Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide VI: Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House

That’s it, you think as you pile your weary bones into the car and leave Johnston Ridge. The End. Fini. As you reverse your course through the blast zone, watching that remarkable She-Hulk of a volcano with its gaping wound recede in your rearview mirror, as the volcanic desert is once again hidden by thick stands of trees, you feel a species of sorrow. That was a remarkable day. There will never be another quite like it.

Hold your nostalgia. It ain’t over yet.

There’s an encore. An extremely delicious one.

Patty's Place at 19 Mile House. Image courtesy Patty's Place.

Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House. Image courtesy Patty’s Place.

About one short year after Mount St. Helens’s paroxysmal eruption in 1980, two couples opened a restaurant. Jan and Roy Finkas and Milt and Susan Wheeler’s 19 Mile House remained a popular food stop on Spirit Lake Highway for over two decades. It closed in 2008, but not for long. Patty and Sam Gardener, with the urging and help of the Finkas, Wheelers, plus some former employees, reopened it as Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House on May 1st, 2010 – just in time for St. Helens’s 30th anniversary. And business has been booming [further gratuitous volcanic pun redacted] ever since.

Oh, people. This place…

All right. Imagine yourself now, tired, dusty, thirsty and hungry after a super-long day of geoadventuring. And here, in the lazy last light of a Pacific Northwest summer evening, in the heart of a lush river valley, is this long country house with a big sign proclaiming rest and refreshment within. There’s a crumpled truck with a story in front, too, but it can be safely ignored in favor of foodstuffs for now. Just wend your way through the lovely arbors full of roses, perhaps pausing a moment to inhale deeply of their rich fragrance (barring allergies).

Arbor of roses at Patty's Place.

Arbor of roses at Patty’s Place.

Now, if you’ve timed matters just so, you’ll have arrived after the dinner rush, but comfortably before closing. However. Don’t expect the place to be empty. It won’t be, and you’re about to find out why.

If you can, and if the weather is amenable, get a table on the back patio, overlooking the North Fork Toutle River. Geology isn’t over! You can do this bit sitting comfortably. Before diving into dinner, have a glance at the river.

View of the North Fork Toutle River from the back patio at Patty's Place.

View of the North Fork Toutle River from the back patio at Patty’s Place.

Lovely, isn’t that? We’ll imagine it as a mud-filled torrent of destruction in a mo. You’ve got dinner to deal with. I’d recommend getting a jump on things and loosening your belt in advance. Now, dive into the menu. As you peruse the offerings, the following must be taken into consideration:

1. Every damn thing on the menu is delicious, so don’t expect me to guide you here.

2. If you’re on a diet, fuggedaboutit. Unless your dietary restrictions are due to health or moral reasons, they are null for this evening. Besides, you just burned about nine trillion calories. So, unless you’re vegan, revel in the fact that everything here is real and fresh: real cream, real butter, real roast meat, real hand-crafted patties, real fresh veggies and fruit – much of it locally sourced.

3. Do you love comfort food? Prepare to be comforted.

4. But above all else, remember: you MUST save room for the cobbler. Or at least order some to go.

Cobbler. Cobbler. Oh, my heck, the cobbler. Listen: you’ll know when I’ve just tucked in to my first spoonful. I order it to go, warm it a bit, and add just a scoop of panna gelato. You’ll hear a kind of hybrid scream-groan of sheer ecstasy. Just the rich, sweet-but-not-overly-so, succulent fruit paying compliments to that beautiful variation upon the theme of cobbler that is the sugar-crusted sweet biscuit square floating atop that berry bliss… as my teeth crunch softly on that sugar and sink into the fruit-and-gelato heaven below, I understand what gastronomic bliss is and why our species pays homage to cooks like Patty.

Oh, honey.

All right. Now you can turn your attention to the river below.

Detail of bank, North Fork Toutle River

Detail of bank, North Fork Toutle River

See the volcanic ash in its bars? The boulders in its banks? You can see it’s cut its way through layer upon layer of lahar, the most recent being from Mount St. Helens’s recent spasms. This river valley has been inundated by more than one mudflow. Speaking of which, now you can (possibly) move again, let’s go out front to have a close gander at one passenger upon such a flow.

(Feel free to pause at the remarkably reasonably-priced giftshop on the way out. Pick up some lovely emerald obsidianite – what geologist wouldn’t love a gemstone made from the ash of the 1980 eruption?)

Don’t bother looking for boulders. We’re after a truck.

Damaged Weyerhauser truck in front of Patty's.

Damaged Weyerhauser truck in front of Patty’s.

