Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kyushu Road Trip, Day 2: Hot Springs, Volcanoes, and Fields of Grain

Read about the first day of our Kyushu Road Trip(s) here.

A few weeks ago, we spent back-to-back weekends driving through the volcanic highlands of inland Kyushu. Day one took us through Kokonoe to some spectacular waterfalls, then up into the Kuju Plateau.

On the second day of each road trip, we headed out after a bath or two followed by a hearty onsen breakfast. From Kuju, the road took us across an odd, rolling grassland unlike anything one would ever expect to see in Japan. Horses, big torii gates marking the entrances to a number of ranches, and even a roadside hot-dog stand flying a giant American flag.

The grassland ends abruptly about 40 minutes south of Kuju, at a sheer drop into the Aso caldera.

You really have to see Aso to believe it. The mountains in the distance in those shots above used to be the southern slopes of an enormous stratovolcano roughly the size of Mt. Fuji. We're standing on the remnants of the southern slopes, looking down into the enormous crater formed when the whole thing blew in a series of major eruptions ending about 90,000 years ago, the largest of which covered the entire island of Kyushu with a layer of volcanic ash. 

The light wasn't cooperating for some of our shots, so I've pulled a few images from Wikipedia below:
That's what the northern wall looks like from about 2/3 of the way down.
A cinder cone called Komezuka, on the northern flank of the main peak, with the northern wall of the caldera in the distance.
The result is a low, sheltered, and well-watered valley with rich volcanic soil: some of the most fertile farmland in all of Japan. Of course, that geography cuts both ways, as the area is prone to floods like those that ravaged the area earlier this year. The damage was still evident in a number of scoured creek beds and washouts along the road.

While Aso town, in the heart of the crater, is a cute little burgh with a pretty Shinto shrine . . .

. . . the main attraction in Aso is Naka-dake (literally, "central peak"), site of the area's last active volcanic crater. An access road runs right to the top, winding up the sprawling slopes and their expanse of grassy pastures.

By the time you get to the top, you're pretty sure you're in a war zone. On Mars.

The place is dotted with bunkers to protect visitors in the event of an eruption, and a constant warning message plays over the loudspeaker about the dangers of volcanic gas.
You can't see it, but the light's blue, which is good.

And the crater itself is simply bizarre: a gaping pit in the mountainside, spewing smoke, with a brilliant blue-green lake steaming at the bottom. Pretty much impossible to capture in pictures, so I tried to get some video as well. (E-mail reader: click through to the blog to watch the clip! Provided it's working - doesn't look so good in preview . . .)

Crater don't play by your rules.

Hint: It's good that the wind sock is pointing that way.

A close-up of the crater wall. Anyone else thinking Sarlaac?
The dormant craters next door to the main show were also pretty cool: a rugged, barren landscape where just a few shrubs have begun to cling to life.

And finally, looking downhill, before the drive back to Fukuoka.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. Did Rodan then fly out of the pit????