My Mount St. Helens Adventure: FOWC

On May 18, 1980, a trip to help band golden eagles at the Yakima Canyon in eastern Washington turned into an unexpected Mount St. Helens adventure.

Mount St. Helens, Washington March 1980
Mount St. Helens in March 1980

The adventure begins

I was part of the Young Adult Conservation Corps, working for the Washington Department of Game in Olympia, Washington. We spent most of our time in the office, but we took occasional field trips. One of the wildlife biologists invited four of us to help him band eagles and we were excited to get out in the field. 

Virginia rail by Becky Matsubara
Virginia rail by Becky Matsubara

     We piled into John’s Volkswagen van and took off for eastern Washington. John suggested stopping at Crab Creek Habitat Management Area, 20 minutes south of Royal City, to do a little birdwatching before driving south to meet the biologist. We stopped and saw yellow-headed blackbirds, cinnamon teal and other kinds of ducks, a short-eared owl, and two Virginia rails with a newly hatched chick.

Google map showing location of Mount St. Helens & Royal City, Washington
The red marker indicates the location of Mount St. Helens and the yellow marker shows the location of Royal City, Washington.

     We drove along the road bordering Crab Creek. There was talk of taking our raft down the creek. Nobody could decide what to do so we pulled off the main road onto a minor side road a half a mile from Smyrna. We had no idea how long we would end up staying on that side road.

Yellow-headed blackbird Rising above the mist 6April2018
Yellow-headed blackbird

     We got out of the van to check out the creek and noticed what looked like a storm brewing in the west. John, who was familiar with the area, said that if we rafted the creek, we would see more than we could by car. The rest of us were hesitant about rafting if there was any possibility of rain. As we stood there trying to decide what to do, a “storm” drifted into the valley. John kept saying it wouldn’t matter if we got a little wet and kept insisting we should raft the creek. We still couldn’t decide what to do.

  At around 8:30 a.m., we heard what sounded like two sonic booms. We figured the sound came from the nearby Yakima Firing Range, where the United States Army did training exercises. A little while after that, we heard thunder and Dave and I thought we smelled rain. This was Sally’s first time in eastern Washington. She had recently moved from Pennsylvania, and we were busy explaining to her that sometimes big thunderstorms move through eastern Washington. By this time you couldn’t see the far end of the valley and lightning crackled across the sky. John mentioned that he’d gone to college in Ellensburg, an hour west of us, and thunderstorms were common. The rest of us believed him at that point, but we had concerns about the storm.

Uh… that’s not a thunderstorm

     The clouds kept moving in until they covered half the sky. Electrical wires overhead buzzed from the electricity in the air. The buzz would get louder until a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder would rock the valley and then the buzz would start again. Meanwhile, the clouds overhead looked like someone had spilled an enormous bowl of gray-colored popcorn and it had spread across the sky. We started talking about how we had never seen clouds like that. Dave, who was from Alabama, said it looked like a tornado sky.

Ash cloud from Mount St. Helens' eruption, 18 May 1980
The ash cloud

As we talked, the clouds changed again. Now they looked like gigantic fists pounding down on us. By this time, John had given up on rafting the creek and he ran to the van to get his camera. I asked him to grab mine, and we both took pictures of the amazing clouds as they formed overhead. If you followed one it would move downward, exploding into a black haze.

     The immense dark clouds now covered about three quarters of the sky. It was dark overhead, and the only light left was in the east. The effect was that of an eerie sunset, but it was 11:00 in the morning. The darkness continued to move across the sky until only a sliver of light remained on the horizon.

Mount St. Helens, Washington March 1980
Mount St. Helens in March 1980

     At about this time, Sally said she felt something falling on her face. She asked us if we felt it and we said “no” but one by one we felt something falling on us too. John turned on the radio in the van. It said, “In case you haven’t heard, Mount St. Helens has blown.” We looked at each other in disbelief and John let out a hoot and said the mountain “had finally done it.” Several weeks before, we had taken a quick trip to the west side of the mountain for a planned Mount St. Helens adventure. On that trip, we took pictures of the mountain venting steam.

