Really big mountain that overloooks Mexico City. In fact, it is a volcano. Close to it stands the Iztaccihuatl, another volcano. The Popocatepetl is locally known as Popo and also Don Goyo.
As I write this node, it is erupting.

The Popocatépetl reaches an altitude of about 5420 m, and in good days it looks very impressive from Mexico City. There is a very small and receding glacier close to the tip. It stands at 19°03' N and 98°35' W. Closest major urban centers are Puebla, Cuernavaca and Mexico City. There are many small villages between 10 and 20 km. from the crater

Standard access to the mountain is through the Paso de Cortés and Amecameca.

You can see a picture of Popo at (during daytime).

In Aztec legend, Iztaccihuatl, the emperor's beautiful daughter, fell in love with a young Aztec warrior. Upon discovering the tryst, as men of absolute power in story and myth often do, the emperor sent the young soldier to war in nearby Oaxaca, with the promise that—should he return triumphant—he would have the daughter's hand in marriage.

Since he fully intended to marry the princess to another man, after a time the emperor told his daughter that her lover had been killed in battle. As daughters in myth and legend often do, the girl died of grief.

Upon his return, the young warrior, not unlike Shakespeare's Romeo, took the dead girl's body in his arms and carried her off to the nearby mountains. After placing her on the ground, he climbed an adjacent peak and—with smoking torch held high—he began an eternal watch over his beloved Iztaccihuatl.

The gods, pitying the young lovers, covered them with a blanket of snow and transformed them into a pair of mountains, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, that they might be together always. As extremely active volcanoes they preside to this day over the entrance to the Valley of Central Mexico.


Iztaccihuatl means "sleeping lady" in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and over a million modern-day Mexicans. And Popocatepetl translates as "smoking mountain," a fiery geological reminder of the Aztec warrior's perpetual ardor.

Popocatepetl, a calc-alkaline strato volcano is—at 17,925 feet (5465 meters)—Mexico's second-highest peak, after Pico de Orizaba (18,405). Iztaccihuatl, separated from "Popo" by a ten-mile ridge, is 17,342 high and does indeed resemble a woman asleep. But her sleep, and especially that of her consort, is restless to a fault.

Located less than forty-five miles southeast of downtown Mexico City and only thirty miles southwest of the city of Puebla, Popocatepetl—wreathed perpetually in glacial snow—in addition to being the highest active volcano in the Northern Hemisphere is also one of the world's most dangerous.

A moderate eruption occurred just two weeks ago, on November 6th, 2002, resulting in a 12 kilometer restriction being placed around the mountain. This was however merely the latest in an extremely active series of volcanic incidents.

Dormant since 1924, Popocatepetl in December of 1994 sent 8000 tons of ash into the Puebla Valley, causing 33,000 people to be evacuated. Five mountaineers were killed in 1996, caught by a surprise explosion near the summit. On January 29th, 2001, pyroclastic flows traveled 8 kilometers from the volcano, causing glacial melting and subsequent flooding.

Since Hernan Cortés and his Spanish conquerors first laid eyes on Popocatepetl in 1519, the mountain has had fifteen major eruptions and countless smaller ones.

Twenty small villages are perched on the flanks of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. Over thirty million people live within fifty miles. The next explosive eruption, which scientists agree is overdue, will have a devastating effect on the region.

Michael Sheridan, chairman of the Geology Department at the State University of New York states: "That volcano is getting ready to do something big." Dan Miller, a geologist at The Cascade Volcanic Observatory notes: "It's a volcano that has erupted violently in the past and it's to be considered dangerous now."


Eight leagues from this city of Cholula there are two marvelously high mountains whose summits still at the end of August are covered with snow so that nothing else can be seen of them.

From the higher of the two both by day and by night a great column of smoke comes forth and rises up into the clouds as straight as a staff, with such force that although a very violent wind continuously blows over the mountain range, yet it cannot change the direction of the column.

Since I have ever been desirous of sending your Majesty a very particular account of everything that I met with in this land, I was eager to know the secret of this which seemed to me not a little marvelous and accordingly I sent ten men such as were well fitted for the expedition with certain natives to guide them to find out the secret of the smoke, where and how it arose.

—Hernan Cortés, from a letter sent to King Carlos V of Spain, October 30, 1520

The secret of the smoke may well be the best metaphor describing man's timeless quest for knowledge of his planet's heart. Aztec artifacts and structures have been found upon the sides of both Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, though there is no extant record that the pre-Columbians ever attained the summit.

Similarly, one January day many years ago, I was party to an attempt on Popocatepetl. Stupidly (hung-overly?), about fifteen of us Hollywood types gave it our best shot. We'd been making a movie on and around Popo for a couple of weeks, were well-acclimated, and 18,000 feet didn't seem all that high.

It's a beautiful place to be, looking down on the pine forests and villages, across the ridge to the sleeping lady. The area resembles most that of the Pacific Northwest, which is why we were filming there in the first place. But mere mortals, perhaps, are not meant to assault the smoky heights of active volcanoes

It should come as no surprise that the only man who didn't turn back was the star of the film. What wonders might he have seen do you suppose? What secrets in the smoke?
Mexico's Volcanoes: A Climbing Guide, R.J. Secor Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1993.
Hernando Cortes: Five Letters 1519-1526, Trans. J. Morris, London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1928.

On Mexico and the Aztecs:

An Aztec father advises his son
Bernardino de Sahagun
Human Sacrifice and the Aztecs
Ometeotl, beyond time and space
Talk like an Aztec
Tlazolteotl, the Filth Eater
What points its finger at the sky?
Xipe Totec

Below the Line

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