A Drive In Volcano: St. Lucia
St Lucia's Drive-In Volcano
Did you know you can see a "drive-in volcano" on the island nation of St. Lucia in the Caribbean? You can - Yes, Really!
The St. Lucia volcano isn't actually a drive-through volcano. (That would be foolish!) But, you'll get closer than you ever thought you could get to a real volcano. it's best to book a tour. Tour buses typically park within a couple hundred yards of the volcano, and guides lead you the rest of the way right up to the edge of the caldera. (They still call it the "Drive-In Volcano" in St. Lucia, though.)
It's an amazing sitght. And, though it sounds fool-hearty to get so close to such a wonder, the main danger will most likely be to your olfactory senses. Oh, yes, it smells really bad. You might say it STiNKS. Why? This lens will tell you that and a few other things about St. Lucia's drive in Volcano.
Maybe you'll want to visit St. Lucia some day!
Photo: My own. (all rights reserved)
How Close Can You Really Get?
There is a railing at the edge of the caldera, and you can go right up to the railing. Until about 15 years ago, you could even walk all the way up to the edge of the tar pits. However, after an accident in which a tour guide fell through the crust, more restrictions were put into place. Even though he only fell in up to his waist, and was quickly rescued, he still had third degree burns over a large portion of his body. So, those restrictions were a good idea.
You can still get awfully close, though, as you can see in the accompanying photograph of my husband at the caldera. Note the steam rising behind him. (Read on to find out about calderas.)
Photo: My own. (all rights reserved)
Have You Been to St. Lucia?
What is a Caldera?
It's like a big bowl
A caldera is a bowl-shaped formation that is formed when an eruption basically 'empties out' the material under the surface of the dome, causing it to collapse, assuming a concave shape, like a bowl. The word caldera comes from the Spanish word for cauldron.
The Qualibou Caldera at St Lucia is a little over 2 miles by 3 miles, and contains about 24 vents that spew steam. VERY HOT steam. There is also bubbling mud!
Some folks actually tout the health benefits of the Volcano's mud, and take mud baths downstream, where the temperature is cooler but still pretty hot. They then wash off in the sulphur water. It's supposed to make your skin really smooth and nice, for one thing!
Graphic from the US Geological Survey, P.D.
See For Yourself!
See this Drive-In volcano for yourself, and watch the sulfur steam venting in this short video. It really is amazing!
Resorces on St. Lucia - and Volcanoes on Amazon
Are you finding this interesting? Want to learn more? Or start planning a trip to St. Lucia? You might even like to get the kids involved in learning about volcanoes. It never hurts to learn something else! Books, DVDs, and even volcano elated science kits are easy to find on the internet. They're available on Amazon, as you might expect.
The hour long DVD from National Geographic will captivate you.
Chocked full of fabulous color photos of volcanoes all over the world, under the sea, and even in space.
The Last Eruption
Was in 1766
The last time Qualibou erupted was in 1766. That eruption was not of the variety that spews rivers of molten lava, burying towns. Rather, it was an a minor phreatic eruption that ejected a thin ash layer over a wide area, and lots of very hot steam .
Those who have studied the volcano generally agree that another event is not imminent - probably not for at least half a century, and probably more.
One wonders, however . . .
Award winning science kits for young students (up through about third grade)
Pocket guides are handy to take along with you!
. . . and Pretty Colors, too!
Have you ever smelled really strong sulfur? It smells like rotten eggs, doesn't it? Yep - this volcano's caldera spews hot steam that smells like rotten eggs.
Well those vents in Qualibou's "dormant" caldera are venting hot sulfur steam, and there's no mistaking the aroma! We were there in the daytime, and it was strong and unmistakable. They say it's even stronger at night. I'm glad we left before dusk.
If you look closely, you'll see some pretty colors through all that steam. I didn't know the source of the reds, rusty gold, greens, and other colors were when I saw them, but later, my research told me they were from deposits of sulfur, copper, iron oxide, alkaline lead, calcium oxide, and carbon.
Photo: My own. (all rights reserved)
Where is St. Lucia?
Bodering the Caribbean Sea, Saint Lucia is one of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. It's south of Martinique, and northwest of Barbados. So, the weather is St. Lucia is very tropical.
We got there the easy way. We took a cruise to St. Lucia, and booked a tour through the cruise ship. Though it was just one port of call on that cruise, I must say that St. Lucia was most fascinating, with some really incredible sights, including the 'drive-in volcano.' I'd highly recommend it.
If you go on your own, you should know that the volcano is on the southwest coast of St. Lucia, near the town of Soufriere. Even on your own, a tour guide is ra good idea. The entrance fee to the volcano is usually included with your tour fee. The tour may include other highlights, such as the rain forest, the Pitons, and Marigot Bay. Just be sure you make it to the volcano!
St. Lucia Cruises
If you'd like to take a cruise to St. Lucia, you should look for those with an itinerary labeled "Southern Caribbean." Most of the 7 night cruisess that include St. Lucia depart from San Juan. Both Princess Cruises and Holland America Line have some of a bit longer duration leaving from Ft. Lauderdale. Plan for a FULL day ashore that day, as there is a lot to see!
Steam Power in the Caribbean?
Geothermal Energy from the Volcano
As early as next year, the Drive-In Volcano may become much more than a tourist attaction. It may become a source of power for St.Lucia and beyond.
A company called Qualibou Energy is reportedly in the process of working on a plant to turn the steam from the volcano into power for St.Lucia's 175,000 residents. The developers estimate that the potential is some 120 megawatts from geothermal energy by 2015, with the first 20 meegawatt plant coming online perhaps as early as 2012.
If the company's estimates are correct, it would be a powerful development for St. Lucia's power grid, which currently runs on oil purchased mainly from Venezuela. It is estimated that the power produced from the geothermal energy would eventually be sufficient to power St. Lucia, with enough left over to sell power to neighboring Martinique, delivered via an undersea pipeline.
Books About Volcanoes - Reading is Fun
Volcanoes make fascinating reading for all ages. Whether you're four of forty, there's a book about volcanoes that's written just for you.
For early readers, ages 4 to 8
suitable for 5 to 8 year olds
Qualibou's Sulphur Springs - in the Caldera
Another view of the sulphur steam rising from St. Lucia's drive in Volcano.
Near the center of the caldera is an active geothermal area, and this is where the steam is venting.
While (as reported above) there has not been a major eruption of Qualibou since the 1700's, there were actually three very minor ones at a shallow depth during the years 1990 - 2000.
Ages 9 and up
For teens through adults
Have you ever seen a volcano up close? If not, would you like to? What did you think of this lens about St. Lucia's drive in volcano?