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Photo ID: 783
|Photo Title: The Three Kings. Gran Canaria, Canary Islands.|
the three kings, gran canaria, canary islands, macaronesia, atlantic islands, oceanic islands, volcanic islands, volcanic monolith, tejeda, caldera de tejeda, dramatic, beautiful, natural phenomena, mesa del junquillo, shield volcano, stratovolcano, roque nublo volcano, lava flow, pyroclastic breccia, ignimbrite, strombolian cone, basaltic dike, phonolitic dike,
The Three Kings are one of Gran Canaria’s most dramatic and beautiful natural phenomena and are the result of volcanic and erosive cycles dating back over 12 million years. This area has repeatedly been the focal point of much of Gran Canaria’s most dramatic volcanic events.
From the very beginning, some 14.5 million years ago, the central emission point from which the original shield volcano that constitutes Gran Canaria was formed, is believed to have been in the area of the Mesa del Junquillo, just 5 km to the west.
Then, at 14.1 million years ago, a cataclysmic volcanic explosion largely destroyed the island, creating an elliptical caldera estimated to have been 18 x 28 kilometres in size and up to 1000 metres deep. The centre point of this caldera, where the initial collapse of the “cauldron block” into the empty magma chamber 4 –5 km below was located again in this area, probably between the Roque Bentaiga and the Mesa del Junquillo.
Following this, over another million years or so, explosive eruptions continued, emitting layers upon layers of ignimbrites and lava flows, which were to eventually refill the caldera. Then at around 13 million years ago, there was a resurgence of the island’s volcanism comprising of magmas of a chemically different composition and which instead of the eruptions being from ring fractures inside the caldera’s periphery, the focal point of activity moved to the centre of the caldera, with the formation of a high stratovolcano, which it is believed to have been slightly further to the south-east, around Cruz Grande. It is during this period between 12.5 and 9 million years ago, when the early paleo-canyons began to take their shape, owing to the increased erosion caused by the new high central volcano and the long time periods between eruptions.
This stage was accompanied and followed by the large scale intrusion of plutonic syenite stocks and a large cone sheet swarm, within the central caldera area, lasting from 12.3 to 7.3 million years ago, this again greatly transforming the caldera area by causing a structural uplift of the core zone by as much as 1,400 metres, this core zone being where the Roque Bentaiga stands today.
Following this there was a long period with no volcanic activity, when erosion really began to carve into the rock formations, only that these paleo-canyons were not in the same location as they are today, but slightly offset, therefore where the Roque Bentaiga and the Three Kings are today, this would have been a canyon. Between 4.5 and 3 million years ago there was another new period of very large scale volcanic activity, the Roque Nublo Cycle which was again to build a stratovolcano in the centre of the island. The lava flows and pyroclastic breccia sheets emitted during this time were to fill in the previously carved out canyons, forming new ridges of volcanic materials.
Incredibly, in addition to this, during the Roque Nublo volcano period, a series of strombolian volcanic cones had formed on the flanks of the main volcano, one of these, the most important one, thought to have been over 1 km in diameter, was located here, at the point where the Three Kings stand today and exactly on top of the focal point of the previously emplaced plutonic and cone sheet intrusions.
Finally after all these events, there was to be no more volcanic activity in the south-western area of the island and for over 3 million years now erosion has been the only factor involved, shaping this entire area into that of a very beautiful, rugged and mostly inaccessible landscape.
In this image, the upper monolith to the left is composed of eroded lava flows emitted from the main Roque Nublo stratocone, whilst the two lower rock formations are the highly eroded remains of the inside of the crater belonging to the large strombolian cone that had formed on the south western flank of this volcano. The red rocks are composed of intra crater breccias and debris, scoria and bombs, these vivid red tones created by the oxidisation of iron within the rocks by the residual hot, water vapour rich gases escaping from the crater after the eruptions had ceased. The two lower monoliths are also cut by basaltic and phonolitic dikes of Roque Nublo age.
These upper formations overlay a thin layer of pumice, layers of epiclastic material and the structurally uplifted caldera fill ignimbrites, which were intruded into by syenite stocks and are crossed by numerous dikes both of Roque Nublo age and of the previous cone sheet formation. Interestingly there are also breccias that seem to correspond to an older eruptive centre, although no evidence of this centre has ever been found. If it were to have existed, then all the materials emitted have been completely eroded away.