Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide IV: Hummocks Trail

We’ve left the lovely breezes and rippling blue of Coldwater Lake; a road crossed, a tiny distance traversed, and we are in a rather grimmer place.

If you had been standing here in the North Fork Toutle River Valley on the morning of May 18th, 1980, you would have died. Never mind if you had your car carefully pointed towards a speedy escape. By the time you realized it was time to flee, it would have been far too late. There are people still entombed in the debris avalanche not far from here. This is the place to pause and reflect a moment on the power of geologic processes. Earth demands respect.

We’re about to hike over the results of a sector collapse. When a volcanic edifice becomes over-steepened and weakened, it can come down catastrophically. A major part of the mountain roars and tumbles down at incredible speeds. Clouds of dust and debris boil up as the mass churns and slides down-mountain. Some unfortunate valley is filled with hummocky debris. A volcano is left with an enormous gouge in its face. And this is without a lateral blast: what happened here would have been impressive enough alone. “Maclargehuge” is a word you might use to describe it, but when you get a good look at the thing from ground level, you’ll want something a bit stronger. I think “gigantinormous” will just about cover it, but should any other terms occur to you, please share them here.

Before you start down this trail, get prepared. It’s sunblock time. Slather that stuff on – I’ll not have my readers die of melanoma. Make sure you’ve got more water than you know what to do with. Yes, I know, we’re only going half a mile in, then turning back, but trust me on this. It will suck you dry if the sun’s shining. You are going to get baked without mercy. Shade is nearly non-existent. And what if you get all intrigued by the outstanding geology and decide to keep on till the river, eh? I’ll not have my readers suffer heatstroke and dehydration, either, so take as much water as you can carry.

Right? All right. Let’s go see some geology.

We’re going to take the trailhead on the left, following the loop clockwise. You’ll know you’re on the correct bit if you see an interpretive sign: the first quarter-mile has lots, and they repay a perusal. This is a scientific research area, so please do stay on the trail. There are scientific studies of the area’s recovery going on; this is a fantastic chance for us to see how the landscape evolves and ecosystems recover after a catastrophic eruption, so don’t muck it up. Besides that, this is an area you really don’t want to get lost in.

The early part of the trail moseys through some beautiful, lush meadows and baby forest. The tall grasses are tangled with abundant wildflowers, and skinny young alders partially shade everything. You can see hummocks under thick green mantles: notice their steep, almost conical shapes. Some are more rounded than others, but a lot of them look like debris piles dumped any-old-how – and that’s basically what they are.

Lovely meadow scenes along the Hummocks Trail.

Lovely meadow scenes along the Hummocks Trail.

You’ll soon see bare or sparsely-vegetated hummocks peeking from behind thin screens of trees. Some are too steep and too well-drained to support plant life. This is the kind of thing that makes geologists scream for joy, because we can actually see what’s going on.

Let’s pause a moment and get a handle on what we’re seeing. If you’ll recall from reading up on the subject, the gigantinormous landslide came down in three fairly distinct blocks. Blocks II and III are the ones that made it this far. They actually turned 90° to the west when they hit Johnston and Harry’s Ridges. The landslide decapitated the North Fork Toutle River and left a jumbled, lifeless surface behind. This particular lumpy terrain is a dead giveaway for a huge debris avalanche.

Debris piles too steep and well-drained for even the ubiquitous Pacific Northwest flora to conquer.

Debris piles too steep and well-drained for even the ubiquitous Pacific Northwest flora to conquer.

Those lumps contain quite a bit of Mount St. Helens’ history: watch for it as you walk. There’s some lovely pastel-hued rock, which is hydrothermally-altered dacite from domes erupted during the Pine Creek eruptive period. Black basalt and basaltic andesite were erupted during the Castle Creek period. The bluish-gray and reddish-brown andesites hail from the Kalama eruptive period. Young light-gray dacite comes from the domes formed during the Goat Rocks eruptive period. And you might see some brand-new breadcrust bombs: they surfed in on the debris avalanche. All of these varied rocks keep the hummocks from being a uniform shade of blah. There’s a nice sign along the trail that will show you where on the mountain all those bits came from. You can look from it to the crater and then the hummocks, and marvel that all that stuff from up there ended up way down here. And despite the chaos, geologists can actually figure out which is what and where. (I’d say hats off to ‘em, but don’t doff your cap unless it’s overcast. That sun is fierce. A respectful tap on the brim should do.)

Bits of Mount St. Helens' history. Can you identify their origins?

Bits of Mount St. Helens’ history. Can you identify their origins?

All of this stuff came roaring down the valley at incredible speeds. You don’t usually think of land breaking speed limits, but out in the center of the valley, it could’ve given a sports car a challenge, and possibly outrun the police. Consider: the landslide came roaring along at 150 miles per hour (around 70 meters per second). Porche’s lovely Cayman only beats it by 15 miles per hour – and that’s on a lovely smooth track, not a lumpy-bumpy river valley floor filled with enormous old trees. Also, landslides haven’t got sleek aerodynamic design. Wowza, right?

