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Entries in volcano (3)


Blue Highways: St. Helens, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

William Least Heat-Moon stops momentarily in St. Helens, Oregon and asks people to name the mountains that overlook their town in the months before Mount St. Helens erupts.  While they all agree on Mount Hood, they can't get the others right.  I'm sure that changed when St. Helens blew its top.  If you want to locate St. Helens, Oregon, here's the map.

Book Quote

"St. Helens, Oregon, high above the river, was remarkable that day for splendidly clear views of the white summits of four great volcanoes: Rainier, St. Helens, and Adams northward across the river in Washington, and Mount Hood southeast in Oregon.  Each has its distinction:  Hood is the most notable American mountain named after an enemy military leader...; Mount Rainier, even after blasting away two thousand feet of summit, is still the highest volcano in the country; Mount St. Helens...youngest of the peaks, was quiet again but perking....And there's Mount Adams; poor Adams, second in height only to Rainier. remains the greatest unknown American mountain....

"To citizens of St. Helens, the names were insignificant anyway.  I asked three people to confirm which mountain was which; while all agreed on the location of Hood, they argued over the peaks in Washington.  To live so uninformed before such grandeur is the hallmark of a true native son."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 5

View in St. Helens, Oregon. Photo by Mary Pellegrini at the Oregon Bed and Breakfast Guild site. Click on photo to go to host page. St. Helens, Oregon

I've already focused on volcanoes in two previous posts in this Oregon series of quotes.  But it's hard to get through a post without a nod to Mount St. Helens, which on May 18, 1980 produced the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in United States history.  The eruption sheered 1300 feet from the volcano's height, sent a billowing plume of ash up to 16 miles high that eventually reached as far as Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and sent massive mud and debris flows down river and stream valleys.  57 people were killed.

LHM doesn't mention the eruption but does mention that St. Helens was "quiet again but perking."  I take that to mean that when he went through, the eruption hadn't happened yet.  If he may have seen steam coming from the top of the mountain, then he had to go through sometime between March 27th, 1980 and the May 18th eruption.

While Mount St. Helens, located in Washington but clearly visible from St. Helens, Oregon, is the youngest of the volcanoes in the region as LHM mentions, there are three others in that general vicinity that he also writes about.  Of the three others, Mount Ranier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.  It is on the "Decade" volcano listing because of the extreme danger it poses to a highly populated area (Seattle and Tacoma), especially since it has the characteristics for an explosive eruption like Mount St. Helens.  Oregon's Mount Hood has a 3-7 percent chance of erupting in the next 30 years, but is not considered to be a candidate for an explosive eruption like Mount St. Helens.  Mount Adams has showed very minor activity recently, and is considered dormant and not likely to erupt soon.

With all of these volcanoes on their very doorstep, I find it amusing that when LHM drove through, the residents he spoke to could only really identify hood out of the four volcanoes that they see every day, disagreeing on the rest.  I suppose that the eruption of Mount St. Helens meant that for a few years, at least, they were able to also identify that peak pretty quickly.  LHM's statement that living "so uninformed before such grandeur is the the hallmark of a true native son," is funny to me because I see it all the time.

Here's an example.  When I was growing up, a botanical garden was established in my hometown.  We never paid attention to it.  Occasionally when I mentioned it to my mother, she would dismiss it.  After all, we had the coast and could see practically all of it.  Why would we want to visit a place where we would have to pay when we could see it all for free?  Yet occasionally, after I moved away, I would meet someone who had visited my hometown, and would gush over the botanical gardens.  What an amazing place, they would say, as if I knew and had been there.  Of course I hadn't, and they were astounded that I'd never visited.  Of course, a few people in the town had been very dedicated to building it and making it such an attraction, but most of the town saw it as an attraction for tourists only.  It was only in the past 5 -10 years or so, with my mom firmly in her 70s, that I got her to visit.  And the place is beautiful.  It brings all of the flora that I would never be able to see in one day, week or even lifetime into a pleasant experience that could last me a morning or an afternoon.  My sister, who had never been, now goes regularly to meet with a friend and to enjoy all of the plants.

