Besides it being volcanic, I didn't really know what to expect from our visit to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. I have seen volcanic islands in other parts of the world, and each seemed to have its own, surprising beauty.
The first impression of Lanzarote’s landscape was breathtaking. As we headed into the interior of the island, it was one of those perfect days that seem to only happen in maritime locations. A layer of small, fast moving clouds raced along with the prevailing northerlies. Alternating sunlight and shadow moved up and down the volcanoes and across the open spaces between them. The soil was mostly black, but there were organic patterns of rust and yellow and brown and little bits of grass scattered throughout.
As we drove to the Timanfaya National Park, an extensive range of volcanoes and volcanic scenery, our guide spoke of the influence of César Manrique, an artist and native of Lanzarote who briefly moved to New York City to pursue the arts. When he returned to the island in 1966, just as it was beginning to develop its tourism industry, Manrique was shocked to find the vulgar development taking place. He immediately set about pressuring the local government and marshalling his influential friends to enforce strict building controls on the island. These controls continue to exist today and keep Lanzarote picturesque and true to its heritage:
- All buildings are painted white, with green shutters in the countryside (for farmers) and blue by the sea (for the fishermen)
- No high rises (nothing taller than a Canarian palm)
- No billboards
- The size and scale of residential developments are also strictly limited
The result is a consistency throughout the island that isn't often seen in a world where profit and rapid development take priority. Manrique also created a set of unique tourist attractions on the island, some of which are in Timanfaya National Park. He designed the national park's devil logo and had a hand in laying out the roads through the park, with many twists and turns so as to minimize the visibly of other visitors. He also designed El Diablo, a UFO-inspired restaurant that sits in the middle of the park, perched on the volcanic rim.
There are also several interactive exhibits that demonstrate how hot the earth is just below your feet. A shovelful of gravel was almost too hot to handle... there was a pit about 6 feet deep that was hot enough to ignite vegetation that was tossed in, and a glass of water that was poured into a hole caused a 20-foot geyser to erupt about ten seconds later.
Another remarkable feature of the island is the unusual farming techniques that were developed to deal with the oppressive wind—and the fact that any usable soil lies about 3 feet below the surface. Farmers here have been highly successful in growing wine grapes in an unusual—and highly scenic—manner that helps the tender young vines survive the wind and storms.