Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for...Volcanoes


I tossed this one around for a while, and the only mountain I came up with was the Vinson Massif.  Which is actually totally cool. I mean, the Vinson Massif is the high point of Antarctica, at 16,050'. It's not a technically difficult climb, aside from being in Antarctica, which adds more than enough challenge. It is almost all glacier (big surprise) with a bit of rock sticking out of the top.

But right now, volcanoes are my focus. They are in the news, of course, with Chile's Calbuco volcano erupting. That volcano is part of the Ring of Fire, the circle of volcanoes (and earthquake zones--the two are, of course, related) all around the Pacific.

I grew up with volcanoes. Mt. Rainier was "our" volcano, the one we could see from our house (though happily far enough away that we'd be okay if it erupted. Probably).
Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail, looking over the Winthrop Glacier to the cloud-wrapped summit.
But of course the whole range is volcanoes. If you start at Mt. Baker near the Canadian border, and count them all down to Mt. Lassen in northern California (the southernmost of the Cascades), there are about 15 major volcanoes. The range actually extends on up into British Columbia, adding 5 more.

These volcanoes are the result of plate tectonics, as three minor plates along the western edge of the continent dive beneath the North American plate. That subduction zone creates both earthquakes and places where the molten rock forces its way back up through the surface--volcanoes. In the millenia since the mountains formed, all have been shaped and carved by glaciers, as well.

Glacier Peak

And these Cascade Mountain are, for the most part, live volcanoes. The most recent eruption, of course, was Mt. St. Helens in 1980. In 2005, on our way to Seattle, we  noticed that it was a very clear day and detoured to the Clearwater Ridge Visitor's Center for a nice view of what was left of the mountain. The wind was howling so hard our kids, then only 6 & 8, couldn't stand up!

Not steam or ash this time, but clouds and blowing snow.

Before St. Helens, the most recent eruption was Lassen, in 1917. But Glacier, Baker, Rainier, Hood, and Shasta have all erupted within the last 2-400 years.

In 1989 I climbed Mt. St. Helens, or what was left of it. Lousy weather conditions made for poor visibility as well as photography, but we did see down into the crater, to where the mountain was already working at rebuilding:
This is a view out the blast zone, where the mountain vaporized its own side.
In 1988, I climbed Mt. Adams with some friends. Though 12,280', it isn't a particularly technical climb, though we did use ice axe and crampons for security on the high slopes.
Mt. Adams "Base camp", also known as The Lunchcounter. Note the high-fashion long underwear-and-shorts combo. This was the 80s, for sure (though I have to say the combo made a lot of sense in the conditions in Washington).

Mt. Adams summit. I believe that in the end we went up the bare slopes, for the most part, but came down the snow in a couple of long glissades that took the seat out of my pants!

Friday, April 24, 2015

U: Ubehebe Crater (Flash Fiction)

U is for Ubehebe Crater. Partly just because I like to say it (pronounce all the letters: you-bee-hee-bee. Fun). Since it's Friday, it's also a Flash Fiction day, and I combined this with the Chuck Wendig weekly writing challenge--this time, to pick an opening sentence from some 400 posted last week by his readers. I read them until I found one that I thought fit my peak of the day, and wrote 750 words (even though Chuck gave us up to 2000 this time, I thought I'd keep it a little shorter for the A to Z folks). The sentence, which I took the liberty of modifying into two sentences, was by Ada Ireland.


They say to err is human, to forgive divine. The second half of that saying is a complete lie. Consider the incident at Ubehebe Crater. That sounds like the title of a Hardy Boys mystery, but it was deadly serious to me. Unfortunately for me, it was equally serious to the gods involved.

I don’t even know exactly which gods were there. Probably Pele; it is, after all, a volcanic crater. But she wasn’t alone, not by a long chalk, and none of the gods did much forgiving that day.

After saying so much, I suppose I’d better tell you the whole story. See, I went there because I’d heard there were some interesting things living in the silty mud puddle at the bottom of the crater. And I went at night, because I didn’t have the proper permits for my research, and National Parks are a bit fussy that way. I suppose that was my first all-too-human error: thinking my work was more important than the rules.

But that was a human error with human consequences. It was the other error that led to the real trouble.

When I got to the rim of the crater, there was no one around. It wasn’t closed, exactly, because there aren’t any gates or anything. But there isn’t much point in sight-seeing in the dark, and with the tourists long gone to their dinners and beds, there were no rangers, either.

