Santiago: Sullivan Bay Lava Walk

Wednesday, 11 July (Part III)

The zodiac portion of our morning activity at Sullivan Bay completed (post here), we headed ashore for the short walk.  The daily program noted that this could be a wet or dry landing, depending on conditions.  We were prepared to remove our trail hikers, but it wasn’t necessary; the zodiac nosed up to the rocky shoreline and we stepped right onto the lava flow — and into an enchanted landscape.

Two to Travel goes a-walkin’ on a lava flow for the first time.

While we saw and walked on eroded lava rocks when we went ashore at Puerto Egas, what we saw and walked on at Sullivan Bay was completely different.  Here are some of the snippets I recollect from what our naturalist told us as we wandered around this most fascinating place.

The archipelago has a volcanic origin that dates back 3-5 million years.  In geological terms, that’s really recent.  The islands on our itinerary are younger in age, which probably makes them newborns, geologically speaking.

As the Galápagos Online website explains, “Edges of the lava field advanced in tongues, hot magma raced ahead, flowing around and eventually engulfing any obstacles in its way.  The extreme heat created by the flow would cause obstacles like trees to evaporate, leaving behind only an imprint of the life which once existed.”

these bubbles were created when pockets of gas or water trapped under the lava exploded.

The lava flow we walked on this morning dates back to an 1897 eruption of one of the volcanoes.  It is  the walkable kind known as pāhoehoe, which means rope in Hawaiian.  This kind of lava is rather rare around the world, but common in Hawaii and the Galápagos.  I don’t know if the hollow, tinny sound our footsteps made is a feature of this type of lava, but it was something that came as a surprise to me.  As did the brittle feel of the lava underfoot; it was stronger than it appeared, however.

some of the fantastic ‘lava ropes’ for which these flows are named.

That’s one way of getting myself into A photograph :-)

And here’s the real me trying to decide which pattern to photograph.

I’m officially entranced with this lava flow; look at how the ropes glitter under the sun.

We’re lagging behind our group — again!  No surprise; the landscape is so fascinating.

The Mollugo carpetweed is a colonizing species; it’s one of the first signs of
life returning to land devastated by a volcanic eruption.

In the bright light, it’s hard to see what I’m photographing … see below.

Fissures in the surface give us a glimpse into the layers of the flow and the mineral content.

The videographer in action as he attempts to capture the landscape on tape.

A lava lizard on what can only be described as its home turf.

Time to get down and dirty for a different perspective of the pāhoehoe.

Obviously nothing could stand in the way of this lava flow; it just goes on and on.

Lying down on the job!

There is an upside to the lava as well as a downside.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a piece of fossilized turd.

The interesting lines, squiggles, textures never end.

The lava cactus is a colonizing species, proving life can flourish on lava.
Growing in clusters, this is The smallest cactus species in the archipelago.
New growth is yellow, turning brown and then grey with age.

The spiny fruit of the lava cactus contains numerous blackish-brown seeds.

The lava cactus was our turnaround point to the landing site.  We wished this landing was longer, but are glad that we didn’t do the long walk.  Trying to keep pace with the group would not have allowed us the time to really enjoy what we were seeing; listen to the sounds our footsteps were making; or explore the nooks and crannies and fissures.

I took this photo from our landing site for the scenery; saw the Sally Lightfoot crab,
but didn’t notice the sea lion until I was processing the photo for the blog.
Can you see it?  Hint: look on the lava on the far side (left).

Compliments of our naturalist; a group shot to remember our lava walk.

For those interested in the geology of the Galápagos Islands, this website has basic information that doesn’t require a degree in earth sciences.

Next up … our afternoon landing.


  1. Those pictures look a lot like ones I took in Craters of the Moon National park in Idaho. Great pictures:)

  2. That one shot reminded me of intestines. What a fascinating place.

  3. The newest earth on Earth!
    Sounds like walking on styrofoam or maybe crushed glass?
    Imagine those lava lizards 100 times larger, lumbering across this terrain.
    Very “Journey to the Center of the Earth” :)
    (The old James Mason version, the newer one is silly)

    Where is Sue… she is going to LOVE this volcanology.

  4. Thanks for all the info on the lava fields. I think they look beautiful. There is so much character in the shapes of the lava. Beautiful photos...AGAIN!

  5. We actually have pahoehoe and aa lava right here in Southern Oregon. Lava Beds NM isn't far from us, with amazing lava tunnels and recent flows, Glass Mountain about 2 hours south (huge obsidian flow) and the Newberry Crater area south of Bend (about 2 hours north). Lots of places where you can walk on lava when you come to visit us...minus the Galapagos wildlife of course! Yes, mbz...were you referring to THIS Sue? and you are right, I love love love it! Erin, you did a great job of describing all of it.

  6. Best lava pictures, ever! I can never get that black to look right. And I love that picture from the landing site. I see the sea lion!