Another example from my experience.  North of my town was terra incognita to me and still is.  It is called "The Lost Coast" for a reason.  There are very few residents and a lot of rugged but beautiful territory.  My family rarely ventured north for anything.  Maybe, just maybe, we would go up to a small village about 15 miles north, but that was it.  A few years ago, my mom suggested that my wife and I visit a winery up there with her.  We took a picnic lunch and did some wine tasting at this lovely winery situated on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific.  Thinking that this was a new business, I asked the person pouring when the winery had opened, and was astounded to find out it had been open ten years.  My wife smacked me on the shoulder and said "you mean this has been here for ten years, since you first started bringing me here, and we've never been?"  I could only shrug.  We just didn't go north, ever.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course.  Many people know everything about their towns or cities or areas and are happily willing to tell you.  But many times I find that locals are oddly resistant to exploring their own areas.  My wife and I, adventurous souls, are often subject to comments about how much we explore in the city where we now live.  We have been to events and places that locals don't seem to know about or have never tried.  I find that kind of amazing, sometimes a little sad, and mostly amusing.  It bothers me sometimes that people are so uninterested in many of the things that make their towns, cities or areas special, but it's their choice, I guess.  When you live someplace, you have the right to take it for granted, even as others gush over it.

I think, however, should I visit St. Helens someday in the future, that I would love the vista.  The mighty Columbia River flowing right past the town, the four mountains visible in the distance.  That spectacular view would engage me because it's different.  Maybe if I lived there awhile, the view might become everyday and commonplace.  But I'd try not to let that happen.  Every so often, in this city where I now live, I make myself look out toward the mesa, toward the small dormant volcanoes at the top, or east toward the large mountain at the city's edge, and I make sure I appreciate it even for a small moment.

Musical Interlude

One famous resident of Spirit Lake, in the shadow of Mount Saint Helens, was a man named Harry Truman.  Truman refused to evacuate, saying that he had lived on the mountain and that he would die on the mountain if need be.  Truman did die when mud, water and ash overwhelmed Spirit Lake on May 18th, 1980.  A song was written about him by the band Headgear on their album Flight Cases, immortalizing the feisty man who died in the place he loved.

If you want to know more about St. Helens St. Helens
City of St. Helens
The Columbia River: St. Helens
Port of St. Helens
St. Helens Chronicle (newspaper)
Wikipedia: St. Helens

Next up: Portland, Oregon


Blue Highways: Crater Lake, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

I'm going back to a theme of volcanoes in this post.  When you read it, you'll understand how it fits in with William Leat Heat-Moon's journey of redemption, rebirth and self-discovery.  Now that we've traveled alongside him past three volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, I'll have to visit them.  View the map to locate the almost perfectly circular Crater Lake.

Book Quote

"Mount Mazama may be the greatest nonexistent fourteen-thousand foot volcano in the country.  Actually it isn't entirely nonexistent: only the top half is.  From the upper end of the Klamath basin, you can still see a massive, symmetrically sloping uplift of the mountain base.  Some six thousand years ago, geologists conjecture, the top of Mazama blew off in a series of ruinous eruptions and the sides collapsed into the interior.

"...I got out and looked around.  A brilliant night.  Trusting more than seeing, I walked through a tunnel in a snowdrift to the craterous rim of Mazama.  There, far below in the moonlight and edged with ice, lay a two-thousand-foot-deep lake.  Klamath braves used to test their courage by climbing down the treacherous scree inside the caldera; if they survived, they bathed in the cold water of the volcano and renewed themselves.  Also to this nearly perfect circle of water came medicine men looking for secrets of the Grandfathers.  Once a holy place, now Crater Lake is only a famous Oregon tourist attraction."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 2

Was this what William Least Heat-Moon saw from the rim of Crater Lake? Photo at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to site.

Crater Lake, Oregon

This post is back to volcanoes, but specifically, about the legends and symbolism that surround volcanoes.  You'll notice in the quote above that LHM writes about Crater Lake as a perfect circle of water, and that it drew both young Klamath men eager to test and renew themselves, and medicine men looking for secrets.  The symbolism of Crater Lake fits well into LHM's own journey, which he previously has described as circles within circles.  He is on a journey of his own renewal, so standing on the rim of the crater is very much in touch with two of the main themes of Blue Highways.

There is also the symbolism of Crater Lake's geological history.  Crater Lake is the collapsed caldera of what used to be Mount Mazama.  About seven thousand years ago, the volcano collapsed in a violent eruption that was fifty times more powerful than the explosion that obliterated the top of Mount Saint Helens in the 1980s.  Some of the accounts I've read have claimed that the ash material from such an explosion could have buried Rhode Island under 61 feet of ash, and if spread over the entire state of Oregon, would have covered it with nine inches of ash.  Volcanoes are always reshaping themselves.  The volcanoes of Hawaii do it in a slow ejection of lava which flows down the side of the volcano and builds it up during frequent eruptions and in slow motion.  However, the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest such as Lassen, Shasta, and the now extinct Mount Mazama, do it explosively, building up pressure as a magma dome pushes toward the surface and finally explodes outward.  Sometimes, these volcanoes are the seeds of their own destruction.  In New Mexico, where I live, the sides of a volcano in the Jemez Mountains collapsed in on itself numerous times over a million years ago, creating the 12 mile wide Valles Caldera.  2 million, 1 million and 640,000 years ago, the Yellowstone Caldera formed during three supereruptions, and is 34 miles by 45 miles wide.   Similarly, the explosion of Mount Mazama created a caldera 6 miles wide when the sides of the volcano collapsed inward and upon itself.  The caldera eventually filled with water and became Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States at almost 2,000 feet deep.

