Monday, March 07, 2011
The Giant's Causeway
Last Saturday afternoon Kīlauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii began a new and spectacular eruption from a fissure that suddenly opened on the mountainside, sending a flow of lava into a seemingly bottomless crack in the earth. The goddess Pele, who controls Hawaii's volcanic activity, must have been really mad! (Above photo comes from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. For scale: the spewing fires are around 30 meters high -- click on the picture to see a larger version in which you can see the burning trees beside the lava and a tiny geologist to the right.)
Around 62 million years ago, an even more enormous volcano than Kīlauea erupted in northern Ireland. The eruption created basalt pillars of great size as the lava slowly cooled and contracted. Over time, additional eruptions, water percolation, erosion, waves, ice floes, and other geological forces created the Giant's Causeway, an amazing array of geometrically regular pillars and stones. These rock formations are so evenly shaped that it's hard to believe they are natural.
Like the Hawaiians, who imagined Pele's wrath and power as the source of the inexplicable appearance of lava and eruptions, the ancient Irish believed in anthropomorphic forces as the explanation for the mysterious rock formations: the giant Finn McCool was their mythic builder. Unlike Pele, Finn wasn't angry: the story says he just didn't want to get his feet wet when he walked to Scotland across the channel, so he paved the ground with regular stones.
Our visit to the Giant's Causeway was certainly the most amazing part of our recent trip to Ireland. We loved walking on the stone pavement that Finn put down, climbing up between the pillars, and enjoying an unusually warm and sunny February day. We both enjoyed taking photos -- here are some favorites: