The Valley of 10,000 Smokes

This Natural History Tour is an optional add on to several of our travel packages.

Operates June 5 thru September 17 each year

$96.00 with sack lunch
$88.00 without sack lunch
$51.00 one-way
Prices are per person

The June 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano altered the Katmai area dramatically. Severe earthquakes rocked the area for a week before Novarupta exploded with cataclysmic force. Enormous quantities of hot, glowing pumice and ash were ejected from Novarupta and nearby fissures. This material flowed over the terrain, destroying all life in its path. Trees upslope were snapped off and carbonized by the blasts of hot wind and gas. For several days, ash, pumice, and gas were ejected and a haze darkened the sky over most of the Northern Hemisphere.

Valley of the 10,000 Smokes

When it was over, more than 65 square kilometers (40 square miles) of lush green land lay buried beneath volcanic deposits as much as 200 meters (700 feet) deep. At nearby Kodiak, for two days a person could not see a lantern held at arm's length. Acid rain caused clothes to disintegrate on clotheslines in distant Vancouver, Canada. The eruption was 10 times more forceful than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens. Eventually Novarupta became dormant. In the valleys of Knife Creek and the Ukak River, innumerable small holes and cracks developed in the volcanic ash deposits, permitting gas and steam from the heated ground water to escape.

It was an apparently unnamed valley when the 20th century's most dramatic volcanic episode took place. Robert Griggs, exploring the volcano's aftermath for the National Geographic Society in 1916, stared awe struck off Katmai Pass across the valley's roaring landscape riddled by thousands of steam vents. The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Griggs named it.

"The whole valley as far as the eye could reach was full of hundreds, no thousands – literally, tens of thousands – of smokes curling up from its fissured floor," Griggs would write. One thousand steam vents reached 150 meters (500 feet) in the air, some more than 300 meters (1,000 feet). Such marvels inspired explorers on the next year's expedition.

The expedition's surveyor did not concur with such glowing assessments of natural wonders that seriously reduced visibility: "The smokes did not impress me with their grandeur...Their ability to make surveying next to impossible did...A wool comfort placed on the ground which is 110°F...will steam beautifully. It is a natural phenomenon, but it is not a good bed." Nature can't please everyone.

Valley of the 10,000 Smokes

Only one eruption in historic times – Greece's Santorini in 1500 B.C. – displaced more volcanic matter than Novarupta. The terrible 1883 eruption of Indonesia's Krakatoa belched out little more than half as much, yet killed 35,000 people. Vastly isolated Novarupta killed no one. If the eruption occurred on Manhattan Island in New York City, Robert Griggs calculated, residents of Chicago would hear it plainly. The fumes would tarnish brass in Denver. Acid raindrops would burn your skin in Toronto. In Philadelphia the ash would lie nearly as deep as this folder is wide. Manhattan would have no survivors. Today you can take the trip from Brooks Camp out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, where the turbulent Ukak River and its tributaries cut deep gorges in the accumulated ash. The landscape slowly recovers: In nature, each destruction is somewhere's new creation.

The tour meets at the lower viewing platform at 8:30am. The bus driver is also the tour guide, so feel free to ask questions. The 23 mile drive to Overlook Cabin is broken up with stops for scenic views and wildlife viewing. At Overlook Cabin you'll have time for lunch and to look over displays and historic photos of the "Valley of 10,000 Smokes." Those interested may hike down with the tour guide to examine the ash and pumice "Valley" floor. The hike is a bit strenuous. We recommend that you dress in layers so you can layer on or off as exercise and the weather dictate. A raincoat and comfortable walking shoes are a must.