Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Toolin’ Down the Toutle. Plus: The Confluence!

Our last day out was exhausting: we didn’t do much, but the traffic between Olympia and Seattle was an unending nightmare of congestion. But we did make it to the Toutle River after checking out of the hotel, so that was awesome! I brought you a UFD, which many of you will be able to identify in 2.2 seconds flat, but it’s still an awesome birdie.

Here, I will make it more challenging by giving you a distant view first. Besides, you love the Toutle River and want to see it, right? Here it is by the Old Pacific Highway bridge. [Read more…]

Greetings from Ape Cave! Plus Hawt Lahar Action

We did it! We made it to the South Side! It’s tremendously awesome.

This is the first time I’ve been up Highway 503. It’s gorgeous, and I can definitely recommend it. The approach will give you some sense of what Mount St. Helens and its environs looked like before the May 18, 1980 eruption. It’s full of trees – so full that you don’t get to see much of the mountain for a long way. But if you stop by Yale Park and step out on the boat ramp on your way up the road, you’ll get a lovely little glimpse.

Image shows a mountain ridge, with the gently rounded summit of Mount St. Helens peeking over, all gray and white against the green. There is a rocky bank in the foreground.

Mount St. Helens peeks above the ridges at Yale Lake.

We made it up to Ape Cave. We parked in the overflow parking and took the trail over, which leads past a streambed full of delightful pahoehoe lava. I haven’t seen pahoehoe in years! This made me squee a lot.

Image shows a stream bank with a bit of gray pahoehoe lava emerging from it.

Pahoehoe lava near Ape Cave.

 

but although we followed the advice of the guide and brought three light sources, none of them were powerful enough to contend with the light-sucking power of the lava tube. It swallows flashlight beams whole. We decided that since we could barely see the ground we were walking over and couldn’t see features of the walls at all, we’d give it up at the entrance. We’ll return with brighter stuff. But we did get some lovely shots at the entrance.

Image shot from within shows the entrance of Ape Cave, which is a huge round hole with a staircase descending it. Light is shining down from the opening, and the light is surrounded by the darkness of the cave.

The entrance of Ape Cave.

You won’t be disappointed that we didn’t do the cave just yet. You see, it gave us time to go up the volcano vista trail, which is a sorta-steep but easily doable one mile hike to a beautiful overlook of Mount St. Helens.

The south side of Mount St. Helens is visible across a sea of trees. The volcano is covered with snow and ash. The back side wasn't blown out in the eruption, so it looks gently rounded and like a normal volcanic cone.

There’s our girl!

On the way down, we heard scrambles in the underbrush. It turned out to be an adorable woodland critter.

Image shows a wee chipmunk posing among some boulders and woodland plants.

A totes adorbs chipmunk.

After Ape Cave and the super-awesome side trip, we headed to the Trail of Two Forests. Here, a forest was buried by the same flow that created Ape Cave. It’s full of tree casts, which are hollow tubes left behind after lava engulfs a forest. One of them is big enough to crawl through. I didn’t do the crawl, but I did get a bonza picture for you.

Image shows a tunnel through lava.

A huge tree cast!

There are places where you can see the impressions left by the bark. I took many photos and will treat you to a thorough walk-through some time. For now, please content yourselves with a photo of the lava casts and an adorable little pahoehoe lavafall.

Image shows a circular hole in the lava in the bottom center. To the upper left of it, there's a ridge of lava, with a bit of ropey pahoehoe flowing down towards the cast.

Awww, a tiny lavafall!

Then we went up to Lava Canyon. To get there, you have to pass over large flats created by lahars from the May 1980 eruption. Here’s an image of Mount St. Helens from the lahar:

Image shows a flat area filled with boulders and young trees. Mount St. Helens rises in the distance. You can see the groove down the middle where the Shoestring Glacier used to be.

Mount St. Helens across a young lahar.

The lahars scoured the trees and some of the rock out of the Muddy River gorge, leaving behind the awesomesauce Lava Canyon. We did the loop trail, from which you get views like this:

Image shows a narrow whitewater river flowing down a rocky gorge.

The view from the suspension bridge.

I took this from the middle of the suspension bridge, which was a bit of a hair-raising experience. We took it slow and clung to things, and tried not to look down between the slats.

