Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fire & Ice

Earlier on this trip I posted a comment that this year’s excursion seems to be our “volcano” tour since everywhere we’ve gone in the west seems to have a bunch of volcanoes. Guess what – we’re not done yet.


This is a view looking up the slope of Mt. Bandera, a cinder cone volcano near Grants, New Mexico, 80 miles west of Albuquerque. (The spelling of Albuquerque never looks right, but my spell-checker says it’s correct, so who am I to argue?)

DSC_0601 There are 26 hopefully extinct volcanoes in this area which is known as the El Malpais region. There’s also an El Malpais National Monument, which we drove through but didn’t visit since it’s mostly wilderness.


This is Bandera’s crater. It last erupted 10,000 years ago, first spewing flaming cinders and then depositing a river of lava more than 17 miles long. We hiked to the top – about a mile-long trail. We survived so we must be finally acclimating to the altitude. The elevation where I was standing when I took this picture is 8,036 feet.

DSC_0613 The most fascinating thing about Bandera Volcano is what lies beneath. That cave is the mouth of a lava tube, and what looks like greenish water at the bottom is actually ice.



That’s right – we’re in the desert and the outside temperature is in the 90s but the temperature in the cave never goes above 31 degrees. The deepest ice is the oldest and dates back 3400 years. The ice is formed by rain and snow melt seeping into the cave and the ice floor is about 20 feet deep. The green tint is caused by Arctic algae.


Ancient Anasazi Indians, and later, white settlers mined ice here until 1946. The  owners of this privately run attraction used a smaller ice cave as a refrigerator until electricity was run to the property.


This image is what looked to me like a couple or pieces of white washed wood leaning on the attraction’s office wall among some pieces of petrified wood. Penny and I disagreed about what it was until we touched it. I hate to admit Penny was right. It is petrified wood that seems to have been converted to quartz crystal.


I’ve been asked how much we plan ahead on these trips, so I figured I could answer that question here. Before departing from home we have major destinations in mind. For example, on this trip we knew we were going to visit Crater Lake and Las Vegas, and other specific destinations. But there’s always a lot of land between those destination points, so we plot a course between those points, planning to drive between 250 and 300 miles a day. We’ll find a campground at that distance and when we get there we’ll research the area to see what’s interesting and there’s almost always something interesting. We’re currently en route from the Grand Canyon to Dallas, Texas, and the route put us in New Mexico. And that’s how we found the remarkable ice cave.


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