Volcanic Change

A lot of things are percolating deep down, laying a foundation for change.

Note: I wrote this post about a week before I published it, so my information about the eruption of Mauna Loa will be out of date by the time you read this. Please consult the links I’ll provide below for more timely information.

After seeming to sleep for 38 years, Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, located on the big island of Hawaii, has woken up. I say “seeming to sleep” because it is estimated that it took about 10 years for the magma to reach the upper magma chamber this time around, and that, in turn, lies 2 ½ miles below the crater itself. When you consider that the Hawaii hotspot, from whence the magma could be said to originate, is about 60 miles below the surface, you realize that any eruption is a long time coming. The amount of lava that we’ll see from this eruption is minuscule compared to the magma underground.

Mauna Loa has done a lot of swelling and shrinking over the years as the pressure below ground increased or subsided. That, of course, caused earthquakes. So if this volcano sleeps at all, it does so fitfully.

This current eruption began late in the evening of November 27, 2022 and, to date, the bulk of the lava is flowing toward the north. The lava flow has slowed down quite a bit today, which is a good thing, because it’s currently 1.7 miles away from Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the only major highway that crosses the interior of the big island. Its loss would be devastating. Authorities are now saying that the highway is no longer in danger, but volcanoes should never be underestimated, so we shall see.

The lava has traveled 12 miles, and it’s currently moving at a rate of 7 feet per hour. I don’t mean to make light of this event, but if you have to experience a natural disaster, it’s preferable to find one that’s laid back like this one is, so that you can outrun it. Still, volcanoes in general never cease to remind me how powerless we are over the natural world.

“Slow and steady wins the race”, as they say. This volcano has been erupting on and off for about 700,000 years, and only made it above the water’s surface about 400,000 years ago. It most likely will not become extinct for another 500,000 years. (Perhaps a better proverb would be “Patience is a virtue.”)

I’m particularly fascinated by this eruption because I visited Hawaii for the first time this past May. We drove the length of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, and we went partway up Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa’s sister volcano. We didn’t ascend as high as we planned to because I started getting really loopy from the altitude and we decided that it was best to turn back. (It took me a few months to blog about it, but you can read that post here.)

We also stayed at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and that gave us the opportunity to see lava flowing from yet another volcano, Kilauea. As I said in that blog post, it felt as though I was gazing into the Beating Heart of Mother Earth, and I am forever changed by the experience. I have led a truly charmed life.

I’ve always thought of the Hawaiian islands as tiny little dots all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and from that perspective, it’s understandable that when told a volcano is erupting, many tourists panic and change their travel plans. But when you get there and see things to scale, you realize that those fears are really unfounded. If a volcano erupted in the heart of Manhattan, nobody but those who live in Manhattan would say, “Well, I guess we need to cancel our reservations at that delightful bed and breakfast in Connecticut now.”

Yes, volcanos are dangerous. You shouldn’t get too close to a lava flow. And if you have breathing issues, you should keep track of the direction of the volcanic gasses and ash. Common sense dictates that one should avoid flying boulders and the like. And heaven forbid you get anywhere near a pyroclastic flow (but I’m happy to say that Hawaiian volcanoes don’t have that particular feature. It’s all about lava quality).

But as I said, most volcano action happens slowly, and with our modern technology we tend to get advanced warning. So I urge you not to alter your travel plans. I really wish I could go now, to see this spectacular eruption with my own eyes. (There is a live webcam, but it has only worked sporadically. Check it out, if you can, here. I especially enjoy watching it at night, but don’t forget to adjust for time change.)

During our time on the Big Island, we were able to observe Mauna Loa from many angles as it prepared itself for the spectacular transformation that we didn’t know was imminent. (Isn’t hindsight fascinating?) Even at a distance, it is, indeed, formidable, and the size makes it nearly impossible for our tiny minds to comprehend everything that was going on beneath the surface.

That is a perfect metaphor for change, isn’t it? We usually only see the change when it breaks the surface, but we often find out later that a lot of things had been percolating deep down, laying a foundation for change, for quite some time. Change will happen. (In fact, there’s a lot of change headed my way. Not to worry, though. It’s nothing horrible. When it surfaces, I’ll be sure to let you know.)

Change happens to all of us. It happens all around us. It’s part of life. But when next it happens to you, dear reader, here’s hoping that it will be as beautiful and as awe-inspiring as this eruption on Mauna Loa.

