I knew we must be nearing Erta Ale, though, when we hung a right into a field of dark black rock. The approach to the volcano, which boasts one of the world’s only continuously active lava lakes, a magma pool that has been roiling since about 1906, deserves a superlative of its own: worst road on Earth.
We were bounced and jostled as the cars pushed over gnarls of dried magma. “We could walk faster than this,” Drew protested, his knee slapping the car door. But it became clear why we weren’t walking when someone rolled down a window to free a fly and the heat rushed in. …
There’s a bone-deep terror that sets in as you step toward an active volcano. The air was so hot it was hard to keep my eyes open. But I also felt drawn to the heart of the volcano, as though my legs were beyond my control.
You can only see Erta Ale’s churning lava lake by walking up to its edge and looking straight down. Most of the lake was congealed, covered with a coal-gray film. Bright seams of magma split the surface, swallowing patches of cooled rock in seconds. It looked like a scene out of hell, but sounded more familiar: like waves hitting a shoreline, just with more force and frequency. … [continue reading]