Why is this symbolic?  I believe that everyone goes through cycles of build-up and destruction, which leads to renewal.  You might have found that themes I'm focusing on, in tandem with LHM, are those like growth and renewal.  Every cycle of growth, it seems, is preceded by some degree of destruction.  Old patterns or outdated views and thoughts need to be discarded or dismantled as the growth process works.  After all, one cannot move toward a future by desperately clinging to the past.  Volcanoes are the ultimate in this type of renewal.  No matter what, they reshape themselves by either covering over their past selves with new material, or by obliterating it.

The first humans in the area of Mount Mazama, not understanding the violent geological forces at work around and beneath them, put their own symbolic explanation upon the catastrophic events that created Crater Lake.  In their explanation, handed down through their legends, the destruction of Mount Mazama was due to a cataclysmic battle between Llao, the Lord of the Below-World and Skell, the Lord of the Above-World. Llao, on one of his frequent forays to the Above-World, saw the daughter of a Klamath chieftain and fell in love with her.  However, being from the Below-World, he was not very attractive and, well, the Below-World was not where the chieftain's daughter had planned to make her home, so she rejected him.  Angry, Llao tried to her people by fire.  They called to Skell for help.

The legend seems to indicate that at this time, both Shasta and Mazama were in eruption, because it describes a titanic battle between Llao, at the summit of Mazama and Skell, at the summit of Shasta.  Huge boulders, red-hot, were thrown by each at the other.  The earth was full of tumult - landslides, eruptions, and other phenomena raged as all the spirits of sky, water and earth joined on one side or the other.  The Klamath people, afraid of what this battle would mean for the world, sent two medicine men to the Mazama volcano and they jumped into the roiling crater hoping that their sacrifice would calm the gods.  This urged Skell on.  In a final push, he overthrew Llao and threw him into the pit of Mazama and back into the Below-World.  He then filled in the hole and covered it with water to seal Llao in for eternity.

I really love how actual geologic events transform into these types of stories by ancestral peoples who are struggling to make sense of cataclysm and catastrophe.  Besides just two gods duking it out over a woman, one can read into this myth the overcoming of dark forces by light, the redemption of a people, or a war between halves of the human whole.  And all of this runs along a chain of common human themes right up into the present day, and therefore fits with LHM's journey and his attempts to renew himself after a time of personal catastrophe.

Off in California and Oregon, two mountains still stand.  One stands high, tall, and silent and perhaps will erupt to life again in a time of upheaval and chaos.  The other stands broken, a shadow of itself, an almost perfect circle of water and a popular tourist attraction as the myths of its origins fade.  They tell a story of a dynamic and sometimes violently evolving world, but they could easily be the stories of ourselves.

Musical Interlude

In keeping with the volcano theme, this song, Cities in Dust by the 1980s band Siouxsie and the Banshees, is about the destruction of the Italian city of Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79.  Volcanoes are fascinating both in their striking appearances and in their striking destructiveness.


If you want to know more about Crater Lake

Crater Lake Facts
Crater Lake National Park
Cultural History of Crater Lake
The Disappearance of Mount Mazama (from 1901)
US Geological Survey: Mount Mazama and Crater Lake
Volcano Legends
Wikipedia: Crater Lake
Wikipedia: Mount Mazama

Next up: Muir Creek and Salt Creek, Oregon


Blue Highways: Bieber, California

Unfolding the Map

You're not going to find any Justin Bieber jokes in this post.  Nope, we're going to concentrate on volcanoes, because that's what William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) writes about in his quote.  Volcanoes, as you'll learn, are another fascination of mine.  So check out the map, or, if you want to see a 3D rendering of Shasta, go to the Google Earth file!

Book Quote

"North of Bieber, on a whim, I followed the road to Lookout.  In the high valley lay marshes filled with yellow-headed blackbirds, pintails, cinnamon teals, willets, Canada geese.  The highway rose again into another volcanic region.  Mount Shasta, sixty miles west, isolated by its hugeness, haloed in clouds, looked like a Hokusai woodcut of Mount Fuji.  Perhaps it is the immensity of space around Shasta or the abundance of high peaks in the West that diminishes a mountain of such size and perfection in the American imagination, but in almost any other country, a volcano so big and well-made as Shasta would be a national object of reverence - as in fact it once was to the first men who lived under it."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1

Is this America's Mount Fuji? Mount Shasta. Photo on Jim Liatti's blog. Click on photo to go to site. I couldn't find a decent picture of Bieber.

