The great cataclysm that altered the Katmai National Park region occurred in 1912, when a volcano erupted on this part of the Alaska Peninsula with a force that geologists believe was 10 times greater than the explosion that took the top off Mount St. Helens in 1980. The eruption was heard hundreds of miles away as a new volcano formed and an older one collapsed.
For hundreds of miles up and down the coast, the daylight sky was darkened by thousands of tons of ash thrown more than 30,000 feet into the sky. Global temperatures cooled for weeks, and as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia, acid rain burned up clothing that was hanging outdoors to dry. It is believed that nobody witnessed the actual eruption, because it occurred in a wild and uninhabited region far from towns or villages. But the great event put Katmai on the front pages of America's newspapers, sparking an interest in the region.
Exploration of Katmai National Park
Four years after the Katmai volcanic eruption, while exploring the still-smoldering area for the National Geographic Society, Robert Griggs discovered the primary scene of destruction, an area now referred to as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Said Griggs: "The whole valley...was full of hundreds, no thousands -- literally, tens of thousands -- of smokes curling up from its fissured floor."
Many people have been to Yellowstone National Park and have seen Old Faithful. Well, imagine a valley with hundreds of geysers, some shooting as high as 1,000 feet into the air (ten times the height of Old Faithful). That is the sight that greeted these early explorers. Katmai was designated a national monument in 1918. In 1980, Congress enlarged its area and reclassified it as a national park.
Katmai National Park is remotely located -- it's accessible only by airplane -- but the journey is worthwhile. Visitors see a volcanic wasteland alongside forests brimming with wildlife. It's one of the most unique sights in the national park system.
© Publications International, Ltd.