Gumbo was flying over the Valley of 10,000 Smokes on a rare clear day. Usually there's a more than 90% chance or clouds and rain, so we were very lucky to have such great visibility. The site was recognized by Sylvia and George G. Congratulations to both for solving the puzzle.
Gumbo's trip to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes started with a floating/seaplane ride from Kodiak, Alaska, heading north to Katmai National Park, which is where the Valley of 10,000 Smokes is located. The take-off was scenic, including homes along the waterfront, the city's large (mostly commercial fishing) harbor, and airport. Then we flew over Kodiak Island and headed north over the sea to reach Katmai NP.
On June 6, 1912, a new volcano emerged in Katmai and forever changed the landscape of the region. The volcano was later named Novarupta. It erupted for about 60 hours, sending ash 20 miles high and thickly covering a wide area with pumice and dust. The volcanic cone was blown away, and lava, ash and pumice flowed from Novarupta down the Ukak River valley at more than 100 miles per hour.
(There are widespread pumice and ash deposits in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes)
After the eruption the Ukak River valley was turned into a 40 square mile voluminous deposit of ash and was barren of life. Heat trapped in the ash took decades to cool. Any water buried by the ash was turned into steam. The venting of superheated steam inspired the name "Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes". When I first heard the name, I thought it probably had a native origin, but the title was bestowed by geologists who flocked here after the eruption to study everything.
Indian tribes who lived within 20 miles of the volcano saw their villages buried by up to 10 feet of ash. These tribes needed to be rescued and relocated, giving up their traditional home because it was no longer habitable. Today that 10 feet of ash has been compressed to about a foot or so in thickness, but the valley and mountains throughout the region are still coated in pumice and ash, as you can see in the accompanying photos.
(Apparently this lake was formed after Novarupta erupted. We were told it is filled with toxic water, and that the glaciers flowing into it were newly created in the last century)
Today the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes offers you a chance to see the landscape created by the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, and the fifth largest we know about -- ever. It's an awesome landscape to see, especially from the air, as you get a sense of the magnitude of the eruption and ash deposits. The power of nature never ceases to impress and humble me.
The Valley was used to train Apollo astronauts on how to look for features of volcanic eruptions on the moon.
The photos above show what appears to be a dark nodule set in a brown landscape. This is what remains of Novarupta. The top of the mountain is blown away, and the dark nodule is a hardened lava plug. Not to say that the lava plug is small or cold. While it looks tiny from the air, it rises 200 feet from the surrounding ground, and it is still hot to the touch.
There is evidence of ongoing (though focal) volcanic activity in the mountains surrounding Novarupta, with steam fumerals breaking through the ice and staining the glaciers with soot.
Reaching the Valley of 10,000 Smokes:
I think the best way to see the Valley is from the air, as we did, on a charter flight. It wasn't cheap, but it was a unique experience. Expect to pay for an hour of pilot's and aircraft time and plane fuel charges.
Another option is to travel from the famous Alaska Brown Bear observing lodge at Brooks Falls, located in Katmai National Park. In the summer months buses will take you from the lodge to a small visitor center located at the northern end of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, where you can explore on foot with simple hikes or an extended backpacking trip.
Visiting the Valley of 10,000 Smokes was one of the most unique travel experiences of my life. Very recommended if you ever make your way to this remote destination.