Tag Archive | volcano

West 2016: Yellowstone Tidbits

Day 8, 9 & 10, August 12, 13 & 14, 2016

Yellowstone is such a big park that even with the series of posts I have done, there were still things I wanted to share that didn’t seem to fit somewhere else – so here they are:

Continental Divides:

The Continental Divide is the line that goes down through the Americas, and separates the river systems that flow into the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.  The divide runs through Yellowstone National Park, and there are several places where they have signs showing the elevation of the divide at that point.

Mom and me at the Continental Divide

 

Me, Piddles and Elwell at another part of the Continental Divide

Fun cars:

This Ranger’s car was a Prius with a park scene!  He kept showing up wherever we were that day, so we joked that he was following us.

What a fun car!

 

Parkitecture:

The Old Faithful Inn is huge and hard to photograph, due to all the hordes of people roaming around.  Maybe next time I can get there early in the morning or late at night…  But I was in awe of this view up into the upper floors.  Wow!

The inside of the Old Faithful Inn

Lakes and Rivers:

Not all of the water in Yellowstone is a geothermal feature.  There are lakes and rivers that are stunning.  Lake Yellowstone is the largest Lake in Yellowstone, and also the largest lake above 7,000 feet in elevation in North America.  It is at 7,732 feet in elevation.

Lake Yellowstone

 

Another view of Lake Yellowstone

 

Me at Lake Yellowstone

 

The Shoshone River, flowing from Yellowstone to Cody, Wyoming

 

Piddles and Elwell enjoy Lake Lewis. They didn’t enjoy being attacked by ants…

 

Volcanic Eruptions:

Yellowstone is a land of volcanoes. One of the Visitor’s Centers had an amazing exhibit showing the size of the past volcanic eruptions of the Yellowstone volcanoes.  Think for a moment about the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18, 1980.  I felt it as a child, living a couple hundred miles away.  In the photo below, the small red cube in the corner of each of those larger cubes shows the amount of ashfall from Mount St. Helens.  The larger cubes are the amount of ashfall from the Yellowstone eruptions.  Wow.  Mind blown…

 

Yellowstone eruptions, compared to each other and to Mount St. Helens eruption

 

I am returning again to Yellowstone soon, so although this is the end of the series from my summer 2016 trip, there will be future Yellowstone posts I’m sure!  I hope you enjoyed.  Coming up – the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, and Grand Teton National Park!

 

A Quick Trip to a Volcano

Have you ever hiked on an active volcano?  Would you be worried that it would erupt beneath your feet?  Back in June, Jon and I decided to take an impromptu weekend getaway and we made a stop at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.  Mount St. Helens is best known for its May 18, 1980 eruption that was the most deadly and economically devastating volcanic eruption in U.S. history.   You can read my post about it here.

Welcome to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Welcome to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

On our drive up the mountain, there was quite a bit of fog, which gradually melted away to reveal a gorgeous blue sky and big, white, puffy clouds.  And a huge, puffy cloud hanging directly in front of the signature crater of the mountain that stuck around for our entire visit.  How’s that for ruining a photo op?  I have heard that this cloud is a common occurrence at Mount St. Helens, although I’m not sure why.

 

The partially recovered valley below the volcano.

The partially recovered valley below the volcano.

We visited the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which was named for David Johnston, a volcanologist who was monitoring the mountain on the morning of the 1980 eruption and was killed that day.   The observatory has several exhibits on volcanoes and what happens in an eruption, and a great (albeit a bit cheesy) movie about the eruption and the subsequent changes to the landscape that have occurred.  The movie also details the return of life to the area in the years after the eruption.  At the end of the movie, the curtains at the front of the theater open and you are greeted with a spectacular view of the mountain through the floor to ceiling windows.  Amazing.

Jon and I went outside and began a hike from the observatory towards Spirit Lake.  Spirit Lake was one of the lakes that became superheated and flashed to steam during the eruption.  It was filled with trees and debris that were blown down from the eruption, and the trees still cover much of the surface of the lake today.

A view of Spirit Lake, off in the distance. In the lower right corner, you can see trees that were buried by the ash.

A view of Spirit Lake, off in the distance.
In the lower right corner, you can see trees that were buried by the ash.

We didn’t hike as far as the lake because we hadn’t come prepared with our hiking shoes, but we enjoyed what we did do.  The number of people on the trail dropped considerably once we got even a few hundred yards away from the observatory, and we were able to get great views of the mountain and the devastation that is still visible in the valley below.  Grasses and shrubs grow there now, and even a few conifers, but you can still clearly see the evidence of the huge landslide that tore through the area.  It just looks like a blanket of mud on the ground even now.

Piddles the Owl reflects on the many owl lives lost in the eruption.

Piddles the Owl reflects on the many owl lives lost in the eruption.

There was a volunteer docent with a telescope trained on some elk that were grazing down in the valley, but I couldn’t see them when I looked into it.  I’ll just have to trust that they were there.  We did see lots of prairie lupine, Indian Paintbrush and wild strawberry plants.  And bees – they liked the lupine.

One of my favorite wildlife pics ever!

One of my favorite wildlife pics ever!

When you look on the ridge opposite Mount St. Helens, you can see thousands of trees that were laid flat by the force of the blast in 1980.  Their weathered and gray skeletal remains almost make you believe that the trees just died naturally and fell, until you consider that there are none left standing.  A barren wasteland of dry, gray logs.

