Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Galapagos Islands

I recently returned from a five-day cruise in the Galapagos Islands aboard the ship Santa Cruz II. I was hired to give lectures on behalf of Smithsonian Journeys. It was an excellent trip all around - the weather, the sites visited, participants and naturalist crew aboard the Santa Cruz II!

The tour began in Quito the colonial capital of Ecuador (elevation 9,350 ft.). This view is from the hill called El Panecillo (the Little Loaf).

The drying laundry made for an interesting composition.

The Pre-Columbian Alabado Museum has exquisite displays and I found this sculpture of two owls fascinating.

The beautiful courtyard of the Iglesia de San Francisco. Brown-robed monks still walk the halls.

Just a few miles north of Quito lies the equator where a monument has been built. The yellow line marks the equator, which splits the building in the background.

Looking west at the Mitad del Mundo Monument (Middle of the World Monument).

I thought placing the large globe on top of the Monument in a proper orientation for this location - on its side - made for a clever and interesting perspective. I feel so fortunate to have stood at both poles of the earth as well!

Looking east from the top of the monument. The indigenous population had a celestial observatory on the hill in the background.

Finally! The Galapagos. Our first stop was on the largest island, Isabela, and this is Punta Vicente Roca on the northwesternmost spur of the island.

On this cruise we visited Isabela, Fernandina, Santa Cruz and Floreana islands. I especially enjoy this western itinerary in the Galapagos as the archipelago sits over a stationary hot spot with the islands drifting east through time over it such that the most active and recently formed islands are in the west.

At anchor, I took this picture of Fernandina Island to the south - a classic shield volcano.

The Santa Cruz II anchored at Punta Vicente Roca beneath the Ecuador Volcano. Note how dissected the volcano has become.

This is due to the crashing of large Pacific waves from the open sea to the west. The severe erosion has exposed the volcanic plumbing system here and you can see numerous dikes running upwards.

Notice the chilled margins on this dike. When the hot magma forces its way into the country rock, it cools quicker on its margins while hot magma continues to move upwards. This is a text-book example.

Check this out! Two black dikes run upwards through the gold-colored tuff and then connect to the black lava flow on top of the hill. This is a rather rare glimpse showing how the internal plumbing system of a volcanic eruption (magma) reached the surface and turned into a lava flow. Fantastic! Scroll up six images to see a wide angle view of the lava flow capping the tuff (image starting with the word "Finally!").

A marine iguana rests on a bed of volcanic tuff. Much of this point is composed of tuff which is ash-sized grains that encircle a tuff cone. Tuff cones form with the interaction of seawater and magma.

A Brown noddy (Anous stolidus) stands on a well-rounded boulder encased in the tuff. This basalt boulder was likely rounded in the swash zone along the beach, then was caught up in the eruption of the tuff cone. That is how I explained a well-rounded boulder in the tuff.

Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) were everywhere at Punta Vicente Roca.

Next we saw the rare Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), one of 18 species worldwide and the only equatorial penguin in the world. I have seen 11 or 12 species.

Close-up of the flightless cormorant on the left (Phalacrocorax harrisi) and the Galapagos penguin. I guess that since this species of penguin has made it to the equator (thus inhabiting every climate zone from polar to equatorial), there would be nothing ecologically to keep penguins confined to the Southern Hemisphere.

Moving south to Fernandina Island, I looked back at Isabela and took this photo of the Wolf Volcano.

The westernmost islands are not only good for recent geology but wildlife as well. Just offshore is the edge of the Galapagos Bank, a wall of volcanic rock that drops steeply to the west causing the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water. Many animals, like this marine iguana, take advantage of this upwelling and the abundance of food it provides.

Our local guides told us that this particular pahoehoe lava flow was about 500 years old.

A lava cactus (Brachycereus nesioticus) grows out of the pahoehoe.

In the Galapagos you will find Earth's only marine-going iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Note the hole on the tip of its snout - they drink seawater but process out the salt and then blow it out these specialized tubes.


The lava flows trap water on their surface and this reflection of our group enticed me to take a shot.

A flittering Galapagos mockingbird (Mimus parvulus) brought our attention to a first for me. A Galapagos racer (Pseudalsophis biserialis) was slithering along a crack in the lava. The mockingbird may have been protecting eggs.

The Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) posed for 1/2 an hour on a nearby branch. None of the animals here have a fear of humans.

A regal rest in the late afternoon sunlight.

Mighty claws of the marine iguana. The feed on algae that grows at the waters edge.

A land iguana (Conolophus suncristatus). See one of my previous posts here for more and better pictures of these amazing reptiles.

On Santa Cruz Island we drove into the highlands where we visited a lava tunnel. The farmer who owns the land above it has provided lighting in it but what struck me was seeing that the walls exposed layered agglutinate, blobs of airborne lava that was ejected from a nearby cone, landing while still hot such that a rootless or ventless lava flow formed. This means that the tunnel did not form from a fluid mass of erupted lava per se, but rather the still hot ejecta that flowed downhill. I had never known lava tunnels could form this way.

The big attraction in the highlands was seeing these giant tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra).

They do love the mud. I think it is cool for them.

Typical creep of tortoises. (Yep, that is what a group of tortoises is called).

Our last stop was on Isla Floreana were we visited Post Office Bay. Whalers began the tradition centuries ago, leaving letters in a barrel that would be returned home by homeward-bound whalers. I picked up three postcards to mail to Nebraska, Prescott and New Zealand. I left two to be mailed to Arizona and California.

Checking the postcards for possible return home.

Volcano along the shores of Floreana Island.

The Devil's Crown - an eroded volcano just offshore.

Blue-footed boobie (Sula nebouxii) on Floreana Island. Males display these colorful feet to attract females.

A Galapagos beach at sunset.

A lagoon on Floreana Island.


Our naturalist crew was one of the best I have ever worked with! From left they are Indira, Mari, Fatima, Desiree, Ricardo, Veronica, Sebastian, and Nessi.

Thanks as always for reading! Next stop - Death Valley in February.

1 comment:

  1. Wayne, I have always wanted to go to these islands. Super job writing. Great photos. The wildlife and geology was wonderfully showcased! Thanks so much. -Deb, Joan, Paul, Steve and Bob


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