National Geographic : 1969 Jan
On the very fringes of the Mountain of Fire one can see how man has turned a natural catastrophe to advantage. "Nobody knows how it began," said Antonio. "Maybe a farmer just noticed that where the cinders were three or four inches deep, wild plants had begun to grow and were bigger than those growing in soil alone." In time the farmers learned that different plants prefer various depths of the gravel-size cinders, or lapilli, as geologists call them. The general run of crops like a depth of three to five inches. But fig trees, grapevines, and-although no one was interested-wild gera niums do best in deeper cinders. These grow on the very slopes of the volcanoes. As the porous little lapilli cool off at night, they act as condensers, extracting moisture from the air. Even more important, they prevent evaporation of the scanty winter rains, which will stay in the soil VOLCANIC JEWEL, the islet of Graciosaglows in roughhewn splendor below cliffs on Lanzarote's northern coast. A lone goatherdguides his tinkling flock along the heights. Across the azure strip of ocean called El Rio, a fishing village clings to the smaller island's sandy hem. When European ex plorers touched shore at Graciosa and Lanzarote in 1402, they encountered the proud Guanches, tall andfair Canary Islanders, whose origin still puzzles anthropologists. These isolatedpeople knew the use neither of metal nor of boats. Yet, despite their Stone Age technology, they developed an advanced social structure and, like the Egyptians, mummified their dead. Bitterly resisting Span ish conquest, the Guanches fell to overwhelmingly superiorforces-the last of them four years after Columbus sailedfrom these island outposts to the New World.