Speaking of enormous old trees, you’ll see a few buried in the debris here and there, some barely visible and some sticking up any-old-how. Like this giant one, here, which really makes you give your best Keanu-Reeves “woah!” That poor thing was probably treated like a pickup stick that’s got in the way of a bulldozer, which combined with the lateral blast, completely ruined its century.

Moi with enormous trees entombed by the debris avalanche.

Moi with enormous trees entombed by the debris avalanche.

Just beyond it, after you’ve wandered along between more hummocks and been treated to some truly spectacular views of St. Helens, you’ll come to the sign marking the junction with the Boundary Trail. Look left, and you’ll see a fabulous dike exposed in Johnston Ridge. This is a beautiful remnant of Tertiary-age volcanic activity, and an excellent reminder that our own belligerent beauty hasn’t been the only fire mountain on the scene here. The dike is big and sold, which means it formed a bit of a barrier to the debris avalanche here. You know what groins do to coastal sediment. Sort of the same thing happened here, with 16 feet (5 meters) worth of landslide piling on that (“upstream”) side of the dike relative to the other (“downstream”) side. And the way that debris piled on tells us it was moving at a leisurely 22 miles per hour (10 meters per second) out here on the margins of the flow. Which, come to think of it, still isn’t the kind of speed you want earth and rock achieving on its own.

View of Mount St. Helens from intersection of Boundary and Hummocks Trails. The Tertiary dike is on the left.

View of Mount St. Helens from intersection of Boundary and Hummocks Trails. The Tertiary dike is on the left.

This is a nice place to look out over the lumpy terrain and consider relief. No, not relief from the sun, although you’re probably considering that pretty closely by now. We’re talking terrain. So between the hummocked-up bits and the low bits, we’re talking up to 246 feet (75 meters) of topographic relief. And it’s got a distinctive appearance that will allow geologists to tell this was teh result of a mega-huge debris avalanche for centuries to come.

As the flow came down-valley, it was able to spread out laterally. Some of the resulting deposit compacted more than other portions, causing much more lumpiness. Then you’ve got your phreatic explosions leaving monster holes all over the place as water from streams and ice from ex-glaciers eventfully encountered hot rocks. New stream banks failed after the lahars roared through. And as time passed, chunks of ice that had survived everything else eventually melted, leaving kettles behind.

And changes continue, as change does. Erosion began having its say about 10 seconds after everything came to rest and hasn’t stopped since. The hummocks slump and ravel as gravity asserts itself. Rain carves gullies and causes debris flows, which change the face of the deposit. And Mount St. Helens occasionally contributes, although it’s been quite quiet lately. The land gives the sense that it’s a huge hunk of clay plunked down by a potter: the potter’s hands still knead it, prodding it toward the shape it will assume as time ticks on.

Time to head back, now, to the stands of slender trees filled with cavorting birds, and the meadows with their bobbing grasses and flowers. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll see a wee froggy scrambling out of the path, back to its peaceful pond. Life is assertive, and returns, enjoying the boundless opportunity to be embraced between catastrophes.

We’re about to come face-to-crater with the instigator of the most recent catastrophe. I know we’ve seen a lot today, but, my darlings: it is the merest prelude to what comes next.

Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide III: Coldwater Lake

Next: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide V: Johnston Ridge

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.


Burns, Scott (2011): Field Guide to Mt. St. Helens north. Portland State University.

Decker, Barbara and Robert (2002): Road Guide to Mount St. Helens (Updated Edition). Double Decker Press.

Doukas, Michael P. (1990): Road Guide to Volcanic Deposits of Mount St. Helens and Vicinity, Washington. USGS Bulletin 1859.

Pringle, Patrick T. (2002): Roadside Geology of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity. Washington DNR Information Circular 88.

Gnaughty or Gneiss Cards Ready for the Holidays!

Tired of mass-produced department store greeting cards? Are you wanting something a little unique for the rock-lovers in your life? Excellent! My first-ever greeting card design is up on Zazzle and ready for purchase. See if it’ll meet your needs. If so, getcha some!

Here’s the cover and interior art (the cards will be sans-watermarks, o’ course):

Image shows a cartoon Santa head, looking pensive. Santa's hat has a rock hammer on the white brim. Thought bubble says, "Gonna find out who's..."

Geologist Santa card cover.

Here’s the interior top:

Image is a photo of a lump of coal and a piece of gneiss. They've been filtered as a watercolor. Caption says, "Gnaughty or gneiss."

Card Interior.

I hope you like it! Visit the snazzy new Dana Hunter’s Gneiss Schist store on Zazzle and play around with the options. I’m afraid it’s the only product there right now, and probably very lonely, but there will be others as soon as I get some designs done. Let me know if you’d like this one on t-shirts and so forth. We can definitely arrange that! Zazzle has a ton of products – just let me know what you’re interested in.

If you’re curious about the rocks: the coal is a bit from Black Mesa in Arizona. The gneiss is a lovely bit of Skagit Gneiss, which is a delightfully sparkly variety of orthogneiss.

