In 1943, a farmer's cornfield suddenly sprouted a 1,300-foot volcano

For Dionisio Pulido and his family, Feb. 20, 1943 began as an average day of clearing and burning shrubbery from their cornfields near the village of Parícutin, Mexico to prepare for the spring sowing.

Later that afternoon, as Pulido moved to a different field to continue his work, he stumbled upon a small hill that had suddenly appeared. Atop the hill was a shallow crack, six feet wide and 150 feet long.

A number of small tremors had been felt over the previous few days, so Pulido was puzzled but not particularly concerned. He returned to the task of clearing brush.

Paricutin: The volcano that erupted out of a cornfield
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Paricutin: The volcano that erupted out of a cornfield
circa 1950: Ash pouring from Mount Par cutin, 'El Monstre', into the atmosphere. The volcano erupted from 1943 until 1952. The church in the village of San Juan was the only structure to be spared in the village, and still stands half buried in solidified lava. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)
Paricutin volcano began growing in a cornfield in Mexico with the start of its nine-year eruption beginning in 1943. Its volcanic cone grew to over 1,000 feet during the first year of the eruption.
A plume of ash rises from the Paricutin Volcano at an early stage of its eruption. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
A cloud of black ash rises from Paricutin, seen here at the far side of a corn field. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Paricutin Volcano emits an almost vertical column of black ash as it erupts. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
An aerial view of the cone and crater of the Paricutin Volcano. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
People and horses in the plaza of a small village near the Paricutin Volcano. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
1943: Lava, vapour and fumes cover the landscape during the eruption of Paricutin Volcano. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
1943: Paricutin volcano, in Mexico, during its eruption. On the first day it reached a height of 100 feet and within three weeks it had covered an area of 1square mile with lava. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
circa 1948: Tourists trekking through the grim Mexican landscape in West Michoacan where the Paricutin volcano is still active. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
circa 1950: The ash from Mount Par cutin, 'El Monstre', pouring into the atmosphere. The volcano erupted from 1943 to 1952. A cross can be seen on the hill in the foreground. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)

Then a sound like thunder rolled through the earth. Pulido spun around to see that the hill had lurched upward to a height of more than six feet and was belching gray ash into the air.

Terrified, Pulido fled the field and ran for his family. They were nowhere to be found.

As the rumbling continued, Pulido jumped on his horse and rode to the village, where he found his family safe and unharmed.

24 hours after Pulido discovered the crack in his field, a furious volcano towered 165 feet over his property, spraying ash and molten rock and continuing to grow.

The newborn volcano was a part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a 600-mile stretch of extinct volcanoes and smaller cinder cones. The volcanic soil deposits and moist Pacific breezes made it an exceptionally fertile planting ground for farmers like Pulido.

As the volcano continued to rise higher and higher above Parícutin, scientists began to arrive, excited by the unprecedented opportunity to study the lifecycle of a scoria cone volcano from the beginning.

Tons of ash fell from the sky, smothering vegetation and piling in dunes and drifts.

In June 1943, lava began to flow from the volcano's slopes, necessitating the evacuation of the village.

The molten rock crept over the village and continued on, slowly devouring the town of San Juan, leaving only the church bell tower to loom over a craggy black plain.

The volcano continued to rumble and grow in its first year of life. 200 miles away, ash fell on Mexico City.

As time passed, however, its activity slowed. Eruptions became sporadic amid long periods of silence. In 1952, it finally went dormant, topping out at nearly 1,300 feet above the surrounding valley.

Thousands of people were displaced by the eruption and forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere.

Before leaving for the last time, Pulido returned to what was once his cornfield and planted a sign: "This volcano is owned and operated by Dionisio Pulido."

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