The wind was blowing hard on the rim, as it usually does in the spring. I knew it would be better once I was down in the crater, so I grabbed the pack with my research equipment and headed down the trail fast. I didn’t bother with a light, since there was enough moonlight to see my way, and nothing much to trip over.

I got to the bottom, and sure enough, there’d been just enough rain to maintain puddle down there. It’s a shallow mess of this incredible red silt, so fine it pretty much just stays suspended in the water. Just in case the creatures were light sensitive, I scooped up a bunch of the muck into my specimen containers before I turned on my headlamp. No one would see my light unless they were on the rim, so it was safe enough now.

That was my next and more serious error. I assumed that human observers were my only worry. I happily shone my light into the selected muck, and studied the creatures wriggling in the red silt. Sure enough, those were like nothing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t wait to get a few back to the lab and study them.

I didn’t want to endanger any rare species, so I selected just four specimens and returned the rest to their mud puddle. Stowing the others in my pack, I turned to go.

And came face to glowing face with something that I could only vaguely comprehend.

“You would steal our young?” The voice echoed and boomed, though I think the sounds were confined to the inside of my head.

I opened my mouth, and the entity waved an appendage. “There can be no defense. Return the spawn to their nest!”

I was a little slow to work that out, and before I could figure it out and remove my pack again, the being chose to nudge me along with a bit of a lightning bolt. I thought it was only Zeus who did that, and maybe Odin. But this deity—and I had no doubt that I had offended whatever god rules over the desolate volcanic lands of Death Valley—was well-armed. When I turned and thought about trying to escape, I heard voices echoing all around me, warning me to stand. She—he?—wasn’t alone.

Very carefully, I removed my pack, took out the specimen bottles, and released the strange squigglers back into their muck. Then I turned to climb out of the pit. I’d done what they asked, and promised aloud to leave and never come back. No harm, no foul, right?

Wrong. The gods don’t forgive. They are rather more interested in vengeance.


My puddle is drying fast under the desert sun. If there is no more rain, the water will all be gone in another two days, and I will die, for a frog requires water. The squigglers have vanished; I don’t know how or where.

I wonder if they have discovered my car yet, and what the rangers will think. I don’t think the gods left a note.

Ubehebe Crater is in the north end of Death Valley, not far from Scotty's Castle. It is the blown-out remains of a small volcano, which spewed cinders all around before and during the massive steam explosion that changed it from a cone to a crater. It is 600 feet deep and a half mile across.
Ubehebe Crater in 2005. You can see the puddle in the bottom; there was no water down there in April 2015!

Yes, there are strange little wigglers in that puddle, or there were in 2005.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T: Telescope Peak

Also Treasure Mountain, by Louis L'Amour, because I can!

First, Telescope Peak. Telescope Peak is the peak that stands on the West side of Death Valley, and towers over Badwater (the lowest spot in North America). It is 11,048' high, which puts it 11,331' above the view of it from Badwater (282' below sea level). Straight line between the alkali flats and the summit is 20 miles, so that's a lot of relief!

In spring of a good year (i.e. one when CA has seen some precipitation), the summit of the peak is buried in snow even when the bottom of the Valley is scorching. The trail, 14 miles round trip from the road's end at Mahogany Flat campground doesn't usually become passable without crampons and winter gear until mid-May.

 It's hard to get the color right--the salt at Badwater is white like snow, which is always hard to shoot.
Badwater and Telescope peak. 1998 was a wet year, reflected in the heavy snow cover (and great wildflowers down below).

Now for the book review:


Title: Treasure Mountain
2068755Author: Louis L'Amour
Publisher: Bantam, 1972. 192 pages
Source:  library (digital)

Summary: Louis L'Amour invented the Sackett family and, eventually, tracked their history through 2 or 3 centuries though most of the books were of course set in the Frontier West period. In this book, Tell and Orrin Sackett are on a quest to find out what happened to their father, who disappeared into the west 20 years before. The quest starts in New Orleans, but ends in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, with (of course) a great deal of struggle and not a few good fights along the way.

I can't review a book like this as though it were Anna Karinina. L'Amour's westerns were never meant to be great literature, and they aren't. Sometimes they aren't even very well written (though this one seemed more free than most of the kinds of flaws that annoy me), but most are reasonably well plotted and all are delightfully embarrassing to love. 

Recommendation: For anyone who loves Westerns, and hopeless romantics.

Full Disclosure: I checked Treasure Mountain out of my digital library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."