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- Wonders of Creation - 10/15 -


subterraneous sounds of the volcano, even then in a state of combustion, now left them. The track opened on a black surface of glazed volcanic sand and of lava, the broken fragments of which, arrested in its boiling progress in a thousand fantastic forms, opposed continual impediments to their advance. Amidst these, one huge rock, the Pico del Fraile, a conspicuous object from below, rose to the perpendicular height of 150 feet, compelling them to take a wide circuit. They soon came to the limits of perpetual snow, where new difficulties presented themselves, as the treacherous ice gave an imperfect footing, and a false step might precipitate them into the frozen chasms that yawned around. To increase their distress, respiration in these aerial regions became so difficult, that every effort was attended with sharp pains in the head and limbs. Still they pressed on, till, drawing nearer the crater, such volumes of smoke, sparks, and cinders were belched forth from its burning entrails, and driven down the sides of the mountain, as nearly suffocated and blinded them. It was too much even for their hardy frames to endure, and, however reluctantly, they were compelled to abandon the attempt on the eve of its completion. They brought back some huge icicles--a curious sight in those tropical regions--as a trophy of their achievement, which, however imperfect, was sufficient to strike the minds of the natives with wonder, by showing that with the Spaniards the most appalling and mysterious perils were only as pastimes. The undertaking was eminently characteristic of the bold spirit of the cavalier of that day, who, not content with the dangers that lay in his path, seemed to court them from the mere Quixotic love of adventure. A report of the affair was transmitted to the Emperor Charles V.; and the family of Ordaz was allowed to commemorate the exploit by assuming a burning mountain on their escutcheon.

"The general was not satisfied with the result. Two years after he sent up another party, under Francisco Montano, a cavalier of determined resolution. The object was to obtain sulphur to assist in making gunpowder for the army. The mountain was quiet at the time, and the expedition was attended with better success. The Spaniards, five in-number, climbed to the very edge of the crater, which presented an irregular ellipse at its mouth, more than a league in circumference. Its depth might be from 800 to 1000 feet. A lurid flame burned gloomily at the bottom, sending up a sulphureous steam, which, cooling as it rose, was precipitated on the sides of the cavity. The party cast lots, and it fell on Montano himself to descend in a basket into this hideous abyss, into which he was lowered by his companions to the depth of 400 feet! This was repeated several times, till the adventurous cavalier had collected a sufficient quantity of sulphur for the wants of the army."

The more tranquil state of the volcano in modern times having rendered the summit no longer so difficult of access as it was in those days, the ascent has been several times achieved--twice in 1827, and again in 1833 and 1834. The crater is now a large oval basin with precipitous walls, composed of beds of lava, of which some are black, others of a pale rose tint. At the bottom of the crater, which is nearly flat, are several conical vents, whence are continually issuing vapours of variable colour, red, yellow, or white. The beds of sulphur deposited in this crater are worked for economical purposes. Two snowy peaks tower above its walls.

Not less magnificent in its proportions is the volcano of Orizaba, which is nearly of the same height as Popocatepetl. It was very active about the middle of the sixteenth century, having had several great eruptions between 1545 and 1560; but since then it has sunk into comparative repose. This mountain was ascended by Baron Muller in 1856. A first attempt proved unsuccessful; but by passing a night in a grotto near the limit of perpetual snow, he was able on the following day, after a toilsome ascent, to reach the edge of the crater--not, however, till near sunset. His experiences, and the scene which was presented to his wondering gaze, he describes in the following terms:--

"I have achieved my purpose, and joy banishes all my griefs, but only for a moment; suddenly I fell to the ground, and a stream of blood gushed from my mouth.

"On recovering, I found myself still close to the crater, and I then summoned all my strength to gaze and observe as much as possible. My pen cannot describe either the aspect of those regions, or the impressions they produced on me. Here seemed to be the gate of the nether world, enclosing darkness and horror. What terrible power must have been required to raise and shiver such enormous masses, to melt them and pile them up like towers, at the very moment of their cooling and acquiring their actual forms!

"A yellow crust of sulphur coats in several places the internal walls, and from the bottom rise several volcanic cones. The soil of the crater, so far as I could see, was covered with snow, consequently not at all warm. The Indians however affirmed that, at several points, a hot air issues from crevices in the rocks. Although I could not verify their statement, it seemed to me probable; for I have often observed similar phenomena in Popocatepetl.

