Which do you prefer, orange or blue?
In East Java, Indonesia, an unusual lake has formed in the crater of a volcano named Kawah Ijen. Unlike most crater lakes, this one is sulfuric acid. When the liquid sulfur at the edge of the lake catches fire, which it does quite frequently, it burns with an eerie blue flame.
Molten sulfur is blood red in color. As it cools, it transitions through oranges and dark yellows until it solidifies into a brilliant yellow. The photo below shows part of this transition.
The otherworldly beauty of Kawah Ijen is probably not appreciated by the individuals who see it most often. They are sulfur miners, who climb the rim of the crater and descend 655 feet (200 meters) inside in order to chip out chunks of solid sulfur. On the return trip up and out, they are carrying paired baskets of sulfur blocks, weighing between 100 and 200 pounds (45–90 kg). The gases from the crater are both overwhelming and dangerous. Gas masks should be required for safety — but aren’t. And few of the miners have them.
Most miners make two or three trips each day, earning around 60,000 rupiah per trip. That’s about €4.90 or $6.80.
And the blue fire of the burning sulfur? It’s caused by drippings from the miner’s torches, as they toil at night.
There can hardly be a place more worthy of the name “hell on Earth,” but Kawah Ijen is also astoundingly beautiful. The Big Picture covered it back in December 2010; you should take a look.