Sunday, October 5, 2014

Black Hill , Portland, Jamaica...the extinct volcano

The first time I ever heard of the extinct volcano at Black hill in Portland, was on a ride to the parish and we stopped to rest at the top of the hill just beyond Orange Bay. A young man mistaking us for tourists came up and offered to take us for a tour to the volcano at Black hill where he said you could see evidence of the lava and the denuded hills. When I asked  him when it erupted he said;

Basalt rocks are evidence of  volcanic eruption
"About 50 years ago." That was my laugh for the day as I told him if it had erupted 50 years ago, I would have heard about it! Poor kid, to him 50 years was a lifetime away .

Anyway I decided to research  volcanoes in  Jamaica and when I could not find anything beside when the island was formed by underwater volcanoes erupting millions of years ago, forgot about it. Then in September 2014, I  got an email from the Natural History Society advising of a field trip, declaring "Activities: The next NHSJ field trip is planned to the Orange Bay area in Portland. We will climb an extinct volcano (Black Hill) and explore a tunnel close to the coast. It was part of the abandoned railway line from Kingston/Spanish Town to Port Antonio. Finally we will visit a private property east of Orange Bay (Rodney Hall Farm), where lunch is served (pork, curried goat, vegetables). The property has easy access to a beach (cliff). The coastline of the region offers numerous opportunities for photographers (see images below), and information on the geography of the site will be provided. Dr. Simon Mitchell, Professor of Sedimentary Geology and Head of the Dept. of Geology and Geography (UWI, Mona), will be our tour guide."  you know who had to go!

First stop Rodney hill
So off  we headed with me getting a lift from Marcia Davis a recent returnee to Jamaica who is also an outdoor lover who had climbed the 19,300 foot Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Also travelling with her were other thrillers, Sharon, Richard and Shamira while David and his cousin Denise came by themselves.  On this trek too I ran into Martin McLeavy, someone I grew up with decades ago but with whom I had lost contact although he lives right here.

We had a little difficulty at Long Lane as the police had blocked the road as a minibus travelling from St. Mary to downtown Kingston crashed into an oil tanker killing the driver Juniour Douglas. We had to drive on the old road up by the old Stony hills hotel and exit on to Gibson road but it was not a problem as we knew our way from having ridden to Hermitage dam on so many occasions.

After that it was an uneventful drive to Rodney hill where the convoy of around six or seven vehicles carrying 24 persons got out in anticipation of a most informative talk by Professor Simon Mitchell of the department of Geography and Sedimentary geology at UWI. He is a British man who has been in Jamaica for 18 years.

We then walked up to Grange hill where we saw a bunch of kids lyming at the front of an unfinished shop while others hung out on some tombs at the back. Again mistaking us for tourists, some of the fellows offered to be our tour guides to take us to the top of the hill called Honey hill, which they said was around 2 1/2 miles away and . When we went there by ourselves however it was nothing close to 2 1/2 miles but closer to 1/2 mile!

Kids lyming on the tombs

It was a most informative trip with our introduction to things like basalt rocks formed from the rapid cooling of basaltic lava.

This is what has broken down over the years to give places like Orange Bay the black sands and Black hill actually got its name because of the color of the rocks there, black because of the high content of iron oxide

I personally learnt a lot about limestone too and the fact that Jamaica has the potential to earn billions from this product which is among the purest in the word. But you know us, we are full of unrealised potential!

Anyway these are things we see all the time but really do not understand the importance of. 

This extinct volcano according to Prof Mitchell, was quite "young:" having erupted abound 12 millions years ago, young because Jamaica was first formed by eruptions some 40 - 50 million years ago. We also learnt that Black Hill was 'discovered" around 1860 when the colonial masters, having lost out their cheap labour after the abolition of slavery, decided to do geological surveys in the colonies to search for precious minerals. 

Despite the wealth of information I gathered from the knowledgeable professor, my most interesting lecture on folk lore came from a young man, Adrian,  who had just graduated from Annotto Bay high school and  who plans to go to HEART to study electrical installation. His version of the extinct volcano is that it last erupted just as Columbus was approaching the island in 1492 and when he saw the smoke he did not stop in Portland but went to Discovery Bay instead. I rather like that version!

The property by the sea where T. P Lecky is said to have been born
From the top of Honey hill, we had a fabulous view of the Orange bay area and my informant Adrian pointed to property below by the sea at Orange Bay where he said the late, great T. P Lecky was born.

 For the benefit of those who do not know, Wikipedia tells us that Lecky was a great scientist  who through experiments in genetics, developed in the 1950's the Jamaica Hope, a tropical dairy breed which catapulted him to international acclaim. These cattle were a combination of the British Jersey cow (small, and light feeding) with the Holstein (heavy milk producers) and the Indian Sahiwal breed (disease resistant and adapted to the tropics). 

The Jamaica Hope could produce up to an average of 12 litres of milk a day, ­ 3 times that produced by other cattle on the island.  Lecky's work revolutionized the Jamaican dairy industry and scentists from many different countries flocked to Jamaica to see what he had done. 

At the entrance of the old railway tunnel
 Not satisfied with stopping at the Jamaica Hope  which was mainly a producer of milk, Lecky turned his attention to creating a Jamaican breed able to produce meat. He worked with cattle farmers and looked carefully at Indian cattle. 

He selected from amongst a few breeds of Indian cattle that had been brought into the island and created a new breed known as the Jamaica Brahman, which has since become popular also in Latin America. Farmers had noted that the imported English Red cattle, which had not proved resistant to ticks and tropical disease, when bred with the Jamaica Brahman, produced cattle of top quality beef. 
This breed became known as the Jamaica Red ­ the main meat-producing cattle on the island.
So not only did I learn a bit of geology, geography and folk lore on the trip but saw where the great man had allegedly grown up. 

After the field trip, we drove down to the beach to look at an old railway tunnel which had been used up to the early 90's when we had a rail system joining Kingston toPort Antonio and Kingston to Montego Bay. 

We did not go inside however as rain water had leaked into the tunnel and it was full of (chick-v?) vectors!

So we just enjoyed a walk by the beach till it was time to go to Rodney Hill farm for lunch.
View of Savanna point from David's front yard

When we got to the lovely house by the beach  near Savanna Point with peacocks and all, I discovered it was owned by a long time friend David Vernon who years ago had been a sports reporter at Radio Jamaica. There we had the best lunch I have ever had on a field trip ; Among the tasties were, of ackee and pork, barbecue spare ribs, chicken salad , escoviched fish etc all for $500. ...the absolute best bargain I have had in Jamaica for years!

After sampling the food and the ambiance, those of us who ride, decided that a ride there has to be on the agenda soon, a ride  toRodney Hill Farm and I spoke to David about providing some delicious food for us and he said any time. Looking forward to it.

It was an absolutely wonderful  day  spent with with the members of the Natural History Society.

JOAN WILLIAMS, moderator of  JOAN WILLIAMS ON LINE broadcast on POWER 106, describes herself as an unapologetic addict to the Jamaican outdoors. A foundation member of FUN AND THRILLS ADVENTURE CLUB, she explores the island at any given opportunity cycling, hiking or swimming with that group, family, Jah 3 and anyone else who will have her. In 1995, she published the popular TOUR JAMAICA and the 4th edition is now an ebook available at;


Ken Roderick said...

Having been all over Jamaica myself as a member of the JDF, and my private tours, I totally enjoy a refreshing flashback from Joan's tours. Of course I've not been to some of these places, so I enjoy her easy and comprehensive reports on these expeditions. One Love.

Nessa said...

Goodnight, thanks Miss. Joan for this information as I just heard on the news earlier tonight that residents in the hills of St. Thomas are finding fire under ground with a sulfuric odor and what appears to be larva coming from it after digging it with a long stick. Now after hearing this I got curious and started sharing only to find this. Thanks again as I had no idea that there was extinct nor dormant volcanoes were here.

Kerrol Greenland said...

This is a very good blog, I will list a link to it on my blog ( hope you don't mind. You have inspired me to go visit this volcano next time I'm in Jamaica.

Cindy Dy said...

This is really an interesting topic. I had a great time surfing and found some important tips and information from your blog. Keep it up.

judith said...

Extremely interesting reading. I work in the government entity for the environment and have always been a nature lover. I understand that there is a volcano in the Cockpit Country, and would want further information on that. I also viewed the video clip from a recording of activity in the St. Thomas area - googled this.