Given enough time and luck, B and I will also have actual hand samples ready to go in time for holiday shipping. So if you like the cards, but are looking more for a stocking stuffer or fun little gift, stay tuned. We should have some Gnaughty or Gneiss-themed rocks up on Etsy soon!

We could definitely use your help getting the word out. So please do share this link with the rock-lovers in your life. Thank you!

The Trilogy That Will Wash Fifty Shades of Grey Away

Someday, I’ll tell you the story of how Fifty Shades of Grey murdered my libido in an adult store. I hated that series from the moment I heard of it. No, I didn’t have to read it to judge. It’s Twilight fan fiction that glorifies abusive relationships, people. On top of that, it’s atrociously writ. So fuck that.

And yet, despite the fact it murdered both my libido and my faith in the reading public, I have to be somewhat grateful for its existence. After all, it was in reading critical analyses of it that I learned quite a bit about actual BDSM, which has been liberating. It also taught me more about abusive relationships and how to avoid them. And… there’s the fact that one of the best romances I’ve ever read wouldn’t exist without it.

I generally can’t stand romance. Most of the ones I’d read, back when I bothered trying, were vapid, awful things filled with phrases like “his throbbing member.” The “hot” sex was generally introduced by a virgin getting raped, then spending the rest of the book falling in love with her rapist. When I worked for a bookstore, the assistant manager and I used to pull the returns from the romance section when we were starving but it was too early for lunch. Just reading the titles was guaranteed to kill our appetites for a few hours. I’ve spent the majority of my life thoroughly loathing romance, so it’s a little odd to be thoroughly loving a trilogy based on The Worst Romance of Our Time.

It’s Jenny Trout’s fault.

She wrote a thorough takedown of the FSOG trilogy. Somewhere in there, she also decided to jump in the inspired-by-FSOG pool, and show everyone how an actual champion can write. As Abigail Barnette, she wrote The Boss trilogy, which is basically the finest fuck-you to FSOG ever. It’s everything FSOG isn’t: scorching hot BDSM between a sophisticated billionaire and a smart, confident woman. It doesn’t get into extreme stuff, but it goes far enough to show how truly awful and fake the FSOG version of BDSM was. It’s also feminist. I am in love.

SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be reviewing these books in some detail. Stop here, download The Boss, and proceed with reading that if you want to find out what happens without me blurting a lot of it at you in advance.

Cover shows the torsos of a man and a woman in evening dress, sexily pressed against each other. Image is black and white.

The Boss Cover art.

The Boss starts off with Sophie Scaife, overworked PA to an incredibly demanding fashion magazine maven, discovering her boss has been tossed out. She won’t have to take the boss’s dog in for ear candling anymore. Yay! Her new boss, Neil Elwood, the billionaire who unexpectedly bought the magazine to eventually give to his ex-girlfriend and business partner, doesn’t have a dog. He does have a history – with Sophie. Yes, the new boss being the man she had a one-night stand with in a hotel room six years ago definitely complicates the transition.

After some misunderstandings and divesting of baggage, they resume their relationship. He’s in the throes of a divorce, so there are shenanigans in a very posh hotel room rather than his house. They go beyond the spanking and anal they’d engaged in before, and start exploring the delicious depravity of a great BDSM relationship. People, this is a book you need to get for all your FSOG-loving friends, right now, and you can get it for all of them because right now, it is free. It models what a good relationship should be:

  • Consensual (and believe me when I say consent makes it extra-sexy).
  • Respectful: Sophie and Neil respect each other’s boundaries, wishes, and careers. Safe: both in the no-abuse sense and the watch-out-for-STDs sense.
  • Caring: they take good care of each other, checking in and generally assuring the relationship and the hot sex within are good for both parties.

There’s conflict, of course: things like Neil deciding to make the magazine cruelty-free (which everyone else, Sophie included, is convinced will sink it); Sophie putting her career ahead of her fuck-buddy without being completely open about it, and the difficulties inherent in having sex with your boss. They work these things out via communication. Love happens. The Sophie gets pregnant, Neil gets sick, and they (briefly) break up.

SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading here if you don’t want to know about the rest of the trilogy, but would rather read it unspoiled.

Black and white image of a sexy woman wearing a man's white shirt and nothing else.

The Girlfriend cover art.

Never fear! Because it’s a trilogy, and you know they get back together. There’s no Sophomore Slump with The Girlfriend. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the best book of the series. How many romances start with an abortion? One during which neither partner wangsts, and guilt is not felt, and after which freedom from parenthood is enjoyed? They have to savor the brief time they have, because Neil has got leukemia, and it has come roaring out of remission.

And so Sophie decides she will move to England with him while it’s treated. They have a lovely Christmas. They go to Paris. They go to a BDSM dungeon there and have a blazing-hot three-way. They have a happy New Year. And then they go through hell, because cancer is horrible. Yet the book remains romantic and wonderful and sexy as hell. Including Neil directing the action as Sophie and Paris-three-way guy go all the way, since chemo has made it more difficult for Neil to perform, but he wants Sophie’s sex life to thrive, and they both have the hots for that dude.

The end of this book had me bawling, people, and I don’t tend to feel that way in romances. I mean, I was dissolved in total sad-happy tears, the kind of crying that only happens because you love these characters intensely and you know they may lose each other and yet even death isn’t going to end the romance, because they have convinced you it’s That Kind of Love.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop here etc. You know the routine by now.

Black and white image shows a man and woman kissing in bed.

The Bride cover art.

It’s not a supernatural trilogy, so you know Neil survives. Mark of a good author, though, is having you half-convinced he won’t.

The Bride is life-after-cancer, and mostly family drama. It didn’t really pick up for me until the last third, when Sophie lost her best friend due to having to rat her best friend’s soon-to-be wife out for corporate espionage. And the ex-girlfriend business partner nearly destroys happily-ever-after. I don’t want to give too much away. Just that the end had me punching the air and shouting “Yes!!” and budding with happiness and sexual satisfaction. Oh, and did I mention this series improved my sex life by 1000% and taught me how to masturbate better? It absolutely did.

You will find passion, kink, and plots within these pages, all of which were lacking in FSOG. You won’t find abuse of any kind masquerading as love. Sophie and Neil aren’t sad little codependent freaks: they’re accomplished, independent adults who are wild for each other, and work through their problems with open communication and couples’ therapy. If people want to pattern their lives on a fictional love story, burn their copy of FSOG and give them this trilogy instead.

Best. Alternative. Ever.

And Hollywood? I want these made into movies. You owe us after putting FSOG on the silver screen. Give us a groin-grinding feminist romance with fully-realized characters facing real-life trauma and drama for once. Give use role models worth modeling ourselves on. The world – and our love lives – will be better for it.

PS. The fourth book in the no-longer-a-trilogy-but-is-now-a-proper-series will be out soon! Read a preview chapter here, and I’ll update this post when ordering info is available. Or you could just read Jenny’s blog, which is worth doing anyway.

Free* to a Good Home: One Obnoxious Uterus, Lightly Used

Hello, there! Are you unhappily joined to a defective uterus, or missing yours altogether? Are you in the market for a working model, but can’t afford a brand-new one (mostly because medical science hasn’t advanced to the point where they can be mass-produced in the lab quite yet, and so you’d have to be a trillionaire to afford the R&D)? Have most of the used uteri you’ve seen for sale been too expensive, too extensively used, or otherwise incompatible?

You’re in luck! I’ve got just the uterus for you. It’s (reasonably) young, has never been used for childbirth, and is only slightly evil. I’m giving it away free* to a good home. It could be yours today!

Image shows a pink smiling uterus plush toy.

Not actual uterus. This is a plushie uterus that belongs to Ruthanne Reid, via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Of course, as with any uterus, there are quirks you should be aware of before transplantation. This uterus likes to masquerade as a threatening caller from horror films. About ten days before menstruation is due to begin, it will begin making calls, hinting about the agony to come. The frequency of the threats will increase as it comes closer to following through on its terrible promises. Bribe it with copious amounts of ibuprofen and cursing, however, and you should be fine.

Image is a someecard with a woman in a Victorian dress. Caption says, "Wow uterus. Sorry for not getting you pregnant. No need to throw a temper tantrum."

Once it’s established this pattern and you’ve become accustomed to it, this uterus will switch tactics, and strike with no warning at all. It may wait until you are on vacation and have forgotten to bring feminine protection and pain medication. You can avoid serious problems by always making sure you’re within a few miles of a drugstore, even if you’d rather lose yourself in the wilderness for weeks.

Image is a medical diagram of a uterus. Caption says, "Important occasion? Time for your period."

Other times, it will begin its ten-day warning calls, and keep them up for weeks or even a month, without ever following through. It will stop responding to all over-the-counter attempts to shut it the fuck up. All you can do in this case is slowly grow more miserable and angry until, at last, it tires of tormenting you psychologically and begins the physical part of the cycle. I’m sorry, but all you can do is tough this technique out. It’s a small price to pay for a working uterus, if a working uterus is what you want!

This uterus has been my boon companion through decades of menstrual excitement, and now it could be yours! It’s eminently suited for providing you offspring, which is a good enough reason for putting up with the damned thing bringing it home today!

Image shows a round embroidery hoop leaning against a couple of rocks. The hoop holds a blue fabric with a uterus embroidered on it in purple thread, with white puffs representing the ovaries.

Awesome uterus art from Hey Paul Studios, via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Uteri like this would normally sell for thousands of dollars. But it’s yours free* if you take delivery today. Act now, before this once-in-a-lifetime offer is no longer available! Don’t let some other person end up with this prime reproductive organ that could be nestled in your very own body. Have this beauty become your very own transplant, and begin enjoying its benefits immediately after your recovery!

While you’re recovering, why not embroider a symbol of your wonderful future with your bright sniny new uterus? Just imagine all the fun you will have together!

Act now! Operators are standing by. They’ll just have to scrub first.

