Take a journey through a Volcanic Wonderland ....

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

in Scenic

The photos on this page were taken during a nine-day trip to Katmai National Park on the Alaskan Peninsula, a trip which was sponsored by the Geological and Planetary Sciences division at Caltech. Geologically, Katmai is one of the most exciting places in the world. The 15 active volcanoes that line Shelikov Strait, part of the Aleutian Range volcanoes, make Katmai National Park one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. Major eruptions have deposited ash in the Katmai area at least ten times during the past 7000 years, and an uncountable number of smaller eruptions have also occurred. The 1912 Novarupta eruption was the largest eruption anywhere in the world in the 20th century, as an estimated 15 cubic kilometers of bubble-free magma (resulting in over 30 cubic kilometers of pumice and ash) was explosively erupted during 60 hours beginning on June 6. This was about 30 times the volume erupted by Mount St. Helens in 1980! A 120-square-kilometer ash-flow (or pyroclasitic flow) sheet, up to 200 m (660 ft) thick in places, still fills the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Fumaroles persisted there for fifteen years, giving the valley its name. Several decades later, in the 1950s and '60s, the Katmai area again witnessed eruption, this time of Trident Volcano.

There are no roads that lead into the Brooks Camp area of the Park, so we flew in by float plane from nearby King Salmon, Alaska. We then rode 23 miles (37 km) along the one dirt road within the park to the overlook at Three Forks over the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, where we had a beautiful view of the 1912 ash-flow sheet. From there, we hiked down into the valley and backpacked 9.5 miles (15 km) up the valley to "Baked Mountain Hut," a USGS research camp on the mountain of the same name. "Baked Mountain Hut" was our home for the next six days, from where we hiked each day to see some of the most impressive volcanoes and some of the most spectacular terrain anywhere in the world. Some of the photos from this memorable trip are displayed below; enjoy browsing, and click on an image to see a larger version.

All photos on this page are original and are copyright 1998, Aron Meltzner.


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(1) The six-seater float plane we flew from King Salmon to Brooks Lodge on Naknek Lake. (2) Naknek Lake, the third largest in Alaska, with a breached glacial moraine and Mount La Gorce (non-volcanic) in the background.

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(3-4) Views of the grayish ignimbrite (welded ash-flow or pyroclasitic flow tuff) sheet near the bottom of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. This entire 120-square-kilometer sheet was deposited during the 1912 eruption from the Novarupta vent 11 miles (17.7 km) away. Photos 3 and 4 were taken looking north and east, respectively, from the Overlook Cabin near Three Forks. In Photo 4, the River Lethe and Knife Creek can be seen slicing their way through the ash-flow sheet. (5) View of Mount Griggs (snow-covered peak on the right).

View AVO images of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

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(6-7) The River Lethe in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The river occupies a gorge incised completely through the distal part of the 1912 ash-flow sheet into underlying sediments. For perspective, the boulders at the bottom of the gorge are roughly the size of humans. (8) Taking a break along our journey up the valley, and (9) crossing a very small stream.

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(10) A view of Baked Mountain, our final destination for the first day, still several miles away in this photo -- and those last few miles sure seemed like the longest miles in the world! The hut is a little less than halfway up on the left. (11) Walking along the partially frozen-ever River Lethe, looking for a safe place to cross.

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(12) A view back down the valley from Baked Mountain Hut. This photo was taken the first morning there and shows where we had walked the previous day. (13) A view of Mount Griggs, also from Baked Mountain Hut.

View AVO images of Mount Griggs.

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(14) A view of Mount Mageik (three snow-capped peaks in the center), Mount Martin (steaming vent in the distance on the right), Mount Cerberus (center, in front of Mageik), and Falling Mountain (left). Mounts Mageik and Martin (like Katmai, Trident, and Griggs) have active fumaroles and have undergone Holocene eruptions. Mount Cerberus and Falling Mountain are Holocene dacite domes adjacent to the 1912 vent at Novarupta. (15) A view of Baked Mountain, from Broken Mountain. Baked Mountain and Broken Mountain consist of uplifted Jurassic sedimentary rocks, which, like Falling Mountain, were truncated by the eruption and subsidence in the Novarupta caldera. (16) A view of Novarupta Dome, the surrounding tephra ring, and the Novarupta caldera. Novarupta Dome, a 60-m-high dome of rhyolite, plugs the 500-m-wide inner vent, source of the 1912 Plinian deposits. The view is looking north-northeast from Falling Mountain.

