National Geographic : 2009 Jan
• Soviet government in the mid-1930s (with much else on its agenda) the opportunity costs of put- ting a modest chunk of that wilderness within protective boundaries probably didn t seem high. In 1941 a second kind of asset revealed itself within the reserve, when a hydrologist named Tatiana I. Ustinova discovered geysers there. In the cold springtime of that year, Ustinova and her guide were exploring the headwaters of the Shumnaya River by dogsled. ey paused near a con uence point and happened to notice, at some distance along the water s edge, a large outburst of steam. With hungry dogs and other urgencies pulling her away, Ustinova wasn t able to see much more, not then, but she returned several months later to map and study what proved to be a whole com- plex of geothermal features, including about 40 geysers. She named her rst geyser Pervenets, meaning "first- born." The tributary she ascended is now called the Geysernaya River, and above one of its bends is a slope known as Vitrazh, or stained glass, for its multicolored residue from a score of large and small vents. Kronotsky s Dolina Geyserov (Valley of Geysers) took its place as one of the world s major geyser areas, in a league with Yellowstone, El Tatio in Chile, Waiotapu on New Zealand s North Island, and Iceland. Geysers are generally associated with volca- nic activity, and that s certainly the case in Kro- notsky. Kamchatka as a whole is abundantly pustulated with volcanoes, of which about two dozen, including some inactive ones, lie within the zapovednik or along its borders. Kronotsky Volcano is the tallest, a perfect cone rising to 11,552 feet. Krasheninnikov Volcano (named for Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov, a hardy naturalist who explored Kamchatka in the early 18th century) is its nonidentical twin, lying just southwestward across the Kronotskaya River. Still farther southwest is what would be, but no longer is, the third in a huge three-peak sequence. Instead of a high cone, it s a broad, low bowl, up to eight miles in diameter, lled with fumaroles and hot springs and sulfurous lakes, blueberry-and-heather tundra, forest patches of birch and Siberian dwarf pine, all rimmed by a circular ridge le behind when a vast volcano blasted itself open about 40,000 years ago. e bowl is called Uzon Caldera. Its name comes from the kindly spirit Uzon, a powerful gure in the legends of the native Koryak people. e exploration and study of Uzon Caldera by scientists, as well as Ustinova s finding of the Valley of Geysers, gave addi- tional purpose to the zapovednik: protecting geological wonders as well as biological ones. e story told by Koryaks about Uzon and his caldera has the ring of a parable. He was a friend to human- ity, quieting earth tremors, stifling volcanic eruptions with his hands, doing other good deeds; but he endured a lonely existence, living secretively atop his own mountain so that evil spirits wouldn t come and destroy the place. en he fell in love. She was a human---a beautiful girl named Nayun, with eyes like stars, lips like cranberries, eyebrows as dark and glossy as two sables. She loved Uzon in return, and he took her away to his mountain. So far, so good. But a er some years of marital bliss and isolation, Nayun began to pine for her human relatives. Couldn t she have a visit with them somehow? Uzon, wanting to please her, made a desperate and tragic mistake: He spread the mountains with his mighty arms and created a road. People came, curious and disruptive. Now everybody knew Uzon s secret hideaway, including those evil spirits. " e earth yawned with a horrible crash having absorbed a huge mountain," in one telling of this tale, by G. A. Karpov, "and mighty Uzon turned into stone forever." You can see him there even today, petri ed into a high peak on the northwestern perimeter of the caldera, his head bowed, his arms stretched around to form the rim. , you ll be among the few. The ban against tourism has been relaxed, but not much, for Kronotsky. About 3,000 nonscientific visitors now enter each year, IT'S A SPLENDOROUS LANDSCAPE, DYNAMIC AND RICH, TUMULTUOUS AND DELICATE, TOO GOOD TO BE A MERE DESTINATION. David Quammen holds the Wallace Stegner Chair at Montana State University. Frequent contributor Michael Melford specializes in landscape photography.