I suppose I've left you all hanging long enough, so now it's time to show off the first batch of photos from Guatemala. The trip started out in Guatemala City, where we loaded up our rental car and drove to Quetzaltenango (known as Xela or Xelaju to most people). From Xela we drove to a finca, or farm/plantation, and then spent three hours hiking through jungle, over landslide scars and down rocky riverbeds. It was a tough, messy hike, although we were lucky enough to have porters go first and cut a path through the brush with machetes. (This did have its drawbacks, though, since the average Guatemalan is shorter than me, and we had some pretty tall people in the group. There was a lot of stooping and some crawling, which isn't all that fun when the foliage is covered in volcanic ash.)
Eventually, we made it to the campsite. How would you like to wake up to this view every morning?
Tripping also happened because we stopped to watch this every so often. Eruptions with your coffee, anyone?
But once we reached the top, we were in a totally different world. El Brujo hasn't been active for several decades, and in that time enormous amounts of ash have accumulated on the top and flanks of the dome. Probably because of the May-October rainy season in this part of Guatemala, much of the ash is covered in vegetation - moss, grass, shrubs, even a few stubby trees. It's a cool landscape:
Enough ash collected in spots that there's a kind of sandy alluvial plain in between El Brujo and El Monje. It would make a good camping spot as long as it didn't get rained on.
The main attraction for me on the domes, however, was the fumaroles. And there were a lot of fumaroles - all down the divide between the two domes and well up onto their flanks, in fact. The fumaroles weren't much hotter than boiling - I could and did spend a lot of time poking my face into them - and release mainly water vapor. If there were any other gases, they were in small enough amounts to be undetectable and non-irritating, which was definitely a bonus. No one likes to do field work with a mask stuck to their face all day!
That's me on the right, contemplating how much I want a sample vs. the comfort level of sticking your face into the geologic equivalent of the spout on a boiling teakettle. I spent a lot of time with my glasses off to keep them from fogging up, which because of my nearsightedness required me to get even closer to the fumaroles. While I was pretty overheated by the end of that day of sampling, I did have lovely clean pores.
There were some great views of the other domes from El Brujo. This photo is looking roughly to the east at El Monje, La Mitad ("The Middle"), and El Caliente ("The Hot One"). The conical, flat-topped Caliente is the source of the regular eruptions that Santiaguito is known for (one of which appears in an earlier photo, and that I posted video of last year).
As we circled the flanks of Santa Maria, we encountered several outcrops of bedded pyroclastic deposits - in this case, several meters of air fall ash and pumice overlain by block and ash flow deposits (cobble to boulder-sized chunks of rock and pumice in an ashy matrix). These were under and overlain by massive lava flows, and they're probably older than the 1902 eruption by a few thousand years at least.
A chute made from massive andesite lava flows worn down by water. This would have been our route to get to the domes had we not chosen the jungle-and-landslide-scar path. It was fairly easy to climb up, but the thought of going downhill on polished lava with lots of ash underfoot and a 40-pound pack was somewhat terrifying.
On another lava flow closer to the El Monje dome, we found what my advisor described as "stretch marks" - places where the cooling lava flow pulled apart and left little stringy bits hanging in the crack (easiest to see next to the handle of the hammer and at the far right of the photo):
And, of course, we were rarely without views of the eruptions from Caliente: