Life on Mars – The Devil’s Riding School

The road reaches a T junction and most would turn right here down to the US Base, but if you turned left you were on the NASA Road (or A4 as I called it). The road passes by the Cable and Wireless Ground Station, and bends round the base of a hill.  Almost immediately there is a place to stop.  A walk up the hill to the right leads you to the Devil’s Riding School. Edsel and I first went up here in the mist.  The land is still volcanic but the south eastern quadrant of the island, right up to Green Mountain and beyond, tends to be of older origin. This hillside did not have the “fresh” black clinker of the lava fields, the rocks were consolidated ash, white and easy to turn to powder.  They had solidified into layers and when eroded formed plates.  As you walked over them too you felt there was crockery beneath your feet, they tinkled and rang like a nice piece of porcelain.

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The approach to the Devil’s Riding School

As you rose up the sides you realised much of these flat plates were a scree coming off heavily eroded hard rock.  It appeared that the outsides of the deposits hardened more than the subsurface due to weathering (the exposure to the rain and heat chemically reacting with the rock and forming a crust).  When the wind erosion etched through this crust it could suck out the softer material beneath much more quickly leaving very curious shapes and forms.  The pathway heads through a narrow gully between all these rocks and in the mist, the effect was eerie and chilling.  Shapes came out of the fog which looked like ogres or trolls, dragons and demons.  Was this why it was called Devil’s Riding School – did the Devil ride a horse through this hell hole?

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Platelets of rock

Eventually we reached the top, a plateau which at first sight appeared like a contorted limestone pavement of clints and grykes, but this was the ash version of such a geomorphological feature.  The mist was clearing and we could see over the airhead and US Base, some wind turbines whizzing around on the next ridge.

Orange lichens softened the greyness of the rocks, and the odd fern was finding a niche in a damp hollow here and there, but this was still a hostile environment.  Looking up to the east you could see where the vegetation on Green Mountain was reaching down into the valleys.  And then I looked down and finally realised why this hill had such a strange name.

We were at the rim of an old volcanic crater, mostly filled in with soft ash, and round the edge there was a ring of orangish ash, with curious lines tracing concentric circles round the crater.  It was like  all those sandy tracks laid out at horse riding schools with jodhpurful teachers barking out instructions from the centre.

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