Additional sources:

https://www.volcanocafe.org/the-mauna-loa-eruption-of-2022/

https://www.hawaii-guide.com/big-island/hawaii-volcanoes-national-park-where-is-the-lava-located

https://www.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna-loa/volcano-updates

https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/2022/12/10/hawaii-news/county-declares-daniel-k-inouye-highway-out-of-danger-as-eruption-continues-to-weaken-2/

https://www.space.com/hawaii-mauna-loa-volcanic-eruption-from-space

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Kilauea Iki: Walking on a Lava Lake

“What a great adventure!”

The older I get, the more I take to heart something a friend once told me: “You can’t do everything.”

That applies especially to my travels. Gone are the days when I would be willing to climb mountains and conquer hardscrabble terrain. I’m not quite at the age where I’m in constant fear of breaking a hip, but I am at the age where a rough hike leaves me feeling as though I had broken one. That’s when exploring ceases to be fun.

A younger me would have loved to have joined Dear Husband on his trek across the hardened lava lake of Kilauea Iki. But that’s a 4 mile hike, with a descent and ascent of 400 feet, which is the equivalent of a 40 story building. Discovering that, the current, more pragmatic me declined, rather than force DH to walk more slowly, listen to me complain, and probably carry me back up the side of the crater like a dead moose. (Okay, I know there are no moose in Hawaii, but you get the idea.)

So I had a delightful evening in our room, reading a good book, which is a luxury I rarely have time for these days. Bliss. Meanwhile, DH went on his incredible adventure.

Naturally, I couldn’t write about an experience that I didn’t have, so I asked him to do so. What follows is written by him, unless it’s in italics. Italics are me butting in on the story. But I truly think he did an excellent job of allowing us all to feel as though we’re tagging along.

Thanks, DH! And enjoy, Dear Reader!

_______________________________________________

With just 18 hours left in Hawaii before the flight that would take us home, I still wanted to use every opportunity to fully experience my first visit to the Big Island of Hawaii. The Volcanoes National Park had been a fascinating site to explore, and l decided there was enough time and daylight for one more adventure.

One of the many trails at the park gives you an opportunity to walk across a “once-molten lake of lava” in the Kilauea Iki crater. [In Hawaiian, Kilauea means “much spreading” or “spewing” and Iki means “little”. This is because the crater in question is much smaller than the nearby and still-active main caldera of Kilauea. But it’s still 3000 feet across, which is more than 9 football fields. What is “iki” from a volcano’s perspective is still nui (huge) from a human perspective.]

That sounded like the once-in-a-lifetime adventure I was looking for! Since I would be starting just three hours before sunset, I first stopped at the Visitors Center to talk with staff, to make sure I wasn’t heading for trouble. They assured me there was time enough before sunset to begin that hike and I purchased the $2 trail guide for a better understanding of how to achieve my goal and return unharmed.

Although this national park goes down to sea level, the park entrance and many sections are at an elevation of around 4,000 feet, and in Hawaii, that means it’s a rain forest environment. So, along with comfortable shoes, flashlight, water, camera and fully charged phone, I also brought a rain jacket and was glad for that. When I parked at the trailhead to review the guide, it was already 5 pm with the sunset around 7 pm, so I would need to step lively to complete the hike in the remaining hours of daylight. The printed guide recommended following the trail in a counterclockwise route, along the rim of the crater to the far side, and then down the inside of that rim to the floor. After crossing the once molten lake of lava, the trail would bring me back up the 400 feet to where the trail has easy access to the road.

As I began, I watched for the numbered trail markers, where the guide offered details specific to that location. The clouds were settled just a few hundred feet above me, with a light drizzle falling (much like what frequently happens back home in Seattle) and a comfortable 70° temperature. (Which doesn’t happen nearly enough in Seattle.) The trail was certainly wet but not soggy, and I kept my feet dry as I headed through the lush and very wet forest of tall ferns and dripping trees.

Occasionally I’d reach a break in the growth to my left, where I could peer over the steep rim and down onto the lava lake that was my goal. Frequently there were large puddles across the trail, stretching from four to eight feet across, with muddy soil surrounding each one. They were far too big for jumping across and the footing was way too slippery to even consider a leap. The trail was about five feet in width, and fortunately there were usually fallen branches at one side or the other that provided a stepping place and I could reach for small trees to provide a handhold. This method allowed me to take long, careful strides and avoid soaking my comfortable running shoes. Their thick soles provided protection when my steps took me down to the water level.

