Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 19: Bodie Ghost Town, Mono Lake, and Devil's Postpile at Mammoth Lakes

Our first stop today was at the ghost town of Bodie, definitely the best ghost town we've seen (and said to be the best in the country). This old gold mining town has been left nearly completely untouched since it's people abandoned Bodie--glass bottles still on the table, furniture still in place, and even old cars and signs still left outside. An eerie chill still still raises goose bumps when I look at some of these pictures.

We left the dirt road at Bodie and soon arrived at Mono Lake, a stunning blue landscape amid a seemingly barren desert. We are lucky to have this pristine basin of blue today, as it was almost completely gone until the government put a stop to using the water for nearby Los Angeles. This lake acts as an important buffer to keep the area cooler in the summer and warmer in the harsh winters.

After lunch, we arrive at Mammoth Lakes to check out Devils Postpile National Monument. We were given time to go on a mini hike, which left me refreshed after several days spending long--very, very long--hours in the van. The forest is absolutely beautiful here and the brief hike to the impressive 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 sided columns at Devils Post Pile was just what my travel weary bones needed. We took a shuttle down from a busy ski area (no one is skiing now of course, but there is a lot of mountain biking here) to the trail to see where volcanic basalt rocks crystallized in stunning shapes and pattern. These rocks formed below the surface but were revealed when glaciers eroded the layers above them.

On our way to our hotel, we practiced being real geologists (okay, real amateur geologists) and "read the landscape" to see if we could identify all the geological features in the diverse landscape through which we passed on our way to Bishop, CA. It was thrilling to see how much we could identify. What used to look like mysterious scenery to me, now tells a story about the sculpting of Earth as we know it today. I've always treasured the outdoors, and now I'm really beginning to understand them and their appeal. This knowledge doesn't take away any of the mystery; rather, my deeper understanding of the ground I hike on and the mountains I climb only fills me with more awe, wonder, and gratitude than ever before.

Anticlines above a fault scarp indicate high prevalence of tectonic activity in this region.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, after day 19 I lost internet access and I also lost steam in terms of updating the blog.  To sum up the last day: Yosemite was crowded, but lovely.  Sequoia had a lot of really big trees.

I wrote a 42-page paper about the geology of the national parks, took a test, 
and got an A in the course. 
I also I have a long list of places to re-visit some day.

Day 18: Mt Lassen and Lake Tahoe

Once again, we were met with another road closing when we arrived at today's park: Mt. Lassen. Fortunately, we were able to get into the park, just not drive all the way through it (thanks to 15 feet of snow--which was melted down from the original 27 feet), increasing the length of our drive to Lake Tahoe. The long drives seem to be getting to many of us (including myself) and we all looked forward to a relaxing afternoon at the lake where we could stretch our van-cramped legs and dip our toes in the water.

Mt Lassen is the Southernmost volcano of the High Cascades, although many other volcanoes are still seen farther south, but these are part of the Sierra Nevada range. Lassen's last eruption was in 1915, an episode that remained rather active until 1917.

We then visited the nearby Sulfur Works, which are reminiscent of a more humble version of the hot springs at Yellowstone, but the stench (likened to that of rotten eggs... among other odors) seemed far worse here.

After a very long drive, we finally made it to Lake Tahoe, where a few friends and I just walked along the water's edge enjoying the beach atmosphere backdropped with snow capped mountains. The family-friendly environment reminded me of my childhood days spent on the lake with our family's boat. Fortunately, I don't get to weighed down by homesickness because I know that I still have so much to see--especially Yosemite and King Sequoia National Parks!

At the end of a very long day, we enjoyed a great dinner at an authentic barbecue restaurant.

Day 17: Pumice Mine, Crater Lake, and Mt. Shasta

Our first stop today was at the Chemult (Oregon) Pumice Mine, where we were given a tour of the grounds to see where the pumice used in landscaping, cat litter, garden nurseries, etc comes from. We had fun walking through the piles of finely ground pumice as well as picking up not-so-heavy boulders--and of course, taking some home for ourselves.

