The geologic rhythms of the earth create some of the most dramatic and breathtaking phenomena in nature. The beautiful lines of the Cycladic pearl, Santorini, are the result of a cataclysmic explosion more than three and a half millennia ago. In Hawaii, Mauna Loa is another place of such sublime beauty, though it has continuously burbled in eruption for thousands of years. Glen Coe in Scotland is another one of nature’s gems. It is carved out by ice rather than hot magma though. The Azores sit in the Atlantic and, geologically speaking, are relatively young islands. They sit on a junction of three tectonic plates and, because of this, striking scenery abounds.
One fine morning during our recent visit to the Azores, my travel companions and I set out to hike part of the rim of the caldera that holds Lagoa Das Setes Cidades, the Lagoon of the Seven Cities. We began our hike up a steep incline and were confounded at first by the rapidly changing Azorean weather. While there was rarely a cloudless sky while I was in the Azores, I don’t think I ever saw complete cloud cover either. It was not unusual for us to see half of an island covered in clouds, then, twenty minutes later, almost all the clouds would have dissipated. Twenty minutes after that, the other side of the island would be covered in clouds. The effects of the combination of high altitudes and the powerful weather patterns of the mid-Atlantic are as much something to experience as are the spectacular heights, gorgeous shores and green valleys of the Azores. We could see the highest peak of this caldera from two lakes we stopped at on the way up. Even though we were standing in perfect sunshine, the peak was draped in clouds. Manuel, our guide, was dismayed as the view was best from this point we had just climbed to. We waited a bit for the clouds to roll away. I was so fascinated by the drifts of cloud speeding by, that I wanted to stay. Perhaps we should have. We were on a timetable though, so off we went. Soon, we were walking in the cloud that we had viewed from our vantage on the outside of the caldera. As somebody who lives in the dry air of the Rocky Mountains, I was enchanted by the mists.
Ten minutes after starting down, the cloud moved and, five minutes after that, we were treated to one of the most fantastic views I had ever seen. We had moved below the cloud and could see that it was being blown away by Atlantic wind. The Lagoon of the Seven Cities lied below us with its two lakes, Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) and Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon), like jewels lying on the great curving oyster shell of the caldera. We began the long hike down to the lovely little town that sits to the west. As the trail wound down, we were alternately treated to views of Sete Cidades and the amazing shoreline of Sao Miguel. Halfway, we stopped at a picnic table (made of native basalt, naturally) and ate sandwiches we had purchased that morning in Punta Delgada. We talked a bit, but we mostly just stared out at the awe-striking views, recording them with our minds and our cameras. Of course, one of the hardest things about taking pictures of wide ranging landscapes is focusing the whole scene within the camera’s viewfinder. Looking through my photos now, I cannot find a single shot that I feel comes close to capturing the beauty we experienced. In fact, I had the same thing happen at Mauna Loa and Santorini. If you go to Sao Miguel, be sure to take a hike and walk the rim of the caldera that nestles Sete Cidades. See for yourself.