As I approached the far side of the crater, I met a family of three coming toward me. They were looking rather tired. My path crossed other trails and I was pleased to find them all well marked with destinations and distances, making me wonder if the printed guide was necessary. (But it’s a really cool, detailed guide which gives you a complete description of the 1959 eruption, complete with diagrams, so I highly recommend it. You can download it from the bottom of this page.)

When I reached the far side of the crater, the trail sloped downhill for a short distance and then headed over the rim, where I looked down onto the treetops below. At this point, a steel handrail had been installed, providing both support and a barrier beside the steep drop off. The entry to the floor of the caldera was at the base of this steep trail, built with switchbacks every 100 to 200 feet and with large (and tall) stone steps to lower oneself down the steep hillside. I was glad to be going downhill and recognized why the family that had just climbed these stairs had looked tired!

Near the last of the switchbacks, I heard hikers through the trees heading in my direction. When we met, I stepped aside so they had access to the handrail beside the narrow trail and they told me it was easy to find the trail, and to watch for the rocks stacked in cairns that mark the route. Those were the last people I saw as I reached the lava lake at the bottom of the rim.

The transition from the lush rain forest to the landscape of hardened lava is both jarring and abrupt. There is only a short distance where a few plants have succeeded in taking root in the harsh environment. Beyond the first dozen paces, the occasional plant was all alone and appeared foreign in the environment of sharp stone. And in those first steps, it was quickly evident that the floor is not at all level, but instead made up of jumbled pieces of sharp and porous rock that would inflict great damage to me if I were to fall. Despite an end to the daylight in just 90 minutes, there was incentive to step cautiously and not rush through this place.

The floor was like walking on the waves of a stormy sea, if they had frozen with the peaks and troughs at their extremes, often much deeper or taller than twice my height. Looking into the distance I saw a half dozen stacks of rocks showing the direction I should travel. There was no visible path or footprints from previous hikers on the hard, stone surface. Further along the trail, the large rocks had been reduced to crumbled gravel and the heavily traveled trail became visible.

I was surrounded by an exceedingly strange environment, and I realized that the sounds of the forest were gone; no birds, no rustling of the leaves or sounds of rain dripping from the trees. Instead all was silent. (Personally, I would have shouted hello to test for an echo, but that’s me.) The low clouds kept the rim of the crater hidden in most directions, so it appeared as though the hills surrounding me simply rose up into the clouds. It was truly an otherworldly feeling, alone in an environment that had been molten rock the year my parents got married.

One of the numbered markers referred me to the trail guide, which invited me to look at the perimeter of the lava lake and recognize the “bathtub ring” where the molten lava had once filled this crater. The pool of lava had risen and dropped several times during the eruptions, and it first cooled and hardened at the edges. When the pool dropped, those edges broke off, falling into the center or onto what had been a forest covered hillside. Looking all around, that ring was unmistakable, and, I thought, named appropriately. Apparently prior to the 1959 eruption, this had been an 800-foot-deep crater, not the 400-foot one that I had just descended.

As I continued my walk, the land became jumbled hills of black lava piled even higher than before, making me feel quite insignificant in comparison. At another of the numbered markers, the trail guide explained that this was the location of a cinder-and-spatter cone that came into existence in 1959. During that eruption, a fountain of lava shot 1,900 feet into the air (one of the highest eruptions ever witnessed by man) and all this jumble of rock was the spatters thrown out during that event.  (Here are some historic pictures of the eruption.)

For most of my life, I’ve seen lava rock that was used in BBQ grills, or as landscaping rock in gardens. In those instances, it was from ½-inch to perhaps 2-inches in diameter. In this crater there were crumbs of that size, but they were dwarfed beneath the hills of rock, with chunks the size of my head and up to three feet across. The piles of these abrasive, black boulders surrounded me in a jumble of debris, often mixed with voids or even small caverns. I recognized that these boulders could easily shred my leg if I stepped into a hole, or perhaps even onto an unstable rock.

After passing through the steep hills of spattered lava, I reached an area that had a much more level surface. This portion of the hardened lava lake reminded me of an old asphalt parking lot where sinkholes or landslides had caused the pavement to shift or break. Except that this parking lot covered acres of land and there was no soil visible where the surfaces sank and broke. This surface provided great examples of the dropping pool of lava, where the support beneath cooled stone had disappeared, causing it to sink or drop, often ten, twenty or even forty feet. This was yet another example of the power of nature, where the land is currently motionless but has not always been so. To keep heading toward the next guidepost cairn, I frequently had to step over large cracks that provided and opportunity to peer down several feet into darkness. The path I walked was often meandering, in order to avoid crossing large gaps between slabs that I could easily fall into.

As I neared the halfway point in crossing the lava lake, the surface once again changed, but for the last time. The hills were behind me, and the relatively level surface finally looked like the lava lake I’d heard about. It was more than a quarter mile to each side and more like a half mile ahead of me, to where the trail leads out of the crater. The surface still had a rolling unevenness and the stone floor reminded me of the crust on a loaf of black, pumpernickel bread. The unevenness of this vast acreage was accented by the puddles from the recent rain and the shadows in the low places, contrasting with the higher spots. It also had a mottled look, due to the smallest of rocks and dust having been washed and blown around, leaving other patches of stone bare. An occasional plant stood about 24 inches tall, proud to be surviving and creating yet another eerie contrast as the daylight began fading.

The final few hundred feet of the lake surface was once again broken pavement, sloping up to the bathtub ring from where I could then look back to see some of the trail I’d just traveled. From a distance, it was evident that many people had crossed the same route and I realized I was fortunate to have had the entire caldera to myself for that hour.

Only a few steps away from the lava, I was immediately into the rain forest again, welcomed by a gigantic puddle that I had to skirt as I entered the canopy of trees that covered the trail. Again, it was a well-worn trail, but the path was a gentle uphill slope with an occasional step, built with a log across the trail as the riser to the next level. Sometimes the steps were twenty feet apart, at other times a hundred feet from the previous, repeated over and over, with an occasional switchback that allowed me  to gently climb the hillside.

This was so much more comfortable than the steep bluff I’d walked down at the far end of this crater. And yet there was still an incline, so I stopped for a rest. This gave me the opportunity to listen to the coqui frogs chirping in the forest. (They are an invasive species which traveled to Hawaii from Puerto Rico on house plants in the 1980’s. I happen to love their sound, but it drives some people crazy.) They truly add to the unique sound of this setting, and I took the opportunity to record their voices as they remained hidden from sight.  I continued up the sloping trail, back and forth across the hillside, as the trees hid all views of the vast openness inside the Kilauea Iki crater.

Sunset was almost upon me, and I considered breaking out a flashlight, but then I heard the sound of cars on the road that goes along the edge of the crater. Moments later, when I reached the road, I found several squirt bottles and a sign with instructions to spray and rinse the soles of my shoes, so I wouldn’t track any seeds or plant life from this location to other parts of the national park (and I did so.)

I checked the time, and I realized it was two hours after I’d started and I had covered just over three miles. In reviewing the trail guide, I discovered the route included crossing the road and continuing the hike to explore the Thurston Lava Tube, however we had visited that just a couple days earlier (read about it here), so instead I took a different part of the trail, back through the trees, that led to the parking lot where I had left the rental car. This turned out to be a great opportunity to peer back into the crater and take a photo of where I’d been. From this vantage point, the last half of the trail across the open lake bed was extremely obvious, however it was impossible to recognize the rolling surface. The many puddles along the way are evident and I took several photos during my hike, including one in which this trail is so visible.

The last half mile hike to the car was at dusk and beneath the trees, so I appreciated having the flashlight. At one point, there appeared to be a slope on the opposite side of the trail, and upon closer inspection I found it to be a large hole, with just a few ferns hiding it from sight. That’s not the kind of thing one should stumble into at any time, let alone twelve hours before any other people would be walking the trail!

This impromptu hike turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in Hawaii. (And no, I didn’t take that personally, as I was cuddled up with my good book. We were each in a happy place.) I doubt I’ll ever get the chance for another hike across the caldera of a volcano with no other people in sight or earshot.

“What a great adventure,” I texted to Barb, letting her know I was safely to the car and heading back to her.

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Chaos Reigns

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

On January 15th of this year, my cell phone sprang to life. It was a message from my county informing me of a tsunami advisory. I’ve always lived near one coast or another, but this was my first tsunami advisory. It kind of set me back on my heels, to be honest.