Patty kindly answered my queries, and informed me it’s “an old fire truck from Weyerhauser’s Camp Baker that was washed down the river in the mudflow during the 1980 eruption.” Pause and consider that: this not-at-all-small piece of logging equipment found itself picked up by a churning river of mud, hot rock, and steaming water, and churned down the valley in a mass of boulders, logs, other equipment, and who knows what else, bashed against bridges, and finally landed here, miles away, when the flow lost its force. That’s hella amazing power.

Feel free to inspect it, and report back on your findings as to the effects of the eruption upon this vehicle.

Patty’s Place is seasonal, so be sure to time your visit between the first weekend in May and late fall, when the snows close the mountain again.


Special thanks to Patty Gardener for her help with this post.

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


For further information on the May 18th, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, do feel free to peruse the Prelude to a Catastrophe series should you have missed it.

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.

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

After leaving Coldwater Lake and the Hummocks, you’ll wend your way out of the North Fork Toutle River valley. Vegetation is trying its best to return. In the spring and summer, groves of slender young trees shake green leaves at you, reminding you that life here in the Pacific Northwest can be temporarily routed, but never conquered.

Still, the flanks of the ridges are virtually naked. The volcanic history of this region lies stripped and exposed, In places, bits of Mount St. Helens’s modern cone are smeared and plastered on those ridges. A red waterfall cascades down stark, dissected slopes in the distance. Stumps of grand old trees form a gray stubble. In places, logs lay straight and still. They mark the direction of the cataclysmic lateral blast.

View of ridges and red waterfall from Johnston Ridge.

View of ridges and red waterfall from Johnston Ridge.

This is a silent, solemn road for me. As ecstatic as I get over the wonderful fresh geology, I can’t forget I’m on my way to the place where David Johnston died.

If you’re able to walk a reasonable distance, you’ll be parking in the main lot, behind the crest of the ridge. Look closely at the pavement. They’re fading now, since Mount St. Helens stopped spitting hot pyroclastics all over the place, but you can still find rusty little scorch marks here and there. The lot was heavily pocked with them when I first visited with my friend Victoria in 2007. They made us realize the volcano wasn’t so sleepy as we’d supposed, and question the wisdom of coming there in a cloth-top convertible.

Scorch mark in the pavement at Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Scorch mark in the pavement at Johnston Ridge Observatory.

At the far end of the lot, there’s a trail up the ridge. Take that long way round to the visitor’s center. You won’t see St. Helens just yet. It’s a good time to study the devastated area without her as a distraction. This is a remarkable place for the west side of the Cascades. I’m calling it volcanic desertification. Woods and streams and all of that lush, wet wildland became an instant desert when the mountain blew. Being from Arizona, this feels like home to me: the dry dirt and rock crunching underfoot, the stunted trees, the little plants clinging to the ground, determined to hang in there despite the odds. But this is a young desert, ephemeral: the pyroclastic sands will be turned into soils soon enough, as venerable old forests once again take over from the temperamental fire mountain that destroyed them.

If you look to the east, you’ll see the round white top of Mount Adams peering over the shoulder of a ridge. This is a brother to Mount St. Helens, born of the same subduction zone. Climbers on Adams watched her empty her interior to the north; someday, climbers here will watch Adams put on a similar show.

Our girl will soon reveal a shoulder as you ascend Dave Johnston’s ridge. She begins by looking like a fragment of a jagged mountain range. Then, gradually, the whole of her comes into view. She used to be lovely and round, sleek, snow-covered, like Adams. Her flanks are once again mantled in white, but this is veiled in gray. Listen: you may hear the rocks fall from those stark, steep crater walls. You may see a plume of dust rise. This is the place for these things.

You top the ridge, and stop, because she is titanic.

View of Mount St. Helens's gigantic crater and lava dome. If you look veryvery closely, you'll see a helicopter for scale.

View of Mount St. Helens’s gigantic crater and lava dome. If you look veryvery closely, you’ll see a helicopter for scale.

Nothing quite prepares you for that first instant, when you are staring directly into her enormous open crater. You’re practically eye-to-eye with it. Only 5.5 miles (8.85 km) across the valley, the mountain commands your attention. Can you imagine standing here, watching her symmetrical summit roar into the river valley, watching her heart blast out, straight at you?

On a clear day, in this place, you will see past, present, and future.

Past. First, let’s look at missing time. Have a glance at the plump round top of Adams, off to your left: you can get an idea of what his sister was before those catastrophic May morning minutes. You see that St. Helens is truncated, her top sliced off in a neat horizontal line, her insides hollowed. Quite a bit of her history, the effort of nearly three thousand years of summit-building, ended up spread all over the valley at your feet. Only a shell remains.

Look for Sugar Bowl Dome, which survived the May 1980 eruption.