Further along the other end of the trail, there’s a lovely entabulature from an old lava flow.

Image shows me standing before a jumbled tan rock wall.

Moi standing in front of the maclargehuge entabulature.

And shortly after, there’s a tamer bridge over the gorge, from which you can see gorgeous flowing water.

Image shows water falling in a stairstep pattern through old lava.

A mini-falls before the major falls.

We’ve got lots to explore when we come back next, but that was a thoroughly satisfying initial foray. Tomorrow will be rather tamer, as we’re just going to seek out the confluence of the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers, and then head for home. But I think you’ll agree, today makes the whole trip worth it!

Greetings from Castle Rock! Have a Smashing Volcanic Neck

B and I have arrived in Castle Rock! We’re taking the world’s laziest trip to Mount St. Helens, starting with a leisurely late departure from Seattle and an afternoon ambling round Castle Rock, WA: the Gateway to Mount St. Helens. See, last time we were down here, the volcano was socked in by clouds, and I realized that none of the guides really give you much to do when that happens. So I started nosing around looking for geological points of interest. Russell Evarts, the USGS geologist whose quad map documentation for the Silver Lake quadrangle reads like an epic adventure, pointed me toward the actual rock Castle Rock is named for.

Image shows a stretch of the Cowlitz River and its bank. In the distance is a cone-shaped hill covered in trees.

“The Rock.” Castle Rock’s original castle rock!

So apparently, without all the trees, it looks more like a castle turret or something. It was pretty much barren when Eliza and William Huntington settled here, opened a post office, and established the town. It had been used as a landmark for Native Americans and traders at least since the early 1800s. Now it’s a 190-foot tall city park. Awesomesauce!

So do you want to climb a volcanic neck? Sure you do! [Read more…]

We’re Off to Mount St. Helens

We’re taking advantage of a break in B’s schedule to sneak down to Mount St. Helens for a lazy few days. Okay, partially lazy – we’re going to do some geology stuff in Castle Rock for my upcoming guide, and finally-hopefully-if-fate-doesn’t-intervene do the southern approach where we get to see Ape Cave and such. I’ve even remembered the light sources this time! And there’ll be some lounging around at the hotel, since it’ll be our last chance to be alone together for a little while. I mean, we’ll be thoroughly testing the accommodations for guide book purposes.

So yes, for those of you who may have despaired that I’ve posted an excerpt from another Really Terrible Bible Stories book instead of the Mount St. Helens book: look, I’m working on both!

Image is a slightly expanded crop of me with Mount St. Helens from May 2007. Caption reads, "Yes, I am indeed writing a Mount St. Helens book!"

For serious, folks, I am.

We’ll have great photos for ye soon, even if Aunty Flow shows up early, as she is threatening to do. And if anyone needs a donor uterus, I’ve got a gently-used one they can have for free.

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XIV: Wherein We Row Our Creationist Boat Gently Down the Streams

At last we leave the vasty deep behind and sail upon the streams and lakes of the world. Alas, we’re still stuck on the S.S. Earth Sciences 4th Edition. A Beka’s Science of the Physical Creation only talks about freshwater features in the context of weathering and erosion. I’ve peeked ahead at that chapter, and I can assure you we’re in for some serious creationist fuckery there. The open question is: can it out-Christianist the Christianist experts at ES4? Stay tuned to find out! [Read more…]

From Fiery Flow to Cool Art

Humans have a long tradition of taking rocks and making pretty things with them. Usually, when you think of sculpture, you think of marble, right? I mean, of course, marble – marble’s a wonderful stone for sculptors, very hard and yet amenable to people carving and polishing it.

If I asked you for an igneous rock suitable for making art with, what would you give me? Big ol’ chunk of something in the granite family? Good choice! Polishes up a treat, that does, and it’s very monumental. [Read more…]

A Disaster, or an Opportunity

Egads, wot a day. We had an all-day party here at the house, which went from 1 in the afternoon until 2 in the ay-em. I cut out for a few hours to watch the UFC event at B’s house, and that was also incrediballs. Every fight was a finish, which is virtually unheard of for a pay-per-view event – those had a run of boring. So yep, excitement city. And I had to clean the litter box in the midst of it. This is my glamorous life and I’m sure you envy me mightily.

Anyway. Very tired now, but I wanted to pop in and relate something the awesome entomologist guy, Don, said as we talked science, the universe, and everything. We were discussing the aftermath of the May 18th eruption. And he mentioned an insight he’d had hiking there in the years after. Lupines were among the first plants to colonize the blast zone, and there’s a particular caterpillar or some such that feeds and lives upon them. I wish I could remember what, but I was exhausted and slightly sloshed at that point, so. Anyway. The area he hiked through was teeming with lupines and a far bigger population of these particular arthropods that normal. And he said he realized that what was a complete disaster from other perspectives happened to be a Golden Age to these little dudes. They’d had to put up with just the occasional lupine dotted here and there before. Now, they had all the lupines they could possibly want. The world, from their perspective, had improved immensely. [Read more…]

I Brought Ye Some Baker

We almost didn’t. Ya’ll can thank B for your Baker photos today, because he’s the one who said, “Let’s do it.” See, when we got up Friday morning, the cloud cover was thick and low. Weather.com promised me partly sunny skies at Mount Baker, but I hadn’t any faith, especially not with the Cascade foothills covered in clouds. I was ready to give it all up and head to Larrabee State Park instead. But B wanted Baker, and he convinced me to take a chance on it. So up we went.

We stopped by Nooksack Falls first, to kind of warm up, and to give the clouds a chance to burn off. We had a magnificent time. We were the only ones there for most of the time, and we got lots of photos of the top of the falls, and of the side creek bringing in a huge load of sediment. Here’s one of the prettiest pictures, which was taken when we were walking beside the falls on the way to the car. This is at the top, as the water begins its downward plunge:

Image shows water falling over a polished ledge of volcanic rock. Some of the water is falling in a thin white veil; beyond that, the water is deeper and has a lovely aquamarine color. Where the water is landing, it is churning whitewater.

Look at all those lovely colors and textures!

That sublime brown rock is 180 million years old, erupted in a Jurassic ocean, according to Ron Tabor. That’s some pretty super-awesome stuff, and some of the oldest rock in Western Washington if I remember right.

This seems like a great place to come on a hot day, because it was a warm day and we nearly froze. So we didn’t linger. We headed up the mountain, and were cheered by a few sunbreaks. Then, by the time we’d reached Heather Meadows, we were in bright sunshine. Sure, there was a bit of haze in the air, and yeah, there were so many clouds to the east that you couldn’t see off the slopes, much less out across the valley, but it was a lot better than expected. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center, where the ranger on duty told us that Artist’s Point was completely clear of snow, and I screamed for joy, because that meant we could do the Table Mountain hike. [Read more…]

Drool-Worthy Geology at Whatcom Falls Park

Sometimes, having your plans fall through is the best possible thing. B and I headed up to Mount Baker yesterday to get you all some lovely volcano photos. Alas, the haze in the air was so thick you couldn’t see across a lake, so voluptuous volcanic vistas were not in the cards. The weather was cool enough for some Puget Lowland adventure, though, so we picked a park and went hiking.

We were lucky enough to discover Whatcom Falls Park, which is along short little Whatcom Creek. It’s not at peak flow right now, so the waterfalls aren’t as majestic as they are in other seasons. However, this is a prime time to see the geology of the stream bed. It is bloody spectacular. [Read more…]

Cryptopod: Squirmy Water Wormies!

B and I were going to visit Mount Baker on Thursday, but the haze in the air was atrocious. The views were severely compromised. So when we reached Bellingham and nothing had changed, we decided to modify our plans – after all, we were staying overnight and could go up next day. We searched around for suitable parks to play in, and found Whatcom Falls Park. People, this place is made of awesome. It’s probably even more awesome when the water levels are high, but seeing it with the creek so low is also mega-awesome, because you can walk out on top of the big waterfall and see what the water has done to the delicious sandstone. I’ll be showing you that quite soon.

Another super-awesome thing you may see is a shallow green puddle full of red squirmy worms. If you don’t like worms, this won’t be super-awesome. But if you do, you’ll squee, and then you’ll crouch down and take photos. [Read more…]