"My original intention of passing the night on the crater had for overpowering reasons become impracticable. The twilight which, in this latitude, as every one knows, is extremely short, having already begun, it was necessary to prepare for our return. The two Indians rolled together the straw mats which they had brought, and bent them in front so as to form a sort of sledge. We sat down upon these, and stretching out our legs, allowed ourselves to glide down on this vehicle. The rapidity with which we were precipitated increased to such a degree, that our descent was rather like being shot through the air, than any other mode of locomotion. In a few minutes we dashed over a space which it had taken us five hours to climb."

There are several of the West Indian islands of volcanic origin; and three of them--St. Vincent, Martinique, and Guadaloupe--contain active volcanoes. The most remarkable is the volcano of Morne- Garou, in St. Vincent, the eruptions from which have been particularly violent. In 1812 the ashes which it threw out were so great in quantity, and projected to so vast a height, that they were carried to a distance of two hundred miles in the teeth of the trade-wind. From Mount Pelee, in Martinique, there was an eruption in August 1851. La Soufriere, the volcano in Guadaloupe, is said to have been cleft in twain during an earthquake. Its activity has long been in a subdued state; but it is remarkable for its deposits of sulphur.

CHAPTER VIII.

Hawaii, Sandwich Islands--Crater of Kilauea--Its awful Aspect-- Fiery Lake and Islands--Jets of Lava--Depth of Crater and Surface of Lake--Bank of Sulphur--Curious Rainbow--Mouna-Kaah and Mouna- Loa--Eruption of the Latter in 1840--Recent Eruption--Great Jet and Torrent of Lava--Burning of the Forests--Great Whirlwinds-- Underground Explosions--Other Volcanoes in the Pacific.

Hawaii is well known in history as being the island where the celebrated navigator Captain Cook was killed. The name used to be written Owhyhee; but a better apprehension of the native pronunciation has led to its being altered into Hawaii. No one who visits it in the present day need be afraid of sharing the fate of poor Captain Cook; for the descendants of the savages who, in his time, inhabited the island, have now, through the labours of Christian missionaries, become a very decent sort of quiet, well- behaved Christian people.

Hawaii, which is the largest of a group called the Sandwich Islands, can boast of the greatest volcanic crater in the world. It is called sometimes Kirauea, sometimes Kilauea; for the natives seem not very particular about the pronunciation of their _l_ and their _r_; but where one uses _l_ another as pertinaciously employs _r_, while a third set use a sound between the two, as you may have heard some people do at home. Situated on the lower slopes of a lofty mountain called Mouna-Roa, or Loa (for there is the same dubiety about the _l_ and the _r_ here as in the former case), the crater of Kilauea is a vast plain between fifteen and sixteen miles in circumference, and sunk below the level of its borders to a depth varying from two hundred to four hundred feet--the walls of rock enclosing it being for the most part precipitous. The surface of the ground is very uneven, being strown with huge stones and masses of volcanic rock, and it sounds hollow under the tramp of the foot.

Towards the centre of the plain is a much deeper depression. Those who have ventured to approach it, and look down, describe it as an awful gulf, about eight hundred feet in depth, and presenting a most gloomy and dismal aspect. The bottom is covered with molten lava, forming a great lake of fire, which is continually boiling violently, and whose fiery billows exhibit a wild terrific appearance. The shape of the lake resembles the crescent moon; its length is estimated at about two miles, and its greatest breadth at about one mile. It has numerous conical islands scattered round the edge, or in the lake itself, each of them being a little subordinate crater. Some of them are continually sending out columns of gray vapour; while from a few others shoots up what resembles flame. It is, probably, only the bright glare of the lava they contain, reflected upwards. Several of these conical islands are always belching forth from their mouths glowing streams of lava, which roll in fiery torrents down their black and rugged sides into the boiling lake below. They are said sometimes to throw up jets of lava to the height of upwards of sixty feet. The foregoing woodcut can convey only an imperfect idea of this immense crater.

[Illustration: Crater of Kilauea]

The outer margin of the gulf all round is nearly perpendicular. The height of the bounding cliffs is estimated at about four hundred feet above a black horizontal ledge of hardened lava, which completely encircles it, and beyond which there is a gradual slope down into the burning lake. The surface of the molten lava is at present between three and four hundred feet below this horizontal ledge; but the lava is said sometimes to rise quite up to this level, and to force its way out by forming an opening in the side of the mountain, whence it flows down to the sea. An eruption of this kind took place in 1859. On one side of the margin of the lake there is a long pale yellow streak formed by a bank of sulphur. The faces of the rocks composing the outer walls of the crater have a pale ashy gray appearance, supposed to be due to the action of the sulphurous vapours. The surface of the plain itself is much rent by fissures. It is said that the glare from the molten lava in the lake is so great as to form rainbows on the passing rain-clouds.

The entire Island of Hawaii is of volcanic origin; and besides this


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