Trees flattened by the blast in 1980

Trees flattened by the blast in 1980

This NASA website provides an intriguing series of satellite photos documenting the devastation from before the eruption to the modern day.  It shows how barren the mountain was after the blast and how time has gradually healed the landscape.  I find it fascinating that you can see the carpet of logs moving to different areas in Spirit Lake during the photo series.

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at Coldwater Lake, a lake that was created by the eruption when the landslide dammed Coldwater Creek.  The Army Corps of Engineers created an outlet channel to drain water from Coldwater Lake to prevent the possibility of the lake overflowing and creating a catastrophic flood, but other than that, the lake has been left to develop naturally.  It is now a scenic day-use area with an interpretive trail and fishing opportunities  (the lake was stocked with rainbow and cutthroat trout).  Boats with electric motors are permitted on the lake.  I thought it was a very peaceful place.

Coldwater Lake – a lake created by the 1980 volcanic eruption.

Coldwater Lake – a lake created by the 1980 volcanic eruption.

I will certainly return and spend more time here; Jon and I are both interested in hiking to the summit of this now 8,365 foot volcano.  You can climb it in a day (most hikers take between 7 and 12 hours) and it doesn’t require any technical climbing.  My kind of mountain climbing…

The Day the House Trembled

I was four years old on May 18, 1980. It was a Sunday, and my brother and I were playing in our room that morning. Suddenly, my mom was yelling down the hall at us to stop kicking the walls. Only we weren’t. We had been playing quietly, not arguing or fighting and certainly not kicking walls. What was going on?

It wasn’t until later that we learned that Mount St. Helens had erupted at 8:32 that morning. It was the most significant eruption in the United States since the 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. And it was only a few hours away from us. A 5.1 magnitude earthquake created by the rumblings under the mountain triggered a huge landslide that morning. Most of the north face of the mountain slid; it was the largest landslide ever recorded.

Mount St. Helens on May 17, 1980, one day before the eruption.   (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Mount St. Helens on May 17, 1980, one day before the eruption.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The landslide filled the valley with earth, water and trees that had been flattened by the impact. It moved at speeds between 110 and 155 miles per hour. When the landslide stopped, the debris had moved 13 miles down the North Fork Toutle River; the debris reached heights of 600 feet tall covering an area of about 24 square miles.

The landslide triggered a volcanic eruption within a few seconds of the landslide; volcanic gases, pumice, and ash exploded through the landslide, and the blast knocked down all the trees nearby. Over 230 square miles of trees were simply laid flat by the heat and force of the eruption; many more trees further away were killed because of the heat but remained standing.

A second explosion occurred when the superheated eruption material turned all of the water in Spirit Lake and the North Fork Toutle River to steam. That explosion had a “quiet zone” immediately surrounding the mountain where the explosion was not heard. However, areas further away were not within the quiet zone; the second explosion was heard as far away as British Columbia, Canada, Idaho and Northern California. That was the explosion that my mother heard and felt that morning.

By the time the mountain was finished that day, the column of smoke and ash reached 80,000 feet into the air and deposited ash in 11 states. Day became night in cities along the path due to the falling ash; cities were covered with anywhere between 0.5 inches in Spokane to 5 inches of ash in Yakima, Washington.

The immediate area had been closed off for several weeks before the eruption due to increasing earthquake and eruption activity on the mountain.  But even still, 57 people lost their lives, including a volcanologist named David Johnston, who was working for the US Geological Survey. Others killed included Harry R. Truman, a lodge owner, Reid Blackburn, a photographer from National Geographic, and others who either lived or were camping or hiking in the area. Most of the people who died that day died of asphyxiation, although several died of burns. Several bodies were never found.

It wasn’t just people who died that day; researchers estimate that up to 7,000 elk, deer and bear were also killed, along with countless smaller mammals. Bird populations were devastated. Over 12 million young salmon were killed when hatcheries in the area were destroyed.  Yet remarkably, some burrowing rodents, frogs and salamanders managed to survive because they were burrowed underground when the eruption occurred.

And the trees? In all 4,000,000,000 board feet of timber was destroyed. That’s enough to build 300,000 homes.  About 25% of the flattened trees were salvaged beginning that fall, but the majority were not harvested.  Additionally, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railroad track and 185 miles of highways were wiped out.  Massive devastation.

After the blast, the area was acquired by the federal government and the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was born. Areas not under federal control (most were owned by Weyerhauser) were replanted soon after the eruption, but the lands of the new monument were left as is; allowed to recover naturally.

The mountain in 1982, with a steam plume, and the now famous crater.   (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The mountain in 1982, with a steam plume, and the now famous crater.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

When you visit now, 34 years later, there are signs of rebirth. Meadows and shrubs have grown, and elk and larger mammals move through the area once again. But you can still see the absolute devastation caused by the eruption. You can see thousands of trees, lying flat along the hillside, remaining where they were blown down all those years ago. And you can clearly see where the landslide raged through and covered the valley, leaving ugly scars and trails of earth and mud.

And my brother and I?  Well, my mom apologized later that day for getting mad at us when she saw the news and realized what had happened.  You really can’t blame her; after all, her conclusion seemed more likely than a mountain exploding.

We visited in June of this year, and were fascinated to see the changes that are occurring on this once beautiful, then absolutely barren landscape. I’ll post about our visit next.

Do you remember where you were when Mount St. Helens erupted?  Were you close enough to feel it?