See a Location Map of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

View AVO images of Mount Mageik, Mount Martin, and Novarupta.


(17) A view of what's left of Mount Katmai. The two tallest peaks toward the left in the photo are two remaining peaks of Katmai, and the Katmai caldera is to the left (east) of those peaks. This caldera was formed when the 1912 Novarupta eruption drained the magma from below Katmai Volcano. At the base of the mountain are visible underlying uplifted marine sediments.

See a Location Map of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

View AVO images of Katmai Caldera.

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(18) Fumarole deposits along Knife Creek in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. In the 1910s and '20s, this was one of the valley's "ten thousand smokes." For fifteen years, the ash-flow sheet was hot enough that water which seeped downward boiled and turned to steam, and then found its way back up to the surface through these fumarole cracks, issuing as forth steam, characterized by a distinct odor, and leaving behind the bright yellow and red chemically-altered rock we see today. (19) A delicately balanced snow bridge over Knife Creek. (20) Another view of a fumarole; this time, the river cut right along the fumarole crack, exposing a beautiful array and pattern of colors on the creek wall.

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(21) A beautiful shot of Baked Mountain, partly in sun, partly in shadow, from Katmai Pass to the south. Today was Solstice, but earlier we had awoken to the surprise of falling snow! (22-23) Views of Mount Mageik from Katmai Pass. In the foreground of Photo 22 is one of the AVO seismic stations in the area.

View AVO images of Mount Mageik.

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(24-26) Views from the rim of New Trident, some 3000 ft. (over 900 m) above Katmai Pass. New Trident is a new peak of Trident Volcano which formed in a series of eruptions from 1953 to the mid-1960s. Photo 24 is looking to the northeast toward the tallest peak of Trident. In the foreground, clouds are shooting over the crater rim of New Trident; the crater itself is down and to the right of the photo. Photo 25 is looking to the south, toward Observation Mountain (non-volcanic, uplifted marine sediments). In the foreground on the left are jaded ice crystals, a result of high winds from one predominant direction over time. Photo 26 is looking to the southwest. For a few glorious seconds, Mount Mageik's distinctive peak "peeked" through the clouds over Katmai Pass.

View AVO images of Trident Volcano.

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(27-29) Views of the group from the rim of New Trident. That's me, with a slight beard and hat-head in Photo 28! The clouds really were as thick as fog in San Francisco, only whiter.

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(30-31) Views looking south from the rim of New Trident, toward the Pacific, some 15 miles (24 km) in the distance. The tallest peaks of Kodiak Island, some 70 miles (some 110 km) away, could also be seen to the southeast. The crater rim can be seen on the left in Photo 30 (the photo was taken from across the crater), and Observation Mountain can be seen on the right in Photo 30 and in the center of Photo 31. Andesite lava flows, emplaced during the extended eruptive period between 1953 and the mid-1960s, are visible in the lower right-hand corner of Photo 31 (dark lobes with snow on top).

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(32-33) Fumarolic activity inside the crater of New Trident. The ground here was hot enough to melt snow rather quickly, and 1 ft. (30 cm) deep, the grouond was hot enough to scald our hands in seconds. (34) Yee-haw! Group leader John Eichelberger of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, "sledding" down the mountain we had so strenuously climbed earlier that day. Coming down was so much fun, we climbed part-way back up and did it again!

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(35-36) Beautiful shots of Mount Mageik and associated lava flows, on the way back from New Trident.

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(37-38) Mount Griggs, at sunset (11:30 pm) and at midnight, respectively, on the night of Summer Solstice. (In Alaska, Solstice is a word you capitalize.) Photos taken looking northeast. (39) View at midnight on Solstice, looking southeast toward Trident. The peaks of Trident are still illuminated by sunlight. The colors in all three photos are pretty true-to-life. Although the sun did set, it never got dark enough for us to see stars.

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(40) View down the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, early on the morning before leaving. The 9.5-mile (15-km) trek was so much easier downhill, especially with lighter packs on our backs! (41) View of Mounts Mageik (center, front) and Martin (in the distance on the right) from the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes on our trek out.

View AVO images of Mount Mageik and Mount Martin.


(42) A view of Redoubt Volcano from our airplane approaching Anchorage.

View AVO images of Redoubt Volcano.


Check out some more photos from our trip on the Group Photo Page, or check out Magali's Page!

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This page maintained by Aron Meltzner.
Created 04 August 1998.
Last modified 10 August 1998.
Links updated 05 May 2000.