What do Katmai National Park in Alaska, Pompeii in Italy, and Mt. Tambora in Indonesia all have in common?
You’d be correct if you said they are all places I’ve traveled to in the last couple of years, and ahead of the game if you said they just might be featured in my next planned book.
But there is something else that connects these places, and that something is what I am exploring in the book I am starting to write this winter: each place is linked to a famous volcanic eruption.
Most people know a bit about the A.D. 79 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that covered the nearby town of Pompeii in volcanic ash. But what does it look like (and feel like and smell like) to peer into Vesuvius’ crater today? And how did the volcano bury a small city? My adventures walking the ancient roadways of Pompeii (and Herculaneum—which I found even more interesting), where my feet trodded over stones imprinted with 2,000-year-old chariot tracks, where pumice crunched under my boots as I walked up Mt. Vesuvius: these will be the stories of but one of the chapters of the yet untitled book.
Yet beyond the world’s most famous eruptions, I want to explore the lesser-known volcanic landscapes of the world. For every Mt. St. Helens there is a Novarupta, for every Pompeii there is a Cerén. In short, the book will cover my travels to infamous and interesting volcanoes on all seven continents.
Some of the places I am exploring are the sites of some of the largest eruptions known to history—Novarupta was the largest eruption of the twentieth century, while Mt. Tambora (Indonesia) was the largest in recorded in human history. These places may seen remote and distant from where most of us live, but volcanoes—unlike most other natural disasters—can and have affected countries and cultures halfway across the globe.
Of course the remote and “exotic” location of many of the world’s most interesting volcanic sites occasionally makes for some tricky travels, which in turn can make for good travel stories. A book is born.
Volcanoes have always fascinated me, but it has been in the last three or four years that my fascination—and knowledge—about volcanoes has grown. This is in no small part to my job as a park ranger, where I had to learn about and teach others about the 1912 eruption of Novarupta in Katmai National Park, and delve into geology textbooks for programs I gave in other national parks in Alaska, Utah, and California.
The idea to write a book about travels to volcanic places was in the back of my mind when I went to Italy in November and December 2015. I certainly spend time at Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Mt. Vesuvius but also went to the Campi Flagrei supervolcano near Naples and Mt. Etna in Sicily. When Mt. Etna erupted while I was there, it seemed a sign that this project was meant to be.
A few chapters are already outlined from travels in Alaska and Italy as well as my childhood growing up in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and other active volcanoes. Readers of Make Sure You Have a Map will be familiar with some of these travels in the Valley of the Ten Thousand Smokes in Katmai National Park.
I have just returned from my latest trip to add to the book: four weeks in Indonesia on the islands of Bali, Sumbawa, Java, and Sumatra. As I started researching the biggest and more interesting eruptions around the world, Indonesia seemed to have a disproportionate share of them—not surprising after I learned the Southeast Asian country also boasts more volcanoes than any other country on Earth (around 147, depending on who you talk to). So it became my big trip this year, a trip where I hit up five to nine volcanoes—depending on how you count them. (I also traveled in Malaysia and Singapore for a week this fall, but this was the volcano-free part of my trip. Which meant more museums, less need to use trekking poles, and a lot more heat.)
Still tanned from my trip in Indonesia, I am already trying to plan out the next places I want to explore. Future travels will be dictated by a simple question: is there a volcano there I can visit? Central America, East Africa, Iceland, New Zealand…all are calling me.
The travels will probably take me all around the world again for the next few years (I do still have my day job as a ranger), and the writing process will probably extend after that, so I’m targeting 2020 as a possible publication date. Who knows, there may be another book in between now and then, but my long-term goal is see the places around the world where the tops of mountains have blown off, where lava is flowing, where the land is new—not just to me, but to the Earth itself.
Anyone have favorite volcanoes they’ve visited? Let me know if you have suggestions for volcanoes to visit around the world!