasant sight, especially with the snow-capped volcano in the background.  There were only about 15 cars parked there, and we only saw about 10 people while we hiked a short path around the area.  It was a bit cold because of the altitude and the gusty winds at the tops of the small hills we climbed.  Much more snow was visible at the top of the mountain from this side.  I like how the new trees are following ridge lines.  I assume this has something to do with how the moisture collects or how the wind affects saplings.  It's also cool to see small plants starting to colonize the black lava field just above the center of the right side of the photo.  

This is a view of the volcano from yet another angle.  From this angle, we can see a massive, more recent outflow of lava blackening much of this side of the volcano.  The ligther-colored parts of the volcano have been colonized by various high-altitude plants, but the solid lava of the black area is still too inhospitable for plant life. A large, white stain is also visible, spreading to the left and right of the vent that most of the lava flowed out of.  A mineral in the flow gives it this different color.  I'm guessing it's sulfur. 

If you look carefully along the upper slope of the volcano in the first photo above, you'll see the towers for the cable cars that take visitors almost to the top of the mountain.  We tried going there one day, but the winds were so violent that they had to close the cable car the rest of the day.  We went back early the next morning, and managed to get to the top without too much trouble.  They have two cars operating, so the wait wasn't too long. 

The views from the top were utterly unobstructed.  We were lucky enough to have very few clouds. In this first photo, you can see the curvature of the caldera, where the main eruption occurred, blowing off the top several hundred feet of the island.  Also, in the center of the left side, you can see a beach, far, far below.  The white line is the surf hitting the beach.  

The next photo from the observation area near the top has more snow, a wide view of the caldera, with many colors caused by various minerals forced up from deep in the Earth by the eruption, plus a glimpse of the mountains of another of the Canary Islands among the clouds in the far distance. Sorry, I'm not sure which one it is.  I think maybe Gran Canaria. 

Because Tenerife is so remote, and this volcano is at such a high altitude, the area became a haven for astronomical observatories.  The island enacted laws protecting the park area from light pollution at night.  We tried out some star photography that night.  In this night shot, you can see the freakish upthrusting lava flows at the bottom of the scene. 

The next day, we drove on to a different area.  On the way out, we got this view of Mt. Teide from the other side.  

Hope you enjoyed this, the first of three about our visit to the Canary Islands.  Stay tuned for two more posts on on traveling around Tenerife.  This next one is about a hike that took us along the opposite coast of the island.  That one will be followed by mind boggling views taken from above the clouds while the sun was setting, as seen from one of the national park roads.  

This trip reminded us a lot of our trip to Madeira. If you enjoyed these photos, you may also enjoy this one of a coastal mountain hike we did there

Also, since this post isn't too far after July 14th, Bastille Day, or Quatorze Juillet, as they say in France, here's a link to the amazing fireworks at the Eiffel Tower they do every year.  

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