Tuesday, June 27, 2017

6/24 -- Explore Mt. Etna

We drove north to  Mt Etna in a group of SUVs to walk to an area of subsidiary cinder cones and learn more about the volcano. Mt Etna is called 'mama' by the local people because she has never killed anyone (though she has obliterated a few hotels and other retail establishments) and because the lava that flows from it is a type that is amenable to becoming fertile land quickly. Some volcanoes have more acidic output, and their lava tends to stay barren for much longer periods. Scotch broom is native here and is an early plant that sets its roots deeps and starts transforming the rock to soil. There is also a unique variety of birch that occurs only on some slopes of the volcano and nowhere else. It looks just like the birch in the US except the leaves are tiny and its genome is 80% DIFFERENT than other European birches.
Mt Etna. The whitish stuff on the ground is sulfur.
Our guide, Nicolo, with a color-coded map
that shows the extent of the various eruptions.
One of the cinder cones
This cluster birch looks just like the stuff my
parents planted at our lakeside home except
it isn't.

After walking about a mile, we started up one of the cones, which provided a great view from the top of the Ionian Sea and the rest of the volcano. We walked down to the vent, and it really looked deep and didn't photograph well.
The cone was pretty steep.
Looking west toward the Ionian Sea.
Looking east to the main cone of Etna

Above and below: other groups exploring the string of cinder cones.

The vents, like this, are not the source of the lava
rivers. They come from fratures long the sides
of the cones.
Back at the SUVs, we drove to a lava tube cave and explored it. Fortunately for me, it was small, daylight was always visible, and my claustrophobia didn't kick in. We have seen a couple other lava tube caves in Northern California and the Galapagos, but still learned something this time.  Lava tubes are created when the outside shell of a lava river starts cooling and solidifies while the center keeps flowing.
Lava tube opening
This section had an opening on either end.
The ridge at the right shows there were two layers of lava
rivers through here.
The lower level of this tube.

This also had upper and lower flows, highlighted
by the different color flashlights.

Looking back toward the entrance.

What looks like mini stalagtites are actually rock that melted
and dripped down as the river flowed past and left.
There are now a bunch of monitoring stations
on Mt Etna that are solar powered like this one
and transmit data about the various underground
gasses and minute ground movements to help
anticipate eruptions.
 Then it was time for lunch and the trip back to Catania, where we had a couple hours to pack for the trip home before our final group dinner. Isabella made a delightful montage with music of photos she took of us during the trip interspersed with the idiosyncrasies and glories of Sicily. We are hoping she finds a way to distribute it to us once we are home. Our dinner ended with a tiramasu decorated with a photo of our group translated into frosting. It has been a wonderful time and we have met friends we will never forget.
Above and below: we encountered a gay pride parade on our
way to dinner. We didn't realize til we got home and saw local
photos that it was apparently a worldwide event.

Our tirimisu

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