Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Bowl of the Earth: Ngorongoro Crater

Imagine a massive bowl created to preserve all of nature’s precious beauty with inescapable ceramic curves to keep intruders out and protect the prized contents.

Ngorongoro Crater is such a place, both a geological and natural wonder. About 2.5 million years ago, a volcano taller than Mount Kilimanjaro erupted, causing the top of the mountain to collapse inwards. The lasting crater is the largest caldera in the world, surrounded by high mountainous walls serving as a natural enclosure for a rich diversity of wildlife.

The descent into the crater takes about an hour, winding down steep roads, first through rainforest, and then through large groves of flat acacia trees. Below, sprawling savanna grassland and alkaline lakes welcome a dense concentration of Africa’s most famous wildlife.

I arrived early in the morning, in time to witness a spectacular sight of migratory Abim stork taking flight from around a herd of zebra. The early morning soft blue haze created a silhouette backdrop for the storks circling above and the stately black and white zebra below.

I spotted seven lions during my stay in the crater, some languidly resting off in the distance, others pacing just outside our vehicle. The regal males with their crowning gold manes reflecting the afternoon light matched only the majesty of the lone elephant, wandering at a distance with a backdrop of verdant rainforest and dark black clouds gathering above.

Ngorongoro is nature’s diamond, a miraculous place deserving as much recognition as the vast Serengeti. In a relatively small land area of 100 square miles, viewers enjoy as many different types of animals as one could see in the world's best zoos.

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