*The uterus itself is free of charge. However, in order to take possession, transplantee must pay donor’s medical expenses, plus reasonable recovery costs. Ovaries not included. Uterus is non-returnable, non-refundable, and includes no warranty. Offer void where prohibited by law.




A Water Ouzel at Lunchtime, With Bonus Hygiene Footage

You confirmed our suspicions, my darlings – Lockwood and I did indeed see a water ouzel at Clear Lake. Bloody odd for a water ouzel – RQ says she can’t find any other footage of them swimming, and from what I’ve read, I do believe it’s rare behavior. I’ve seen them several times in the wild now, and I’ve never until that day seen them paddling around like any ol’ waterbird. Generally, they’ve been flying into waterfalls and walking boldly into swiftly-rushing water. Like Trebuchet says, it’s “quite amazing.”

Trebuchet’s remark actually reminded me I’d got footage of one at McDowell Creek Falls County Park a little over a year ago. Lockwood and I went there on a lovely May afternoon, and while we were kicking around one of the waterfalls, he spotted a water ouzel. We first saw one or two of them on a ledge up by the falls.

Image shows a water ouzel standing on a wet ledge of rock beside a waterfall.

Water Ouzel, Waterfall.

The little bugger flew straight into the waterfall, I swear to you. I think I even caught a shot of it – you can look here and see a dark little smudge to the left of the right-most branch hanging over the falls. It caught my eye because my camera shot that scene twice to get a better exposure, and that smudge wasn’t in the previous shot. The next photo has got the ouzel landing happily atop the waterfall. Alas, my camera thought we were doing branches, so the ouzel’s blurry. (Yes, I should get a DSLR, but I’m not fond of bulky cameras.)

Lockwood wandered down to the creek below the falls, while I messed about with the rocks and flowers a while longer before following. He pointed out another ouzel, or perhaps the same one, now fishing in the swiftly-flowing water downstream.

Water ouzel fishing in the creek. It's in a relatively shallow part. Behind it, whitewater is towering above it.

That is one brave bloody bird.

Alas, I didn’t get any shots of it walking underwater, and my luck wasn’t in whenever it buried itself in the whitewater. Lockwood got a shot that gets the point across, though.

Image shows the water ouzel in whitewater. Its head appears to be buried in the water, and a wave had broken over it in a splash of droplets.

Fearless Avian Menace to In-Stream Edibles, by Lockwood DeWitt.

The water flow was so fast and full that it looks almost fake in the videos I took. But there’s that bird, unconcernedly wandering around munching. Here’s a video I shot of it lunching for your viewing pleasure.

Of course, before that, it took its own sweet time getting cleaned up. Here’s the bonus video showing water ouzel hygiene routine.

And if you just can’t get enough of this ouzel, there’s a whole photo album full of it for ya. If fortune smiles upon us next summer, I may even be able to get you some more intense water ouzel shots. I fully intend to get back to McDowell Creek with Lockwood and B. I hope our water ouzel is there, washed up, and ready to demonstrate the full range of its native awesomeness for the camera.

Holy Cat

More Misha in sunbeams. Some would take this as a sign from God.

Image shows Misha lying on the floor in sunshine. Shadow on the wall is in the shape of a cross.

We skeptics of course know it is the inevitable result of sunshine shining through one of those windows with the rectangular thingies meant to make it look like it’s got lotsa fancy panes. But shhh. Don’t tell the it’s-a-sign folk. Quick! Look holy!

Same image as before, but Misha has turned her head, looking a bit like she's bowing it.

She’s got that false humility pose down, don’t she? I should take her to church. Imagine their faces when I tell ‘em it’s my cat who’s the Christian. Although I’m pretty sure she actually worships herself.

Why Am I Torturing Myself With Twilight?

Are you going to make it worse?

The reason I ask is because I’d got rather addicted to this Twilight sporking by Das Mervin. All right, so the homophobia and gendered slurs make me wince, and I wish she wasn’t so Catholic that she refrains from giving religious fuckery a good pounding when necessary, but I still couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t stop even though I kept kicking myself over spending time with this when I had other things to do. I couldn’t stop even when I was screaming along with her at the sheer bloody awfulness of these books. I don’t even remember exactly how I got started – something about wanting to know a bit more about Twilight because of Fifty Shades, but not wanting to go through the agony of reading the actual books. I mean, I appreciate good books. Everyone I’ve ever loved and trusted have said these books are horrible, even the people who like them. They’ve told me enough about them for me to know I should never read them. I will end up like Mervin, tearing out my hair, doing other violence to myself, and screaming myself hoarse over the lack of plot, the horrific grammar, the awful storytelling, the abusive relationships, the g-rated rapes, and other awfulness I can glimpse only dimly through the protective glass others have placed between me and these books.


I’m actually tempted to read them myself, just to see how horrific they really are.

Image shows a white and gray cat, sitting on a table with its paw on an open book, looking at the camera. Caption says, "Sparkly vampires? Why you read this crap?"

Alone and unshielded, I would read every damned word, and report my findings to you, so that you may laugh at my pain. But it’s only worth it if you want my impression of these things. Otherwise, I will set temptation aside, and aside from sporkings, never touch it again.

What do you think? Do you want me to do this? Do you have certain themes you want me to look for and expound upon? Would you like these books thoroughly savaged, even if you love them? Do you want me pointing out where she got the local geology laughably wrong? If you ask me, I will do this for you. Because I love you. But not like Edward loves Bella, because that’s just dysfunctional.

Image is an extreme close-up of a cat's face. Caption says, "Edward kitteh watchez you sleepz. You smell liek bacon."

Along the way, I’d be reading some better fiction, and giving you reviews of it as an antidote to Twilight. Also, we’ll take a trip to Forks, and poke around the local geology while we tip our hats to the locals’ ability to mine shit for gold. (I’ve been through Forks, once. They’ve branded everything with Twilight crap, and the fans apparently eat it up. We’ll see if everything’s still Twilight-branded now or if they’ve decided cash isn’t as crucial as dignity.)

So, what do you think? Want this done? I’ll do it under one condition: one of you will have to send me the books. I’m not going to buy the damned things. I don’t want you buying them for me, either. Stephenie Meyer has made enough money from this drivel. But if you’ve got copies haunting your house, and you haven’t wanted to take them to the used bookstore because you’re a better citizen than to release that tripe into the community, then let me know, and I’ll pay the shipping for you to send them to me.

We’ll mine their rich veins of fail.

Then I’ll figure out something useful to do with them. Perhaps turn them into pet bedding, or use their crumpled pages as packing material as I ship you the rocky trinkets you’ve ordered from the Etsy store I swear is coming soon and will probably be called Dana Hunter’s Gneiss Schist because I can’t bloody resist a geological pun. Or perhaps you’ll come up with an even better fate for them.

So let me know at dhunterauthor at gmail whether you want me to murder brain cells like this. And if you do, we’ll get started just after I finish setting up stores and bleaching my brain with some good fiction.

Also, if you wish to donate small amounts of cash for the copious amounts of alcohol it will take to survive this, or larger amounts for the diligent medical attention it will take to recover from the alcohol poisoning, feel free to make enthusiastic use of the donate button in the sidebar.

Late Roses

It’s been a rather lovely fall, up until the last couple of weeks, during which nature has decided to make up for not raining enough during early and mid October and has rained nearly every day. Some of the local roses didn’t seem to want to let go of summer. It’s always nice to be able to stop and smell them when the leaves are changing.

Now, I’ve seen October roses in Oregon before. I’m always delighted to see them again. When we went to visit Lockwood, we stopped at the rest stop just outside of Albany, and the bushes there were enthusiastically abloom.

Image shows a red-orange rosebud just beginning to open, surrounded by younger buds.

A lovely set of buds.

And, for those who are fans of the single:

The same bud from a slightly different angle, with the other buds cut out.

A single half-blown rose.

But that’s not the most interesting rose. There was one that intrigued me. See if you can spot why:

Image shows a rosebush that has a variety of roses on it: some red, some pink, some red-orange.

A very interesting rosebush.

Here’s a different shot that may make it clear:

The same rosebush from a different angle, clearly showing the different varieties.


See how many different colors there are? I’m not sure if this bush is a lot of bushes planted together, or if they were grafted to the same root stock, or something else, but it was odd and fun to see all those different kinds of roses popping out from what appeared to be a single bush.

Turning now to more local roses: some of our natives planted up by the creek have been enthusiastically blooming this fall. You got a sneak-peek when I showed you one that bees were hanging about on. But I took shots of a bunch, and they were lovely.

Image shows two dark pink wild roses blooming side-by-side. There's the remnants of an older bloom between them.

Native roses.

Some of them were in full bloom, while others were just getting started.

Image shows a dark pink rosebud, most of it tightly closed, but with a couple of petals beginning to unfurl.

Rose. Bud. Extra points to whomever gets the Rocko’s Modern Life reference.

Some were just on the verge of unfurling.

Image is a single dark pink rosebud, looking down into its opening petals.


And the scent, people. I’m telling you, our native wild roses put a lot of cultivars to shame. Yeah, I buried my nose deep in to the ones that hadn’t got insects in them. Inhaling the last of summer, right there by the roadside. I try to set a good example for my fellow citizens.

Here’s one that’s nice and inviting. You can put your schnoz close to the screen and imagine, right?

Image is a single dark pink open rose.

Smell me!!

Notice the brilliant red rose hip there just below it. Love it when they’re all ripe and vibrant like that.

Fate intervened in the form of a kidney infection, or I may have been out there sniffing away as often as I could. But I got one last chance when B and I ventured out for a gentle walk to photograph fly agaric last week. There were still a few roses in bloom, despite the fact their own leaves were turning.

Image shows a different dark pink native rose in bloom, which has fewer petals than the other. Many of the leaves around it are still green, but a fair number have turned bright yellow.

Last brave roses.

See the raindrops on the petals? That’s my northwest, right there.

I had to take a last lingering look at that rosebush, blooming whilst turning yellow, and with a tree turned brown behind it.

Image shows the rosebush from the previous picture, with a tree behind it. The tree's leaves have all turned a russet brown.

Fall couplet.

I love how things hold on around here. Life was rather more sparse and cautious in the desert where I’m from, even up in the more alpine parts of the state. Here, the stuff grabs hold wherever it can, and generally holds on til the very last instant. There are almost always flowers. And it gives you plenty of opportunity to smell the roses, from early spring to late in the fall. I don’t think I’ll be trading this for anywhere else any time soon, unless someone’s got a little cottage on the Mediterranean they want to set me up with. In that case, I suppose I can relocate for a few seasons. But I’d want to come back here. Between the geology and the biology, it’s one of my favorite places on Earth.



Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide III: Coldwater Lake

Right. On with our Mount St. Helens field trip extravaganza. We’ve brunched at Hoffstadt and got a nice overview at Castle Lake Viewpoint. Now we’re on to get intimate with a bouncing baby lake.

Stop 3. Coldwater Lake

This is an ideal place to be on a hot summer day. Easy little trail, lovely cool water, and unlike many places within the blast zone, there’s even some shade! In just over half a mile, you’ll see a wide variety of geology, some brand new and some a little more mature.

As you start down the trail, you’ll notice some rather large lumps. You’re walking on and alongside the portion of the debris avalanche that dammed Coldwater Lake. The tall lumps are hummocks, knobby little hills made up of bits that until recently formed the beautiful symmetrical come of Mount St. Helens. Chunks of volcanic rock, some quite large, peek out from a matrix of ashy, stony rubble. It’s rather like glacial till, all sorts of unsorted bits all jumbled together. You can tell it wasn’t transported by water not only because it’s not arranged neatly with larger bits sorted from the itty bitty bits, but also because water transport would have rounded off the angular edges. These are unapologetically pointy.

Get yourself out on one of the little docks that give you a good view of the lake. Here, the water’s shallow, and quite clear. Have a close look at the lake bottom. It’s telling us more about this lake than you may suspect, and I’ll bet you can puzzle it out. Take a moment to ponder.

Coldwater Lake's very rocky bed.

Coldwater Lake’s very rocky bed.

You’ve noticed that the bottom’s mostly rocks of all shapes and sizes, but virtually no mud. You’ll also have noted that this jumble of rocks isn’t your typical beach rock bed – their edges are pretty jagged, and there’s a big range of sizes. We’re on top of the debris avalanche here, and the lake covers the part of it that thins out toward the middle of the valley. We know there was a lot of fine-grained material in that deposit. So what we’re seeing here is water energetic enough to wash out the fine stuff, but too sedate to tumble the rocks. They’ve been left pretty much in place. This isn’t a body of water prone to roaring floods, strong currents, or storm waves.

But here’s a strange thing: logs. Many large logs, washed up on shore, much like the gigantic ex-trees you find piled on the berm of any storm-wrecked Pacific Northwest seashore. But why, if these waters aren’t able to toss rocks around, would they be able to give entire mature trees the old heave-ho? And without crumbly bluffs for those stately old forest citizens to fall off of, why so many?

Well, of course, wood floats, so it wouldn’t take a lot of mad wave action to nudge logs ashore. Notice the strand line isn’t very far back. As for where those logs came from, you’ve probably already realized they’re the remains of trees mowed down by the debris avalanche and lateral blast. Once it was reasonably safe to return to the area, loggers came in to salvage as many downed trees as they could, using tugboats to transport rafts of logs across the baby lake. The trees you see are some of the logs left behind.

Mount St. Helens from Coldwater Lake. Note the large log on the right, and the dense young trees growing happily on the delta, just in front of the ridge and our violent but beautiful volcano.

Mount St. Helens from Coldwater Lake. Note the large log on the right, and the dense young trees growing happily on the delta, just in front of the ridge and our violent but beautiful volcano.

Speaking of trees, you’ll notice a fine young forest growing practically in the lake between you and Mount St. Helens. This is the South Coldwater Creek delta, a fine bit of fluvial geology that started growing almost the instant enough water backed up to create Coldwater Lake. South Coldwater Creek flows behind that ridge St. Helens is peeking over, and heads into the lake. It’s carrying a goodly amount of stuff eroded out of the volcanic deposits it flows through. When it arrives in the lake, that sediment-laden water slows beyond the point where it can transport its load. Suspended particles drop out, forming the delta those trees have found to be such a happy home.

The delta would be smaller, but in 1985, engineers built a tunnel to provide a safe outlet for Spirit Lake. The water carried by that tunnel is deposited into the headwaters of South Coldwater Creek, increasing its power to erode. Coldwater Lake, only 8 kilometers long and 55 meters deep, will eventually fill in with sediment from the delta and other sources, becoming a marsh, and eventually an ordinary meadow. So enjoy this gem while it lasts.

