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Volcano National Park
The slopes north
of Cartago rise gradually up the flanks of Volcán
Irazú. The views from on high are stupendous. Every
corner reveals another picture-perfect landscape.
You'll swear they were painted for a Hollywood set.
The slopes are festooned with tidy little farming
villages with brightly painted houses of orange, yellow,
green, and light blue. Dairy farming is an important
industry, and you'll pass by several communities known
for their cheese. The fertile fields around the town
of Cot look like great salad bowls--carrots, onions,
potatoes, and greens are grown intensively.
Volcán Irazú, about 21 km northeast of Cartago,
tops out at 3,432 meters. Its name comes from two
tribal words: ara (point) and tzu (thunder).
The volcano has been ephemerally active, most famously
on 13 March 1963, the day that U.S. President John
F. Kennedy landed in Costa Rica on an official visit:
Irazú broke a 20-year silence and began disgorging
great columns of smoke and ash. The eruption lasted
two years. At one point, ash-filled vapor blasted
up into overhanging clouds and triggered a storm that
rained mud up to five inches thick over a widespread
area. No further activity was recorded until December
1994, when Irazú unexpectedly hiccuped gas, ash, and
breccia. It still rumbles occasionally.
The windswept 100-meter-deep
Diego de la Haya crater contains a sometimes-pea-green, sometimes-rust-red,
mineral-tinted lake. Fumaroles are occasionally active.
A larger crater is 300 meters deep. A sense of bleak
desolation pervades the summit, like the surface of
the moon. It is often foggy. Even on a sunny day expect
a cold, dry, biting wind. Dress warmly. The average
temperature is a chilly 7.3° C (45° F). Little vegetation
lives at the summit, though stunted dwarf oaks, ferns,
lichens, and other species are making a comeback.
Don't be put off
if the volcano is shrouded in fog. Often the clouds
lie below the summit of the mountain--there's no way
of telling until you drive up there--and you emerge
into brilliant sunshine. On a clear day you can see
both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The earlier
in the morning you arrive, the better your chances
of getting clear weather.
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