NGORONGORO CRATER — The Landcruiser trundles under a canopy of clouds gathered on the cool and lush rim. As the vehicle descends a wooded hillside, sunlight breaks through to reveal the flaxen crater floor. It’s interrupted only by a wash of pale blue, the life source for hordes of black specks now growing larger.
Animals. Thousands of animals. In all directions.
Two students in the bouncy back of the Landcruiser — one from CU Denver, the other from Texas A&M — stare out in disbelief.
“This is not real life,” Elicia Abella says as she looks across the arid plain. “I must be dreaming.”
Elanor Sonderman already ranks this as one of the best days of her life — affirming her decision to enroll in CU Denver’s field school in Tanzania. “This is nuts,” she says, looking into the crater. “This is crazy.”
Jurassic Park is an apt description of this otherworldly place, formed 2.5 million years ago when a volcano erupted, its massive cone collapsing inward to leave the world’s largest unbroken caldera. First to the 11-mile-wide bowl came water and plants, then came the wildlife — virtually every variety of African animal. In 1959, the Tanzanian government set this remarkable habitat aside as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, now home to more than 25,000 animals. Safari vehicles rumble down the one-way descent, take a circuitous route across the crater floor, and then bump their way upward along another side of the rugged escarpment.