The Awesome Power of Lava: Watch Metal Burn!

Remember when we poked some gentle fun at Hollywood and ‘splained that most lava flows are so slow that you can outwalk them? I wish I’d known about this video back then, because it shows how even pahoehoe flows – you know, that thin, runny stuff – are often so ridiculously slow that an elderly sloth could escape their wrath. But it’s not like they’re not powerful! In this video, you’ll see how powerful lava is. I especially loved the tree roots asploding. Pay close attention to the chain link fence as it burns – this stuff is so hot it sets metal afire! Also parking lots, tires, and, buildings. And the lavafalls – spectacular!

It’s interesting watching folks save the power poles. We humans are pretty clever, figuring out how to live with erupting volcanoes and all.

I’m declaring this week Volcano Week at Rosetta Stones. B and I just got back from back-to-back trips to Mounts Baker and St. Helens, and we’ve got lots of pretty pictures for you! Check back often for all the new goodies. We’ve even got some home-grown pahoehoe! And you’ll see what that orchard may look like two thousand years after those poor engulfed trees have wasted away.

 

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XV: Wherein Water Proves God is an Asshole

One thing reading Christianist textbooks does is teaches you to be cynical. No claim, no matter how innocuous, no matter how heart-warming, can be taken for granted. Observe:

Earth Science Fourth Edition’s chapter on groundwater begins with a charming little story about PlayPumps, which are merry-go-rounds attached to water pumps. It sounds like a difference-making idea: African village kids get some nice playtime, women don’t have to work so hard to get water, and advertisements on the water towers help pay for the pumps. It’s a great idea! Except, they don’t work too great. You need a good source of clean groundwater to begin with, kids would have to “play” three hours more per day than the standard 24 available, and the ads actually don’t make enough money to pay for the upkeep.

All of these problems were manifest two years before this book was published, by the way. Yet not a single problem is mentioned in the text. [Read more…]

Mystery Flora: Delicate Beauties

Yep, we’re having a Mystery Flora post on a Monday. Seattle suffered another heatwave over the weekend, my uterus is gleefully torturing me, and I’m very much looking forward to more unconsciousness. Therefore, we are doing something fun and easy that doesn’t require Dana to expend precious brain energy.

Besides, you’ll love these fetching little things. They’re so delicate! A barely-there filigree against the gray volcanic ash on the Cowlitz River banks. [Read more…]

Dramatic Images Show Mount St. Helens’s May 1980 Eruption Still Has a Serious Impact on Rivers

Hazards from volcanic eruptions continue long after the mountain stops exploding. Take Mount St. Helens: 35 years after her catastrophic morning, the landscape is still continuously affected. It’s not just that trees take a long time to grow up. It also takes a long time for all that loose debris to settle.

For a dramatic example, all you have to do is type “Castle Rock, WA” into Google maps and have a look at the satellite view. Zoom in on the confluence of the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers, and you see a stark example of a volcanic eruption’s long reach. [Read more…]

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…]