In the province of the Rhine there is a range of mountains, including several extinct volcanoes, which offer grand and beautiful scenery and every opportunity for geological study, leading the mind back to the early ages of the earth.
Let us take an imaginary trip through this region, starting on our wanderings from the Rhine, where it breaks through the vine-clad slate mountains of the Westerwald and the Eifel. A short distance above the mouth of the Ahr we leave its banks, turning to the west, and entering the mountains at the village of Nieder Breisig. A pretty valley leads us up through orchards and meadows. The lower hills are covered with vineyards and the mountains with a dense growth of bushes, so that we do not obtain an extended view until we reach an elevated ridge.DISTANT VIEW OF THE VOLCANIC PORTION OF THE EIFEL, TAKEN FROM THE HEIGHTS OF THE SCHNEIFEL.
The valley of the Rhine lies far below us, but the glittering surface of the river, with the little towns, the castles and villas and the gardens and vineyards on its banks are still visible, while in the background the mountains of the Westerwald have risen above the hills on the river. This range stretches out into a long wooded ridge crowned by cone-shaped peaks of basalt. To the northwest of this lies Siebengebirge, with its numerous domes and pinnacles, making a grand picture veiled in the blue mist of distance. On the opposite side we have a very different view of curious dome and cone shaped summits surrounded by undulating plateaus or descending into deep ravines and gorges. It is the western part of the volcanic region of Rhineland which lies before us, and in the center of which is the Laachersee or lake of Laach. The origin of these volcanoes is not as remote as many suppose, but their activity must have continued for a comparatively long period, judging from the extent of their lava beds.
There was a time when the sea covered the lowlands of North Germany, and the waves of a deep bay washed the slopes of the Siebengebirge. Then the bed of the Rhine lay in the highlands, which it gradually washed away until the surface of the river was far, far below the level of its old bed; and then the volcanoes poured forth their streams of lava over the surrounding plains.
In the course of time the surface of the country has changed so that these lava beds now lie on the mountain sides overhanging the valleys of to-day. Some of the volcanoes sent forth melted stones and ashes from their summits, and streams of lava from their sides, while the craters of others cracked and then sank in, throwing their debris over the neighboring country. In the Eifel there are many such funnels which now contain water forming beautiful lakes (Maaren), which add much to the scenery of the Eifel. The Laachersee is the largest of these lakes. In the mean time the channel of the Rhine had been worn away almost to its present level, but the mountains still sent forth their streams of lava, which stopped brooks and filled the ravines, and even the Rhine itself was dammed up by the great stream from Fornicherkopf forming what was formerly the Neuwied. The old lava stream which obstructed the river is still to be seen in a towering wall of rock, extending close beside the road and track that follow the shore.
After having made these observations, we descend from the height which afforded us the view of the Vinrt Valley. A clear brook flows through green meadows and variegated fields stretch along the mountain sides, while modest little villages are scattered among the fruit trees. On the other side of the valley rises the Herchenberg, an extinct volcano. As we climb its sides we see traces of the former devastation. Loose ashes cover the ground, bits of mica glittering in the sun, and on the summit we find enormous masses of stone which were melted and then baked together. In the center lies the old crater, a quiet, barren place bearing very little vegetation, but from its wall an excellent view of the surrounding country can be obtained. Not far from this mountain lies the mighty Bausenberg, with its immense, well preserved crater, only one side of which has been broken away, and which is covered with a thick growth of bushes. The ledges of this mountain are full of interest for the mineralogist. Nearer to Lake Laach are the Wahnenkopfe, the proud Veitskopf, and other cone-shaped peaks. To these we direct our steps, and after a long tramp over the rolling, cultivated plateau, we climb the wood-covered sides of the great basin in whose depths the Laachersee lies.
From the shore of this lake rise the high volcanic peaks which tower above all the other mountains.
Tired from our climb through the ashes, which are heated by the sun, we rest in the shade of a beech-wood, looking through the leaves into the valley below us, with the old cloisters and the high Roman church which the monks once built on the banks of the lake.
To the south of the lake rise other volcanoes, lying on the border of the fertile Maifeld, which gradually descends to the valley of Neuwied. Here, at the southern declivity of the group of volcanoes which surrounds the Laachersee, remarkably large streams of lava were ejected, covering the surface of the plateau with a thick layer. The largest of these streams is that from the Niedermendig, which consists of porous masses of nepheline lava. In the time of the Romans millstones were made from this mass of rock, and the industry is carried on now on a larger scale. It is a strange sight which meets one's eyes when, after descending through narrow passages, he finds himself in large, dark halls, from which the stone has been cut away, and in which there are well-like shafts. The stones are raised through these shafts by means of gigantic cranes and engines. Because of the rapid evaporation of the water in the porous stone, these vaults are always cool, winter and summer, and therefore they are used by several brewers as storehouses for their beer, which owes its fame to these underground halls.
Although the traces of former volcanic action are evident to the student of nature, the Rhine with its mild climate and luxuriant vegetation has covered many marks of the former chaotic state of the land. Very little of this beauty is seen on the higher and, therefore, more severe and barren mountains of the Western Eifel, through which a volcanic fissure runs from the foot of the high unhospitable Schneifel to Bertrich Baths, near the Moselle. From the ridge of the Schneifel the traveler from the north has his first glimpse of the still distant system of volcanoes. The most beautiful part of this portion of the Eifel is in the neighborhood of Dann and Manderscheid. Near the former rises a barren mountain with a long ridge, on each side of which is a deep basin. These are sunken craters, which now contain lakes, and near these two there is a third, larger lake, the Maar von Schalkemehren, on the cultivated banks of which we find a little village. The middle one, the Weinfelder Maar, is the most interesting for geologists, for there seems to have been scarcely any change here since the time of the eruption.
On the other side of the mountain lies the Gremundener Maar, the shores of which are not barren and waste land, like those of the middle lake, but it is surrounded by a dark wreath of woods whose tops are mirrored in the crystal water. Farther to the south, near the villages of Gillenfeld and Meerfeld, there are more lakes.
The grandest picture of these ancient events is offered by the Mosenberg, near Manderscheid, a mighty volcano which commands an extensive view of the country. Two old craters lie on its double top, one of which has fallen in, forming a short rocky valley, but the other retains its original regular shape. In the circular funnel, whose walls consist of masses of lava stone, rests a quiet, black lake, that looks very mysterious to the wanderer. Only low juniper bushes grow near the crater, bearing witness to the barrenness of the land. From the foot of this mountain an immense stream of lava, as wide and deep as a glacier, broke forth and flowed into the valley, where the end of the stream is still to be seen in a high, steep wall of rock.THE "CHEESE GROTTO" AT BERTRICH BATHS.
Similar sights are met all through this western volcanic region, and we can consider the mineral and acid springs, which are very numerous, as the last traces of the former disturbances, the products of the decomposition of the volcanic stones buried in the earth. At Bertrich Baths there are hot springs which were known to the Romans, for numerous antiquities dating from their time have been excavated here. Near these springs, at Bertrich, there is a "Cheese Grotto," which is a break through the foot of a stream of lava, the stones of which have not assumed the usual form of solidified columns, but have taken flat, round shapes which resemble the forms of cheeses.
Now we have completed our wanderings, which required only a few days, although they extended over this whole volcanic region, and which end here on the Moselle. - Ueber Land und Meer; Allgemeine Illustrirte Zeitung.