Northeast crater wall above Sugar Bowl, Mount St. Helens with annotated deposits from some of the Spirit Lake Stage eruptive periods. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Northeast crater wall above Sugar Bowl, Mount St. Helens with annotated deposits from some of the Spirit Lake Stage eruptive periods. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

You’ll see much of her eruptive history on display here. Fragments of andesite from the time when Europeans were just beginning to exploit Columbus’s “discovery” of America survived. So did various volcanic products of much earlier ages, going back nearly three thousand years.

But it’s the more recent past that grabs you by the lapels and demands you pay attention. There’s the obvious great bloody hole in the mountain, for starters. There are mounds left by the debris avalanche, bits that didn’t make it down-valley. And there’s that extraordinary, smooth ram extending like an excessively long cravat from the lowest point of the crater rim all the way to the river valley below. This is the Pumice Plain, formed by pyroclastic flows barreling down the breach and heading north. They stopped a mere half-mile (.8 km) from here. You can see, below you, that the lumpy-bumpy hummocks terrain of the debris avalanche has been somewhat smoothed by pyroclastic flow and ash-cloud deposits. Lahars contributed to smoothing things over. And if you look closely, you’ll see pits caused by phreatic eruptions in the deposit.

Present. Time marches on; heedless of volcanic eruptions, it continues, relentless. You can see its work here, in the gullies, carved by water, incising the volcanic deposits. The North Fork Toutle River has excavated terraces in the debris avalanche and Pumice Plain. Wind blows the fine volcanic materials, shifting and shaping. Plants are getting their own back, beginning to green barren slopes.

Mount St. Helens and the Toutle River Valley from Johnston Ridge.

Mount St. Helens and the Toutle River Valley from Johnston Ridge.

Look up: a plume of dust may be rising from a rock fall in the crater walls. Gravity is tugging mercilessly on those over-steepened bits, aided by cold frost action and frequent rainfall.

Look in: there’s the dome, building on and off since the early 1980s. This is the present: pulses of magma slowly, fitfully, building the cone once more. And here, you see:

Future. The mountain goes ever on. She’s not finished, not by half. That dome will continue to grow. I’ll bet my aged cat, whom I love with unwarranted fierceness, that she’ll erupt again within the lifetimes of some of those reading.* We probably won’t see a replay of that extraordinary May 18th paroxysm: she’ll need a long time to build before that. She won’t achieve that smoothly-rounded summit in our short span. But she will, once again, present a serenely-snowcapped summit to your descendants, putting them in mind of ice cream cones. They’ll spend many peaceful hours exploring her noble old-growth forests. They’ll scramble over the rocks left behind by this 20th century episode. And one day, there will be an earthquake.

The cycle will begin again.


Continue on the path west, toward the visitor’s center. Pause at the granite monument to the victims of the May 18th eruption. Take a moment to read their names. Geologists, monitors, reporters, loggers, visitors are united here. And we remember. They’re more than letters carved into stone.

Mount St. Helens and monument.

Mount St. Helens and monument.

You’ll pass downed trees and shattered stumps, chunks of rock, and spectacular views of mountain and valley. It’s not a long walk before you reach the beautiful Johnston Ridge Observatory. If you’ve made good time and arrived while it’s open, head on inside. You can play with a gigantic topographic model of St. Helens and her environs that tells the stories of the May 18th eruption with thousands of colorful lights. You can see the areas impacted by the lateral blast, the debris avalanche, lahars, and other aspects of the eruption. Excellent movies play in the theater, with a phenomenal reveal of the mountain when the curtain goes up. Interactive exhibits let you feel what the seismometers learn from the shaking ground. You’ll learn what distinguishes different volcanic rocks created by St. Helens, and in one particularly notable display, show you the eruption-blasted trunk of an enormous old tree. The bark on only one side is particularly striking. If you’re there for one of the rangers’ talks, be sure to have a listen. You never know what might happen: she erupted beautifully (and safely!) during one.

Ranger holding a photo of Mount St. Helens, erupting during another ranger's talk.

Ranger holding a photo of Mount St. Helens, erupting during another ranger’s talk.

The JRO is a working observatory, not just a visitor’s center. They’ll be there to warn us when St. Helens awakens again. They’ll watch, as David Johnston watched, from the same ridge. Because of them, we can live relatively safely beside “one of the most active and most explosive volcanoes in the Cascade Range.”

Give them some love.

Bid our dangerous beauty a final adieu.

Then prepare your tummy for our final stop…


*The volcano, not the cat. Although I’m positive my cat will also erupt again, and rather more frequently than St. Helens.

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

Next: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide VI: Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House


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.

The Bonny Swans: Compleat with Images, Music, Literary Analysis, and Funny Stories

Juanita Bay is the winter home for a lot of awesome birds. I think my favorite are the swans. I’m not sure when they arrive, but B and I got to see them a few days ago when we went walkies. They were lovely!