Head on out to the end of the board walk, which provides you an unobstructed view out over the lake. We’ve lots of delicious geology to see, some of it older than the May 1980 eruption.

Looking toward the far end of Coldwater Lake, you can see quite a bit of hold (and cold) geologic action. Peruse the picture to see how much you can spot!

Looking toward the far end of Coldwater Lake, you can see quite a bit of hold (and cold) geologic action. Peruse the picture to see how much you can spot! Click for a larger version.

From right to left, you’ll see some peaks peeking up over the unnamed ridge between us and South Coldwater Creek. One of the tallest is Coldwater Peak, where geologists have set up an observation post to keep a close eye on its feisty young neighbor. The peak right in front of you is Minnie Peak. It’s not a volcano: it’s formed from the hard grandiorite of the Spirit Lake pluton, which intruded and cooled between 20-23 million years ago. You remember all the babbling I’ve done about batholiths, right? This is the same thing, only smaller, and it’s been uplifted a good distance – Minnie’s 1,711 meters (5,610 feet) high. She’s all carved and sharpened by glaciers.

You can actually see some cold glacial action close by. Have another look at our unnamed ridge. It’s got glacial drift plastered all over it – stuff left by the ice of the Hayden Creek glaciation, which was around 140,000 years ago. It’s kind of exciting to find glacial deposits that old – newer glaciations often wipe out traces of the old. And we know glaciers were here more recently. Take a look toward the narrows there in front of Minnie Peak and see if you can spot the lateral moraine.* Its from the Evans Creek glaciation, which happened only about 11,000 to 22,000 years before our times. You can see a big landslide scar in it – glacial deposits aren’t very well consolidated, alas, and gravity works.

All right. Look to your center-left. You’re seeing the long slope of Coldwater Ridge, and in front of it, the brown lump of an island. That’s a hummock, tall enough to avoid being buried by the rising lake waters. Its face is so steep that even our determined PNW plants can’t get a root-hold. It shows that the debris avalanche made it a fair way up the valley. I’ve taken to calling it Hummock Island, but if you come up with a suitably awesome name, we can switch.

Now for some rather more mature geology. Look at Coldwater Ridge, a little ways to the right of Hummock Island. You see outcrops of lava there, jutting from the flanks.

Layers of old lava speak of a long-vanished shield volcano, and crustal warping.

Layers of old lava speak of a long-vanished shield volcano, and crustal warping.

See how they’re genly tilted eastward? Those belong to the Pole Patch Syncline, a broad downwarp in the crust. To give you an idea of its size, its axis is around 25 kilometers (15 miles) away. The lava flows are basalt and andesite. Geologists think they were part of an Oligocene shield volcano, erupted on its flank sometime between 34-23 million years ago. Mount St. Helens is just the most recent volcano in a long, varied, and exciting area eruptive history.

Coldwater Ridge is covered in stumps, making it look like a ridge that’s decided not to shave for several days. You’ll also see logs lying about here and there. The ridge was being logged before St. Helens exploded, so you’ll notice some stumps are relatively smooth-topped while others are jagged and splintery. A pre-May 18 photo shows its top neatly shaved. The volcano finished what the loggers started, and then some.

You can spot the Coldwater Ridge Visitor’s Center, which will be a fabulous place to stop if you’ve got time on your way back. The vista of Coldwater Lake and Mount St. Helens is breathtaking. Take a moment to remember Gerry Martin, a ham radio operator working for the Washington Department of Emergency Services on the morning of the cataclysmic eruption: he died in the blast.

Take the other limb of the loop trail back to the parking lot. If you’ve come in summer, you’ll be treated to a riot of flowers growing happily on the hummocks. This part of the trail is a botanist’s delight. Don’t worry – geology gets its own back further down, where one of the hummocks is too steep and crumbly for much vegetation. This is a good place to pause and get a feel for the size of these things. No wonder they formed an effective debris dam. It’s pretty stable now: the channel that engineers cut to control lake levels in July of 1981, forming Coldwater Creek in the process, worked a treat. They monitored it for some time, concerned about the possibility of an outburst flood, but discontinued that monitoring in 1998 – the blockage is now so stable that it’s considered safe.

We’ve gotten a feel for the hummocks, see a quite young lake with a spiffy delta, and enjoyed some icy geology along with the hot. Now we’re going to leave the cool lake breezes and shady trail behind. It’s time to go walkies on the largest landslide ever witnessed.


*It’s at the center right, at the end of the ridge; it looks almost like someone dumped it there to build a road bed, dunnit?

Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide II: Castle Lake Viewpoint

Next: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide IV: Hummocks Trail

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.


Burns, Scott (2011): Field Guide to Mt. St. Helens north. Portland State University.

Decker, Barbara and Robert (2002): Road Guide to Mount St. Helens (Updated Edition). Double Decker Press.

Doukas, Michael P. (1990): Road Guide to Volcanic Deposits of Mount St. Helens and Vicinity, Washington. USGS Bulletin 1859.

Pringle, Patrick T. (2002): Roadside Geology of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity. Washington DNR Information Circular 88.