Thursday, June 08, 2006
Kyushu Part 5 Aso-San
So upon leaving Kumamoto Liz decided she didn't have any particular desire to see a Volcano or to explore the baths of Beppu, so she headed back to Kanazawa. This left me alone to pursue my geological interests.
As I have mentioned before, I'm a big fan of geology. Rocks, faults, mountains, crystals, I find all of it fascinating! I suppose it comes from growing up with the Rocky Mountains in my backyard. While the Rockies have plenty of old volcanic formations to peruse, nothing has been active for tens of thousands of years at the east, and more usually a few million years. So for me a chance to see an active volcano that erupts quite regularly was a chance not to be missed!
The Mt. Aso Caldera is right in the middle of Kyushu, roughly half way between Kumamoto and Beppu. It is the worlds largest still active calderas, with a circumference of about 120 kilometers encompasing several towns and onsen resorts. For the record, a caldera is the remnent of a large volcano that has collapsed, usually from a massive eruption. The Aso Caldera was formed about 90,000 years ago, and since then 5 new volcanos have risen in the center.
One of these "new" cones, Mt Naka, is the only one in the group that is still active, and in addition to constantly expelling sulpheric fumes and steam it provides the area with a major tourist attraction! To get there from Kumamoto I had to take two local trains, switching half way. As the track heads up the caldera ridge to the town of Aso, it has to go up a set of switchbacks where the train actually reverses direction a couple of times to climb the steep hillside.
Once a traveler has arrived at the sublimely beautiful caldera floor, it is just a matter of another hour on a bus to the Aso-san Ropeway, which carries the hordes of visitors to the rim of the crater. While it was very popular with the local tourists, I didn't see very many westerners that day, it seems despite the amazing views the area is a bit off the beaten track.
All and all Mt Aso was awsome. The constantly billowing steam reminded me that it was ready to blow its top again at any time. (In 1979 a surprise eruption actually killed a few tourists.) The twisted volcanic rocks that littered the area were a fascinating vision of Hell, or Mordor at least! Living things need not apply, there was not much greenery at the top, nor did I see any animals.
Well, with that marked off of my life's to-do list, I headed back down the mountain to catch the express to Beppu, the Hot Springs Las Vegas.