The natural disasters I’ve had to deal with the most have been hurricanes, back when I lived in Florida. They move slowly. You get plenty of notice. Once you know a strong one is headed your direction, you’d be a fool not to get out of the way if you are able to do so. Sadly, there are a lot of fools in this world.

Tsunamis are a bit different, though. It’s really hard to determine the height they will reach when they hit land, and the closer you are to their source, the less notice you have. There’s no tsunami season, and anyone near water is potentially at risk. As far as I’m concerned, tsunamis are nature at its most raw and unpredictable.

According to our county’s Emergency Operation Center, this particular tsunami might not hit us at all, or it might be three feet high. That’s a huge margin of error. Naturally, my first thought was for myself and Dear Husband, but we were both well inland, and our house is high on a hill. While a mile-high tsunami might take us out, a three foot one would not. So I did my best to spread the word to friends and coworkers.

My next focus was to find out what the heck had caused this tsunami in the first place. When I saw the aerial photography of the massive volcano eruption near Tonga, I was horrified. Those poor people probably didn’t know what hit them. Their islands would be devastated, both from the water and from the ash. This kingdom is so small and remote that most people, including me, rarely give it a thought. But we’re talking about more than 100,000 people with absolutely nowhere to run. This was going to be bad.

Satellite images from JMA show the volcano eruption in Tonga on Jan 15, 2022.

But in the following days, all hell broke loose a work, the pandemic raged on, I came down with strep throat, and became increasingly muddled in my thinking. I sent a snarky text to a friend who understands my humor, only to discover that I had accidentally sent it to someone who barely knows me, and was sure to misinterpret the message. I was mortified. She was gracious about it, so all I can do is hope it didn’t irreparably damage our brand new friendship, because I really do like her and her husband a lot.

I also watched as my democracy continued to crumble, as evidenced by the erosion of women’s rights and the steady chipping away of everyone’s ability to vote, all while our environment circles the drain. Covid tests have been hard to come by, fools are still not getting vaccinated, putting us all at risk, and I am feeling misunderstood, unsupported, and exhausted.

So, I’m ashamed to say that when I saw this article about the desperate state of Tonga after the eruption, I realized that I had forgotten all about this crisis. And it had only been five days. What the hell is wrong with me? (Well, yeah, strep throat. But, I mean, besides that.)

It’s so unlike me to forget things like this. I genuinely do my best to help others when I can, as so many people have helped me along the way. But this horrific event had popped out of my mind like a soap bubble.

And then I realized what it was. Chaos.

The reason people make up and spread conspiracy theories is so that they can watch everyone else scrambling around in a panic, while they make great strides toward their own agenda. Unfortunately, that chaos can have dire results. It can do even more than divert your attention from what really matters.

For example, convincing people that public health should be politicized and that vaccines are dangerous and/or an assault on your freedom results in the deaths of the most vulnerable amongst us. And while the rest of us try to talk sense into these manipulated people, others can be above it all, trying to destroy our democracy and wring as much money out of the world as possible without any resistance from us.

In this era of unfiltered social media, you can create chaos in a wide variety of ways. You can incite insurrections and block desperately needed legislation. You can convince people that immigrants are the sole source of our problems, that they’re the enemy, that they’re going to steal our jobs and rape our white women. You can refuse to fill critical governmental positions, or fire people once a month to deprive governmental protection agencies of their continuity.

Chaos allows the convincers to scurry around in the background, raping our environment for maximum profit, widening the wealth gap to an unprecedented degree, and creating a supreme court so biased that our laws won’t reflect the will of the majority of the people for many generations to come.

With all this going on, we forget the “minor details”, such as the total devastation of a distant island nation, or the total devastation of our human rights. We can’t work up the energy to maintain the proper level of concern about anything. And that is exactly what the people in power want.

Once you start looking for chaos, you spot it everywhere. (There was never any critical race theory being taught in public schools, folks. Not ever. It’s a distraction.)  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

We are turning against each other, rather than uniting to put a stop to the corrupt, evil people who are pulling our puppet strings. And it appears that a great deal of us are quite content to suckle on a steady stream of sugary misinformation as the world crumbles around us all. When this era is studied by future historians, it will be considered the beginning of a very dark age; one in which things took a drastic turn for the worse. They will most likely still be trying to dig out from under our rubble.

Surely I’m not the only one who finds that terrifying.

If you would like to help those suffering in Tonga, please check out this article for legitimate sources of support.

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Mount St. Helens

How it’s doing 40 years after it erupted.

If forced to choose a favorite day of our Roamin’ Holiday, I’d have to say our day trip to Mount St. Helens has that distinction. I love any opportunity to look nature in the eye and say, “Yeah, you win. It wouldn’t even be a fair fight.”

When this volcano famously erupted on May 18, 1980, I was 15 years old and 3000 miles away, on the other side of the continent. I was fascinated by the event, and read everything I could about it, but somehow it didn’t seem real to me. It was something that was happening “over there”, in a place that was practically a foreign country, and one I was certain I’d never visit. I knew no one who had witnessed the event, and it didn’t impact me directly in any way.

Little did I know I’d be gazing upon this very volcano two days prior to the 40th anniversary of its eruption. And what a stunning sight it was. I don’t know what it is about Western vistas, but the horizon seems 10 times farther away out here, and this mountain is so… mountainous… that it makes me feel even smaller. I love that feeling. It makes me realize how insignificant my problems actually are, in the overall scheme of things. A short respite from my cares and worries is always welcome.

Thanks to the pandemic, I didn’t get to see the state park visitor center at Silver Lake. There was, however, a little shack that had been converted from a snack bar to a gift shop, so I was able to remotely point at and purchase a magnet for my fridge and a postcard or two. The Forest Learning Center, operated by Weyerhaeuser, was also closed, as was the Science and Learning Center operated by the Mount St. Helens Institute, and the Johnson Ridge Observatory operated by the U.S. Forest service. I also couldn’t get my coveted National Parks Passport Stamp at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

All of this was a disappointment, as I do love visitor centers. They teach me a great deal, and therefore enrich the travel experience, but hey, there’s still the internet, and the interpretive signs at the various overlooks along the route were still there. I just had to wait, patiently, and properly bemasked, at a distance, if anyone had arrived there before me. And for the most part, we had the park to ourselves. The Pandemic certainly has changed the travel experience.

But the star of the show, the volcano, was certainly there, and we were lucky enough to be there on a day when it wasn’t obscured by clouds. Some of the photographs that we took at the time appear below. As good as I think they are, they don’t really do it justice.

What really impressed me was how much the area has recovered in the last 4 decades, given the scope of the destruction. I’ll let Wikipedia describe what happened.

Mount St. Helens is most notorious for its major eruption on May 18, 1980, the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in US history. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche, triggered by an earthquake of magnitude 5.1, caused a lateral eruption that reduced the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 ft (2,950 m) to 8,363 ft (2,549 m), leaving a 1 mile (1.6 km) wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The debris avalanche was up to 0.7 cubic miles (2.9 km3) in volume.

An eruption column rose 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states and significant ash in two Canadian provinces. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars (volcanic mudslides) that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles (80 km) to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, but not as destructive, eruptions later that year. Thermal energy released during the eruption was equal to 26 megatons of TNT.

Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over $1 billion in damage (equivalent to $3.4 billion in 2019), thousands of animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side.

So, yeah, I’d say that this destruction was rather a big deal. And you can still see evidence of it everywhere. The mountain used to be a relatively uniform cone shape. Very picturesque. But the eruption reduced it’s height by 1314 feet. To put that into perspective, the shorter of the two twin towers, prior to 911, was 1362 feet. So that was a heck of a lot of mountain to be there one minute and gone the next. And now there’s this giant lopsided crater marring the previous symmetry. And you can see where the slide went in many of the photographs below.

It’s also quite obvious when you enter the blast zone. That area has been reforested, for the most part, but there’s a very abrupt change between old growth forest, and, for example, the acres of trees planted by Weyerhaeuser, which are so identical in height and shape that it makes your eyes do a blurry double take. You can also see a lot of dead and flattened trees still floating in the area waterways.

But life will out. The trees are, indeed, growing. Wildlife abounds. The waterways flow again. It would be easy to forget if we had no video of the disaster, and no written history. To the untrained eye, there would only be hints here and there. For example, the A Frame house pictured below still stands, and the upper floor can still be seen. The mud flood that came through there, just two days after that house was built, was 5 feet deep and 100 degrees. It was the consistency of wet cement and was traveling at about 35 miles per hour. Now that whole area is at a higher elevation, and people, ignoring history and wanting to profit from tourism, have rebuilt all around it.

If I could sum up what I learned from this trip in one sentence, it would be, “Time marches on.” And when it’s nature that’s doing the marching, you’d best get the hell out of the way.

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Tragic Nostalgia

As I write this blog entry, I’m watching video footage of the eruption of Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano. It’s about 50 miles southeast of Mexico City, and I have been on its slopes. It has erupted about a dozen times since then, and it always brings me back to that long ago visit.

Although I didn’t reach its summit, I know I reached the highest elevation I ever have in my life, because the air was so thin I could barely function. That is something I never experienced before or since. I contented myself with taking in the view, which included her sister volcano, Iztaccihuatl. That was an amazing day, one for my bucket list.

Whenever Popo blows her top, I worry for the people in the surrounding villages. These people were very warm and welcoming to me. They made me feel safe and comfortable. It pains me to think that during times of eruptions, they themselves are far from safe and comfortable.

When a tragedy causes you to have feelings of concern mixed with nostalgia, it can be very hard to reconcile those contrasting emotions. During times like these I feel helpless. I also better understand why people take so much comfort in prayer.

Popocatépetl
Popocatépetl

Thermal Features in Yellowstone

The reason Yellowstone was made into the first national park on the planet is its unique thermal features. There were many times during my recent visit when I felt as if I were on another planet entirely. Nature there just doesn’t behave the way it does anyplace else I’ve ever been. It’s really quite fascinating. It’s also mildly disturbing.

This is a land that sits atop a supervolcano. The caldera is marked clearly on Yellowstone maps. When this volcano erupts again, it will make the Mount St. Helens eruption look like a hiccup. Fortunately it’s not expected to do so for about 10,000 years. In the meantime what we’re left with is basically nature behaving badly with some spectacular results.

According to the NPS webpage for Yellowstone, there are 1,000 to 3,000 minor earthquakes there per year, and they reveal all the activity going on below ground. But there is plenty going on above ground as well. Geysers. Hot Springs. Mudpots, Fumaroles. Travertine Terraces. Colorful algae mats. Some features sound like a dragon breathing, others roar when they erupt. Some stink of Sulfur, and others are so colorful that few cameras can do them justice.

I even got to soak in one area where the aptly named Boiling River meets the icy cold Gardner River. As the currents shifted I was treated to warm and cold water, but was told not to submerge my head because the area was alive with meningitis. Yellowstone is both beautiful and dangerous, and that’s part of the appeal.

What follows are some of the photos I took of the thermal features during my most recent visit. Enjoy!

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Have we Overstayed our Welcome?

Aw, jeez, I need to stop surfing the internet. I just came across a website called Recent Natural Disasters, and it gives you all the reported disasters all over the world, 24 hours a day. I have a hard enough time avoiding my tendency to anthropomorphize nature, especially when it seems as though the planet is becoming more and more pissed off.

Typhoon Haiyan has certainly displaced thousands of people, but it’s only the latest in what seems to be an increasing number of natural disasters, from the expected to the downright bizarre. I mean, who expects flooding in Saudi Arabia? But that’s been happening, too.

And I’m stunned by how many of these events have escaped my notice up to this point. Here are but a few of the headlines from the past few months:

Massive landslide in Denali National Park, Alaska – Could take 10 days to clear

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung volcano eruption prompts evacuation of 3,300

Mudslide traps 20 in Cross Rivers, Nigeria

Very severe cyclonic storm Phailin: India’s biggest evacuation operation in 23 years, 43 killed

Eurasia’s highest volcano Klyuchevskoi spews ash up to 3.7 miles

40,000 evacuated amid Gujarat flooding

7.7 magnitude earthquake in Pakistan kills 400, Awaran declares emergency

Flooding in Bunkpurugu, Ghana kills 1, displaces 6,000

Shanghai heat wave 2013: Hottest temperature in 140 years!

Spanish Mallorca forest fire: Worst fire in 15 years evacuates 700

Namibia African Drought: Worst in 30 years

Yarnell, Arizona Wildfire 2013: 19 firefighters killed

Central African Republic gold mine collapse kills 37, national mourning declared

Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand flood 2013: At least 5,500 killed

Colorado wildfires destroy 360 plus homes, 38,000 evacuated

Whether you believe in Global Climate Change or not, don’t you sometimes get the feeling that we as a species are no longer wanted on this planet? And if so, who could blame Mother Nature? I mean, we take and take and take, and what we give in return is pollution, destruction, and devastation. If a guest in my home were behaving this badly, I’d kick him out, too.

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