Bieber, California

Volcanoes.  When I was growing up in northern California, I never realized how close they were to me.  Volcanoes were something that I'd see in the news every so often.  A South American volcano might blow its top, sending ash and steam high in the sky.  Occasionally, footage on TV would show hot, viscous lava oozing from a vent in a Hawaiian volcano.

The fact was that I was living almost in the shadows of volcanoes right in my back yard, and nobody told me.  Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta were both within a 2-3 hour driving distance from my home.  However, because my family never drove further north or east than we had to, I never learned that these were dormant volcanoes.  I thought of them as snow capped peaks somewhere to the east.

This was too bad, because in many ways I was fascinated with volcanoes, in the way that a little boy is always fascinated with things that are hot and fiery and explode.  I was also fascinated with war because of the explosions, air disasters, atomic weapons and other things or events that carried a loud, destructive bang.  The caveat:  they had to be at a distance because, and this applies even now, I don't like loud bangs and this was worse when I was a child.  As long as I could see them on TV where the volume was muted, or read about them in a book, I loved explosions.

So I read avidly about volcanoes around the world.  I learned that the volcano on Krakatoa erupted in what was perhaps the loudest and largest explosion in recorded history, obliterating a good portion of the island, sending a shock wave thousands of miles, and generated a powerful tsunami.  I thrilled reading about the people mummified alive in the volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii.  I watched with fascination as footage on TV and in educational films showed a new island being born off the coast of Iceland.  And of course, I was riveted to the television during high school, watching over and over the footage from Mount St. Helens when it blew its side out in a massive explosion that killed a number of people, sent steam and ash into the atmosphere, caused hot boiling mud to cascade down canyons and rivers, and rained ash upon Portland, Oregon and other cities over a wide area.

Years later, in Albuquerque on a vacation, I realized that the conical projections on the mesa west of the city, and which can be easily seen from where I now live, were in fact the remnants of small, dead volcanoes.  They formed between 150,000 and 100,000 years ago along a fissure in the earth's crust.  As we traveled on that vacation in the state's Jemez Mountains, we chanced upon the Valles Caldera, a huge collapsed-in crater of an extinct supervolcano that measures about 12 miles in diameter.  This volcano erupted last about 50,000 years ago.  South of Albuquerque, near Socorro, the El Malpais lava flows are so recent that the first humans in the area may have seen them still smoking.  Today, the lava flows look like someone took black soft-serve ice cream and dumped it along the freeway where it congealed and hardened.

I was in San Salvador, El Salvador for a month in January 2008, and the city lived under the looming presence of a volcano.  At one point during my trip, I stood on the slopes of the volcano in a coffee growing area and saw steam rising out of vents right by the trail.  I never thought I'd stand on an actual working volcano, but there it was.

Volcanoes are apt metaphors for life.  Our world was forged, almost as if it were a pot, through spinning forces that shaped it into a sphere.  The middle of the sphere is molten, and early on that molten material spewed out and hardened into the earth's crust, which today still is shaped by forces deep within the core.  The world may seem calm, placid and serene, but as the occasional earthquake erupting volcano remind us, deep within the earth is a raging maelstrom that largely supports life but occasionally brings death upon us.

It is telling that the largest known mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons on Mars, is a volcano.  A thirteen mile high volcano on what appears to be a placid planet surface.

We often speak of people similarly, particularly when it comes to emotions.  Anger can be volcanic.  I tend to be placid on the surface even as emotional storms rage within.  If, like in volcanic activity, pressure builds up inside I may erupt in anger, an outburst that spews the ash and lava of my inner turmoil but which allows me to subside, pressure relieved.  Love has often been described as volcanic in nature, erupting in heat and flame and subsiding again, lying dormant before raging to life again.  Everything in the universe seems to have the face that is shown outwardly and conceals the raging inferno within.  Volcanoes, seen in this way, just give us a glimmer of the truth of what's inside, whether it's the full face of our planet or a human volcano ready to rage, love or both.

Musical Interlude

How can you have a post about volcanoes if you don't have Jimmy Buffett singing Volcano in the background?  You can't!

If you want to know more about Bieber

Big Balley News for Adin, Bieber, Lookout and Nubieber Bieber
Wikipedia: Bieber
YouTube tour of Bieber by Tommy "Kayak" Cox

Next up: Tulelake, California