Image shows a line of swans floating in the water. There's a bit of sunset-orange making the water near them blush.

Bonny swans!

This is so much better than a few years ago in February, when Cujo and I saw a bunch of them, but they were all being boring. The most exciting moment was when one tipped over a bit.

Image shows a line of swans in the water, most with their heads tucked into their wings for a good nap. The one on the far left has tipped over with its head underwater.

Sleep-eating, mebbe?

But still: swans! I’m always excited to see swans. Swans were things that happened to other people, back when I lived in Arizona. I thought they were elegant and awesome. I’d grown up on stories like The Ugly Duckling, and then there was Swan Lake, and really, they just sounded incredible. The ballerinas of the animal world. Much too elegant to exist among the plebeian ducks and so forth.

They were even majestic in fairy tales.

I always knew things weren’t right in that family, but it didn’t strike me until today just how effed up the relationship between the lady who became a swan and then a harp and her sister Anne was. I mean, really, check this out:

A farmer there lived in the north country
a hey ho bonny o
And he had daughters one, two, three
The swans swim so bonny o
These daughters they walked by the river’s brim
a hey ho bonny o
The eldest pushed the youngest in
The swans swim so bonny o

K, so we have three daughters. The oldest one gives the youngest the old heave-ho, which I’m given to understand by my friends with siblings isn’t all that unusual. Cruel pranks? Yep, that’s siblings. So far, not that odd. But here’s where it gets really bloody strange:

Oh sister, oh sister, pray lend me your hand
with a hey ho a bonny o
And I will give you house and land
The swans swim so bonny o

All right. I get having to possibly bribe your sibling to pull your soaking wet butt outta the water, but what does it say about your relationship when you have to offer them real estate? Seriously? Something’s really very wrong in that family.

And even that’s not enough for the eldest:

I’ll give you neither hand nor glove
Unless you give me your own true love
The swans swim so bonny o

Criminy. They’re trading men, now. And the eldest just lets her youngest sister drown cuz she can’t have the dude. And the middle sister doesn’t do a thing about it. She was there – the song said so. But not a peep. Not a single attempt to rescue her baby sis. That family has issues, people.

Now, of course, this being a fairy tale, the youngest gets her own back. She gets made into a harp, and is able to play herself, and the harper takes her to her father’s court so she can tell her story. She proves she recognizes all the family, finishing with a sick burn:

And there does sit my false sister, Anne
with a hey ho and a bonny o
Who drowned me for the sake of a man
The swans swim so bonny o

I’m sure there was some consternation, there. One likes to believe that the harp went on to have a nice life, perhaps traveling the world with her handsome harper, while Anne got thrown in the dungeon.

So, a bit grim, or perhaps Grimms, but still, swans. Awesome.

Crop of previous image, showing more detail of the swans. Two have their heads together.

The two facing each other look like lovers, don’t they just?

It wasn’t until Connie Willis introduced me to Jerome K. Jerome that my faith in swans being the absolute most elegant and awesome creatures ever to glide serenely across a lake began to be shaken. This anecdote from Three Men in a Boat* didn’t reflect reality as I understood it.

Harris had a sad expression on him, so we noticed, when we got into the boat. He gave you the idea of a man who had been through trouble. We asked him if anything had happened, and he said-


It seemed we had moored close to a swan’s nest, and, soon after George and I had gone, the female swan came back, and kicked up a row about it. Harris had chivied her off, and she had gone away, and fetched up her old man. Harris said he had had quite a fight with these two swans; but courage and skill had prevailed in the end, and he had defeated them.

Half-an-hour afterwards they returned with eighteen other swans! It must have been a fearful battle, so far as we could understand Harris’s account of it. The swans had tried to drag him and Montmorency out of the boat and drown them; and he had defended himself like a hero for four hours, and had killed the lot, and they had all paddled away to die.

“How many swans did you say there were?” asked George.

“Thirty-two,” replied Harris, sleepily.

“You said eighteen just now,” said George.

“No, I didn’t,” grunted Harris; “I said twelve. Think I can’t count?”

What were the real facts about these swans we never found out. We questioned Harris on the subject in the morning, and he said, “What swans?” and seemed to think that George and I had been dreaming.

Could they really be such arseholes? My beautiful, elegant swans? Apparently, English authors think so, for P.G. Wodehouse came along** to shatter my final illusions. Bertie Wooster’s encounter with an enraged swan that trees him on a roof kind of put paid to my mindless worship of the creatures. Now I watch them warily. But they’re still lovely. And I always love seeing them on our lake.

Image shows the portion of the bay with the swans, sunset on the water, and a couple of people on the dock sort of thing beyond watching them.

They’re bonny at a distance.

Just. Y’know. Don’t get too close.


*To Say Nothing of the Dog is the only book I’ve ever read where the author pulled an actual clever trick with first-person narration. It’s also hilarious. And an excellent love story. And an adventure tale. And a fantastic time travel novel. It’s like everything you ever wanted in a book but didn’t think you could ask for in one. Go read it right this instant.

**This is absolutely a book I recommend for those looking for outstanding British humor. It’s like Monty Python in Victorian England going for a boat ride.

**The Most of P.G. Wodehouse. That’s the book to buy if you want a thorough sampling. He’s one of the best comedic authors I’ve ever read, and this has got a little of everything that makes you happy to curl up on a rainy day and escape to a time when butlers were brilliant, tall tales were taller, and the misunderstandings merrier.

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.

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.

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

Brace yourselves. Look, I know Stop 1 wound you up. You just got done with a reasonably delicious lunch, you’ve caught a glimpse of the volcano and loved it, and now you’re all about getting up close and personal with Mount St. Helens. But you need to take a deep breath and have a bit of Zen. What you’re about to see might tip you over the edge, and from this viewpoint, it’s kind of a long way down.

Stop 2. Castle Lake Viewpoint

So very much to see here. This overlook gives you an outstanding overview of the results of the May 18th, 1980 eruption, and some of the recovery since.

Mount St Helens from Castle Lake Viewpoint.

Mount St Helens from Castle Lake Viewpoint. You will definitely want to click to embiggen this.

First, the destruction: the first thing that will strike anyone who’s traveled the western side of the Cascades is the distinct lack of forest. Granted, a few trees are sprouting up like a teenager’s attempt at a first beard, but there’s an overall absence of treeness. It turns out that volcanic eruptions, especially lateral blasts, are not kind to trees. If you look to your right at the near ridge, you’ll see the remains of some of the former forest. For details on what happened to it, see the posts here, here and here.

Panning left, you’ll notice a little sapphire gem of a lake set in a bowl-shaped valley. This is Castle Lake, and it just turned 33 last May. The gargantuan landslide triggered by an earthquake at 8:32 am on May 18th poured into the North Fork Toutle River valley as a massive debris avalanche. Over the course of ten minutes, that churning mass of ice, rock, dirt, and everything in its path roared 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) down-valley, filling it to an average depth of 150 feet (46 meters); in the most piled-up parts, it reached up to 600 feet (183 meters). Marginal levees from the avalanche piled up along the valley walls and choked off tributary valleys. Castle Lake backed up behind one such levee. Lakes like that can be dangerous: their debris dams could fail catastrophically, sending a flood roaring down the North Fork Toutle River valley toward populated areas downstream. In an attempt to prevent Castle Lake from breaching its levee, the US Army Corps of Engineers dug an outlet that keeps the water at a safe level, and drilled wells into the debris avalanche deposit to watch for changes that could alert them if the dam could become unstable.

Continue panning left. In the center of the valley, you’ll see the North Fork Toutle River threading its way through the bumpy terrain of the debris avalanche. Those of you who know your river geomorphology will be able to pick out some of the terrace the river’s left as it’s meandered across the valley and cut down through the deposit. Nice of it to show us all the lovely layers! In some places, you can see not only the interior of the debris avalanche, but also lahar and fluvial (river) deposits.The north bank of the river is rather prone to landslides in many places; between a high water table and the movement of groundwater through the avalanche deposit, it’s very easy for that bank to collapse.

Looking upriver, contemplate this: as of 8:42 am on cataclysm day, the upper North Fork Toutle River didn’t exist. It had been entombed beneath .67 cubic miles (2.79 km³) of collapsed volcano. Imagine an entire river being decapitated in the space of ten minutes!

At first, after the debris avalanche came to rest, all the valley contained was the lumpy surface of the landslide. But it didn’t take long for the river to begin rebuilding itself. The first section of its new channel was cut when ice melting in the debris avalanche formed the North Fork lahar that same afternoon. Phreatic (steam) explosions caused by the blazing-hot chunks of cryptodome heating the buried streams and river until they flashed to steam left a line of depressions, most 16-330 feet (5-100m) in diameter and 3-66 feet (1-20m) deep. Other hollows formed by the settling and subsidence of the debris.

This being the Pacific Northwest, it didn’t take long for many of those depressions to fill up with water. And when they were full to the brim, water spilled over and carved another section of channel. All through summer and into the fall, the channel grew from this fill-n-spill, plus some volumes of water released from larger lakes, including Castle Lake, by concerned engineers. Flowing water began behaving like a stream, widening its nascent channel, abandoning some portions in order to carve new. And then Carbonate Lake, born on May 18th, overtopped and breached its debris dam on November 7th, releasing a huge surge of water that sliced through a string of depressions. Almost two miles (3 km) later, a through-flowing channel had finally been completed. The upper North Fork Toutle River was reborn.

Not all depressions hooked up to become the river. Ponds still dot the debris avalanche. You can see a little blue gem of one gleaming just to the left of the river, there.

A small pond in the hummocky terrain of the debris avalanche deposit.

A small pond in the hummocky terrain of the debris avalanche deposit.

When you lift your eyes from the valley, you’ll notice the scene is dominated by Mount St. Helens. And you might expect me to discuss all of the exciting features left by the lateral blast, like that ginormous breach. And what’s up with that rather smooth ramp emerging therefrom? Why, if the the volcano isn’t currently erupting, is the snow on it so ashy? Patience, my dear geoadventurers! We shall come to that shortly. But first, let’s pay an up-close visit to one of the lakes born on May 18th.


Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide I: Hoffstadt or Bust

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

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.


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.

Evarts, Russell C and Ashley, Roger P. (1992): Preliminary Geologic Map of the Elk Mountain Quadrangle, Cowlitz County, Washington. USGS Open-File Report 92-362.

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

Simon, Andrew (1999): Channel and Drainage-Basin Response of the Toutle River System in the Aftermath of the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington. USGS Open-File Report 96-633.

New Photos of Mount Rainier! Plus Super-Cute Critters

It’s been a long but fruitful day, my darlings. B and I took a little trip to Mount Rainier for you. We hadn’t yet hit the Sunrise VC, you see, so we decided it was about damned time we went. Can you believe I’ve been going to Rainier for years and have never been to top of that road? Scandalous! Now remedied.

Here’s the mountain peeking at some lovely andesite columns you will get to know very well later on:

Image shows gray andesite columns poking toward the road on the right, with a shoulder of Mount Rainier and the jagged crags of Little Tahoma in the distance.

Mount Rainier, Road, and Columns.

Now. I’m going to set the non-geologists in the audience a question: what are the columns telling you about the valley at the time of this lava flow? No cheating by looking up stuff on Mount Rainier, kiddos. But you can go look at Callan’s handy guide to columns wot he made just for us. You can totally get this from just this photo:

Images shows a bunch of gray andesite columns pointed at us.

Here we’re standing direct across the road, with the valley behind us, looking the columns dead in the tops of their darling little heads. Nose of an indeterminate blue sedan for scale.

Right, now you’ve had a challenge, you shall get your cute! This poor little dude was so conflicted.

Image shows a little striped rodent sitting on a somewhat flat rock in an I'm-Very-Tempted manner.

Conflicted ground squirrel or possibly chipmunk, I am terrible at identifying these cute fuzzy things BECAUSE THEY ARE BIOLOGY NOT ROCKS AND I DO ROCKS OKAY?

On the one hand, there was this humungous clump of grass with delicious ripe seeds and it really really wanted them so bad, only there were these people standing there, and it was a little afraid, but it wanted those seeds soooo bad. It spent a moment thinking about it, and dashed up and down a bit, and rushed the seeds and rushed away, and then decided “Sod this for a game of larks” and went and hid, so we left it to get its lunch in peace.

Now, we were up there specifically to look at Emmons Glacier, because I’ve been up the White River Valley it is responsible for, and would have gotten to one of its old moraines if Cujo and I hadn’t been stopped by the small but significant fact that the trail bridge over the river had washed out. So we went down to the Emmons Glacier Vista overlook thingy and had a nice look, and it was really gorgeous.

Image shows Mount Rainier's summit, Little Tahoma, Emmon's Glacier, and a gorgeous glacial valley with a glacier-fed river and lake. Also, much green, because PNW.

A view of Emmons Glacier, and the valley, and river, and a wee little turquoise-colored lake that I could probably identify if I wasn’t too tired at the moment.

Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy, and hot as hell, or we might have gotten better photos. Still. We got some good ones, and yes, someday, you will get more. But if you embiggen this one, you’ll be able to see some snazzy glacial features. Tell me all you can find, if you feel like digging!

We attempted the trail up Sourdough Ridge, but that’s all in bright sunshine, and did I mention is was at least 80 bloody degrees? And I’m not used to high altitudes and heat anymore. So we decided to tackle that in cooler times, and possibly when the air is clearer. We went down to Sunrise Point, where there’s a short-ish side trail to Sunrise Lake.

Image shows Sunrise Lake, a beautiful round pool surrounded by tall trees and mountains. The water is so still you can see the pines clearly reflected in it, even from hundreds of feet above.

Sunrise Lake is a lovely blue-green gem set at the bottom of a glacial valley surrounded by majestic, glacier-carved peaks. Alas, it is down in a valley…

This trail is mostly in shade with a wonderbar cool breeze. Trouble is, it is also a long way down to the lake. Down, of course, translates to up on the way back. But it was worth it. We got to see lots of pretty nature, and the lake, and there was this bird you will squee over when I show you it later this week, and, on a scree slope, this wee little rabbit-like thing running across the rocks with a big sprig of leafy something in its mouth. See if you can spot it in the shot of the slope I took.

Images shows a slope of platy gray rocks surrounded by the usual alpine greenery. There's a little critter on it. Very hard to see.

Wee beastie is somewhere on this scree, I promise you.

Really hard to spot, innit? Alas, I had the camera turned off to conserve battery when the little bugger first darted out, and by the time I had it on, our wee beastie had dashed further downslope. Take it from me, it was cute as the dickens, especially with its bit of greenery clutched in its mouth. Here’s a crop of the above image, and if you can identify they wee beastie from just this blurry pic, I will be very surprised. Also, I will suggest you become a cryptozoologist, because why not?

If you look at the gray rock at the very bottom center, then at the green bush right in front of it, then in front of that bush, you will see a timorous little brown fellow holding very still on the scree and clutching its little sprig.

If you look at the gray rock at the very bottom center, then at the green bush right in front of it, then in front of that bush, you will see a timorous little brown fellow holding very still on the scree and clutching its little sprig.

After the beastie and the birdie, we hauled our sorry butts back up that slope, and I can tell you my lungs haven’t ached like that for ages. Like a bellows, they were. I need to spend less time lounging with the cat and Christianist textbooks, and more time on mountains. So it’s a good thing B has decided we should go back to Mount Rainier before our current pass runs out. Weather permitting, we’ll be up there again at the end of the week. Then, depending on what the weather looks like, we’re off to either the Olympics or over the mountains to Ross Lake. Well, weather and our own energy levels permitting, I should say.

And I can definitely recommend sunset as seen from Highway 410 from outside of Sumner, looking over the Puget lowland toward the Olympics. Oh, my, yes. Alas, we were unable to stop and obtain photos, so I shall just have to ask you to imagine jagged black peaks against a salmon-orange sky, with the dark night blue above and the deep pools of shadow in the valley below, with city lights sparkling merrily, and a huge orange full moon rising over the hills behind. So, so wonderful.

Fun, Fidalgo, an Ophiolite, and a Very Rude Buck

We made it to Fidalgo Island. Yay! We got lotsa pictures of bonza peridotite and serpentinite. Double yay! I’ll have a proper write-up one o’ these days, but for today, we’ll do some outtakes.

This time, we visited Washington Park. I’ve been there once before, many years ago, and had no idea that Cujo and I had been hanging about on serpentinized peridotite. Yum! Now I knew, and B and I were determined to see all of it we could see. We got a sorta late start, got hung up in Everett traffic, and lingered over lunch, so it was late in the afternoon when we arrived. Let me tell you something about Washington Park: when you’re in the parking lot, you’ll freeze. There’s a sort of saddle between the bay and the Sound, and the wind blows vigorously through, and it’s like standing in a refrigerator. Do not let this deceive you. If it’s a warm day, you’re gonna end up sweating to death. That’s because of this:

Image shows fingers of brown rock jutting into the blue Sound. Framed by a fir tree.

Peridotite benches at Washington Park, Fidalgo Island.

Peridotite is dark, dense, iron-rich rock that seems to love absorbing lotsa rays and reflecting the heat right back atcha. If you get a chance to go here on a warm summer day, bring plenty of water, wear sunglasses, and remember that a bit of seawater judiciously applied to the back of the neck will help cool things right down.

The loop road, which is also a lovely paved trail, is nice and shady, and you can pop through the trees and bushes and get lovely views of the Sound and the San Juans.

Image shows a dead tree jutting horizontally from the cliff. Through its branches is the Sound and a mountain-shaped island.

A lovely horizontal snag pointing toward the San Juan Islands. I think that’s Orcas Island, but I’m horrible at recognizing these things.

The glacially-planed and polished serpentinite/peridotite makes lovely benches from which to stand majestically looking out over the Sound.

Image shows B standing atop a dark black/brown bench of peridotite with a glitter trail on the Sound from the low-lying sun.

B and the Sea.

Here’s a rare action shot of me crossing a crack through the peridotite.

Image shows me landing on the other side of a crevice on a flat brown peridotite bench.

That’s me doing geology! Sorta.

Lotsa glacial action in this photo – see if you can spot it! You’ve been hanging round me long enough you should be able to see at least one or two things.

You definitely should do the loop road, either hiking or driving. There’s another stopoff on the other side that is neato and I’ll show you it in some detail soon, and then you get to the bottom, and there may be a buck and a doe grazing. However, the deer here are rude.

Image is a profile of a little black-tailed brown buck with wee antlers. He's sticking his tongue out. Looks like he's blowing a raspberry.

Rude buck.

We laughed and laughed, of course. There were deer all over, including in people’s yards. Washington Park is huge, and seems to be a happy home for them.

At the end of the day, driving home, Mount Baker was beautifully illuminated, so I pulled the car to the side of the highway and grabbed you a shot.

Image shows Mount Baker. The sun is low, and has pinkened the snow on its slopes.

Mount Baker from Highway 20, just outside of Anacortes.

Wonderful stuff, and much fun. I’ve got to get my talk done, work on the next post in the Seattle Seahawks Superbowl Ring series (which next post is a pain, because just when I thought I had the research finished, bam – came across a series of papers that call all our existing knowledge into question. Darn it all to heck!). But B asked some great questions about peridotite, so I’ll try to sneak some answers in about that in the near-future, and eventually, after a few more visits to the Island, I’ll be whipping up a series on the ophiolite there. And that’s in addition to the ten tons of other great geology we’ve got going on! And summer field season isn’t even over! It’s going to be a super science winter, lemme tell ya.

New at Rosetta Stones: Mount Baker At Last! Plus, a Genuine Watercolor

I’ve got the preliminary findings from our maiden voyage to Mount Baker up at Rosetta Stones for ye. You’re gonna love it.

You may also love this photograph of Mount Shuksan:

Image shows what looks like a watercolor image of Mount Shuksan.

Mount Shuksan reflected in a lovely tarn.

Looks sorta like a watercolor, doesn’t it just? It sorta is: this is Mount Shuksan as reflected in a lovely little tarn on Mount Baker Highway.

It’s the real thing – I’ve just played a bit with the brightness and such. Here’s the untouched version:

Mount Shuksan as reflected in the tarn.

Mount Shuksan as reflected in the tarn, without the fiddling around.

Okay, and I flipped it right-side up, too. See it in its non-reflected glory at Rosetta Stones, and find out why it’s really actually green.

Stachys Standing Proud

One of these days, I’ll get round to making a little e-book of the flowers ya’ll have identified, so I can look it up and say, definitively, “That’s the flower my readers identified as X” rather than, “Oh, hey, there’s one of the flowers my readers told me the name of, I think, only I can’t remember it off the top of my head, but they know what it is I swear!” Either that, or I will have to become fabulously rich so that I can take a gaggle of you with me all over the world, and have you identify things, and then we’ll post the pictures and idents via satellite phone or something, real-time. We could make up special t-shirts and everything. And we would also support various social-justice causes with our treks, and offset our carbon footprints, and all sorts of responsible things. All while subverting creationist drivel with fun facts. Sound good? Let’s do it! Now I just have to figure out how to become rich…

While I’m working on that, have some fun gazing upon one of the flowers you’ve successfully identified in the past: Stachys cooleyae, or Cooley’s hedge nettle.

Image shows a stem of purple-and-white mottled flowers that look like little trumpets, or possibly roaring lions..

Stachys cooleyae, which is hard to learn how to spell, but quite lovely.

This one was growing happily along the trail between Waikiki Beach and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. The whole place is a riot of vegetation filled with things like snakes and spiders and so-forth, but the beauty of the Pacific Northwest is, very few of those things are dangerously poisonous or even inclined to bother folks, so you can enjoy the flowers without worrying that something deadly is about to sneak out and bite you. Having come from a place where a good number of the creepy-crawlies were either lethal or would give you a very painful time, it’s refreshing.

Image is a crop of the previous, showing a few of the flowers, and the fine white hair that covers the stem and leaves.

A closer view. Look at all those darling little hairs!

See? Beautiful. And while it pays to mind your surroundings and know that even in a place where 98% of everything won’t attempt to annihilate you, there’s always the possibility something untoward will happen, nearly perfectly safe. Unless you have a phobia, in which case, until you’ve gone through the full course of therapy and gained the upper hand, it’s probably best not to run about a place that has such an abundance of potentially terrifying living things. Should I become fabulously rich and famous, such therapy will be offered free to those who wish to go geotrekking with me but find things like sudden spiders traumatic.

I wish I had a picture of the snake that kept popping out to see if we’d gone yet. I’m not sure what was in the spot that it wanted so badly – perhaps it was its favorite spot for catching a few rays – but the poor thing would go under its bush, then nip out after a minute, see us, and zip back again. Several times, this happened, in the few minutes we were at the summit of one of the headlands admiring the view. I almost never see snakes doing that. This one was a fair-sized brown garter snake with a pretty red stripe. I like garter snakes – they’re gentle little things, and they keep pests down, and they’re fun to watch. We tried to respect it by getting out of its territory in a reasonable amount of time.

That’s another thing I hope to do, riches and fame or not: help people develop a better relationship with things that creep and crawl. Suppose I’d best work on getting more photos of them, then, without pestering them overmuch…