Amazing Places

This Guy's Backyard Turned Into a 1,300-Foot-Tall Volcano

Most of the time, if you want to spot one of the natural wonders of the world, you're going to have to leave your house. Mt. Everest? Niagara Falls? Uluru? Unless you're sitting on some prime real estate, they're all going to require a taking a trip. But in 1943, a Mexican farmer named Dionisio Pulido got it the other way around, when a brand-new natural wonder decided to spring up in his backyard. Welcome to the volcano Parícutin.

A Mom and Pop Volcano

On the afternoon of February 20, 1943, Dionisio Pulido was just making the rounds of his family's cornfield. You know, the usual: clearing the brush, burning the overgrown shrubbery, and checking for any volcanoes that might have sprung up overnight. And wouldn't you know it, he nearly walked into a small, brand-new ridge. A moment later, it was a hill as tall as him. And then, a tremendous rumbling and a belch of smoke and ash. Dionisio took off running and sounded the alarm.

Fortunately, his family had gotten the hint long before he had, and had already gone into town to seek safety. That night, the residents of the village of Parícutin watched as the volcano surged with fiery lava. One farmer, Celedonio Gutierrez, described the scene in vivid color: "Red flames of fire rose into the darkened sky, some rising 2,600 feet (792 meters) or more into the air, that burst like golden marigolds, and a rain like artificial fire fell to the ground." 24 hours after the first plume of smoke erupted from the earth, the volcano had grown to a staggering 165 feet. And it wouldn't be finished growing for another nine years.

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that the name of the volcano and the name of the town are both Parícutin. If you think that bodes poorly for the fate of the town, you're right. Over the course of its eruption, the volcano Parícutin grew to 1,300 feet (396 meters) tall, and both the town of Parícutin and the nearby city of San Juan Parangaricutiro were destroyed. For all that damage, the volcano wasn't especially deadly. Only three people were killed in the eruption, but in a strange twist, none of those deaths were caused by lava or smoke — all three were struck by volcanic lightning.

We'll get to what happened after the eruption soon, but there's one thing we have to mention before moving past those first few days of smoke and lava. Remember Dionisio, whose land contained the magma surprise? He went back to his cornfield one last time before leaving for good, in order to stake his claim on what was left. Hanging on the still smoking volcano he left a sign: "This volcano owned and operated by Dionisio Pulido."

A Fountain of Learning (and Lava)

Parícutin isn't just notable because of how quickly and unexpectedly it showed up. It also represented one of the first chances scientists had to see the lifecycle of a volcano from start to finish. Volcanologists flocked to the area and began teaming up with the locals for on-the-ground expertise. In fact, Celedonio Gutierrez was soon getting his own author credits in scholarly articles about the volcano.

That's not the only recognition the new landmark got, however. Remember, this thing was erupting for nine years straight. It made an impression. You can see it spewing fire in the background of the 1947 film "Captain from Castile," and even as the lava destroyed the surrounding area it created a whole new tourist attraction. Yes, you can visit the (now dead) volcano today and marvel at the sight of the villages encased in lava. You'll even find the steeple of Parangaricutiro's church, the only building tall enough not to be completely engulfed. Even if it hadn't been put on CNN's Seven Natural Wonders round-up, there are a million reasons to check out this one-of-a-kind disaster zone.

Volcán Parícutin

Written by Reuben Westmaas May 1, 2018

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