Next we arrived at the awe-inspiring Crater Lake National Park. We stopped at many scenic viewpoints and found it to be rather chilly and windy here for July, especially at the higher elevations, where temperatures were as low as 54 degrees. Crater lake is a caldera produced by a volcanic eruption when the magma chamber collapsed in on itself, approximately 7,700 years ago. A new volcano formed, called Wizard Island, and provides a unique feature on the edge of the crystal blue lake.

After a picnic, we had another very long drive into California, but finally (and sleepily) arrived at Mount Shasta, our last stop of the day. We couldn't see the summit due to cloud covering, but the effect was all the more ominous and impressive. As we drove past Mt. Shasta, passing it on our left, we could see countless other cinder cone volcanoes on our right. In fact, there were so many volcanoes, our professor referred to the landscape as a "teenagers face."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 16: Mt. Saint Helens

Today we arrived at Mt. Saint Helens Volcanic Monument, entering from the other side where the entrance roads were not closed due to (we assume) snow.

Mt Saint Helens, as well as Mt Rainier, are part of the High Cascades. This particular volcano has been active for a long time, considering its oldest rocks are 37,000 years old. Although earthquakes were growing more frequent, at the the end of March 1980 no one thought an eruption was possible. By the end of April, police strongly encouraged evacuations, but mandatory evacuations did not exist at that time. Not everyone left, including one man who decided to stay because his wife was buried in his backyard.  The man claimed he had chosen that location for his home because he "wanted to be closer to God." Well, if that was his intention, he chose wisely. On May 18, 1980 at 8:32pm, Mt. Saint Helens finally erupted. The explosion was so powerful, a third of the cone was completely destabilized, which can be seen by the pictures below. The nearby valley was filled with a hot mud flow, killing many people, and ash covered many states in the vicinity. The air blast knocked down trees and took lives as far as 20 miles away.

After a picnic on the deck of a ski lodge that was closed for the season, we had a very long drive (about 4 hours), stopping only for pit stops--one of which was at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation that had a great gift shop where I bought a children's book called Coyote Places the Stars which I look forward to housing in my future classroom someday. I feel that this trip will really enhance my effectiveness as an educator; some of my most inspiring teachers were travelers and dreamers.  I like to think that is one of my strongest characteristics as a teacher, one not found in any textbook.

Eventually, we arrived at the Newberry Park Basaltic Lava Flows. Here we walked along a path surrounded by what is known in Hawaii as "aa lava" (pronounced "ah-ah"), which is so named because it's apparently rather painful to walk on barefoot and "ah-ah" is the sound you make when you do.  We chose not to find out for ourselves.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 15: Mount Rainier National Park

This morning we had a long drive to Mount Rainier. Before arriving at the actual park we first stopped at the Columbia River Gorge, where we could see the large lava flows of basalt rocks that have formed the Columbia Plateau. Signs warned us to watch for rattlesnakes, which seemed appropriate because the landscape really reminded me of the desolate Death Valley from the first days of our trip.

However, the landscape quickly changed as we neared the park. Lush green forests filled with towering conifers and low-lying ferns occupied the landscape that was backdropped by snowcapped mountains and the monolithic volcano--Mt. Rainier. Once we arrived at the park, our first stop was for a picnic at White River, and then to a scenic lookout to view one of the volcanoes 26 glaciers, which have carved the pointed horns of the mountains and rounded valleys below. Despite the warm air and rather hot sun, the snow is so deep here that it never gets a chance to melt.

Then we stopped at Sunrise Point to catch a great view of the largest volcano in the lower 48. Mt. Rainier is still an active volcano today, and although it's last true eruption was somewhere between 500-600 years ago, a minor steam eruption occurred in 1963. A volcano is considered active as long as it has erupted in the last 5,000 years (or since man has had the ability to write).

Next we began the long drive to Mt Saint Helens, but sadly we had to turn around when we found that both roads leading into the park from the East were closed (we don't really know why). This meant we had to stay at a different hotel than originally planned (losing some money because they would not refund the reservations).  We will attempt to enter the park from the West tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!

We did get to see this guy today peaking up mischievously over a snow mound: