Popocatépetl is a fire-and-smoke-belching monster that just happens to be remarkably easy on the eyes.

Living next to an active volcano must suck in plenty of ways: bed-shaking rumbling at night, ash in the morning's scrambled eggs and, always, the threat of an immediate and messy evacuation.

But for people who marvel at the awesome power of nature, there's nothing keener for the eyes than a quaking, smoke-belching giant looming right over the city skyline. Just look at the titanic blowhole of hell-vapors that is Popocatépetl, the second-highest volcano in North America that squats about 50 miles southeast of Mexico City.

Popocatépetl's crater used to harbor a warm lake of crystal-turquoise water, but repeated eruptions in the past couple of decades cleared that out. Now it's seemingly bottomless central tube (which you can peer down on Google Maps) is an almost daily conduit for ashes, which coat the ground in nearby towns and flurry like dark snow as far away as Mexico City.

For the past two weeks the volcano has been fuming and booming more than usual, prompting government work crews to prep for cleaning ash from reservoirs and distributing thousands of surgical masks. Popocatépetl has actually calmed down since Monday, when the National Center for Disaster Prevention warned about the "possibility of a medium- to high-level explosion on the volcano." But should it start acting up again, up to 3,000 Mexicans might have to beat an exodus away from the fire-belcher.

If they're anything like me, though, they'll want to get back as soon as possible to catch the next marvelous sunset over Popocatépetl. While from above the 17,900-foot volcano might look like a desolate set piece from The Lord of the Rings...

NASA, 2002

...in the right light from the ground, the charred peak becomes a real stunner. Take a gander at these shots from past years. "Popo," as the locals affectionately call it, assumes a resplendent glory in the mornings and a zen calmness in the later hours:

rainy city/Flickr
Victor Vargas/Flickr
rainy city/Flickr
Lara Danielle/Flickr
Imelda Medina/Reuters
rainy city/Flickr

What's it doing right now? You can find that out by checking this or that webcam (for the second link, you might have to select Popo on the drop-down menu at top left). With luck, it won't be looking and sounding like this outburst from 2011:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  2. a photo collage of 2020 presidential candidates.
    Equity

    Will Housing Swing the 2020 Election?

    Among Democratic candidates for president, the politics of America’s housing affordability crisis are getting complicated. Just wait until Trump barges in.

  3. Environment

    Paris Wants to Grow 'Urban Forests' at Famous Landmarks

    The city plans to fill some small but treasured sites with trees—a climate strategy that may also change the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

  4. A house with a for sale sign.
    Perspective

    Why Are Zoning Laws Defining What Constitutes a Family?

    It’s wrong to exclude safe uses of housing because of who belongs to a household. Like family law, zoning ordinances should prioritize functional families.

  5. At an NBA game, a player attempts to block a player from the rival team who has the ball.
    Life

    NBA Free Agents Cluster in Superstar Cities, Too

    Pro basketball follows the winner-take-all geography of America as a whole, with free agents gravitating to New York, L.A., and other big cities.

×