We were excited and didn’t know what to do next. Everyone decided we better get into the van when the ash fall got heavy. It was also getting dark out. The ash was coming down so heavy it was impossible to go out without something covering your mouth. We were 120 miles northeast of Mount St. Helens, directly in the ash’s path. Lightning still flashed every once in a while, spreading in a horizontal direction, like fingers reaching across the sky. The flashes were the only outside light we would glimpse for many hours.

The long dark day

     It was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The time was around 11:30 a.m. We didn’t know how long we would be there so we only turned on the radio every once in a while. The disc jockeys were excited about the eruption and played songs like “Volcano” by Jimmy Buffet and “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. I remember part of Jimmy Buffet’s lyrics in particular: “I don’t know where I’m going to go when the volcano blows.” We had one beer in the van and shared it in a toast to the volcano. We got out a flashlight and spread a map outside to collect ash.

     I lit a candle lantern but a little while later we dug out John’s Coleman lantern. We only kept the light on for brief periods of time because it would get too hot in the van. Whenever we opened the window, ash and mosquitoes would pour into the van. We wondered how long we would be in there and what we would do to pass the time.

     We talked about what we were experiencing for a while. If we hadn’t been near a radio, we could have thought this was a nuclear explosion and that stuff falling from the sky was radioactive fallout. With the sky being so dark and everything so quiet, it would have been easy to think it was the end of the world. We should have been in a panic, but we were calm about the whole situation. The darkness surrounding us had a kind of presence, but it wasn’t a frightening one.

Okay, now what?

     As it became more and more clear that we might be stuck where we were for a while, we started trying to think of things to do. We were lucky we had plenty of food because our plan was to meet four other people and we had enough for everyone for four days. We couldn’t cook anything, but we had plenty of vegetables to snack on and peanut butter and jelly to make sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the easiest things to make. Dave, who once worked as a camp counselor, sang us a camp song about the sandwiches in his soft southern drawl.

Peanut butter & jelly sandwich 10 May 2020
Peanut butter & jelly sandwich

     “First you take the peanuts and you crunch ’em, you crunch ‘em… For your peanut, peanut butter and jelly. Peanut, peanut butter and jelly.”

     He cracked us up because of the funny way he sang and danced to the song. Dave pretended to pick grapes, crush peanuts, and spread peanut butter and jelly onto bread. Every time he said the word “jelly” he raised his voice for emphasis. It was easy to imagine how his rendition would entertain young campers.  

   After that, we started telling dumb jokes and singing camp songs. When we started running out of those, John said he thought he had a deck of cards in the van. He found them, and we played cards for a long time.

     We would shut off the light every once in a while because of the heat and to check if it was still dark. It was early afternoon, and the sky was pitch black. When we opened the van door and turned the light on, the mosquitoes and moths would come inside again. We spent a long time trying to get rid of the mosquitoes. They were big ones! As it got later in the day, we thought about sleeping arrangements. We rearranged our gear, including the rubber raft, cooler, and bags of food, to find a place to sleep semi-comfortably.

Meeting some local wildlife

     Around this time, we heard a big thud against the side of the van. We looked at each other and when we realized none of us had made the noise, we rushed to lock the doors. I don’t know why, but everyone had the same thought at the same time. We wondered if something had run into the van. John turned on his headlights and we saw a duck lying on the ground. It must have flown into the van because it couldn’t navigate in the darkness. The duck was flapping around like the collision injured it, so I jumped out to check if it was okay. The bird flew off after a couple unsuccessful attempts so it must not have been hurt too badly.

Young swallows in Bend, Oregon 14 August 2016
Young barn swallows

     A little while later, when we had the light on, a swallow flew around the windows like it was trying to get into the van. The swallow perched on the windshield wipers for a while and then it would flutter around again. The animals were feeling the effects of the heavy ash fall. John and I thought about the Virginia rail chick we had seen that morning. It was so young it wasn’t yet able to stand. It was likely covered by ash now. We would see more effects on the local wildlife when we woke up the next morning.

     By evening we were getting restless and eager for some sign that we would see the light of day again. At around 8:30 p.m., we got a brief glimpse of the landscape. It was light enough to make out the hills surrounding us, but not enough to see very far down the valley. The quick glimpse showed us the ash covering everything, and it was still falling. Dave and John set out a tarp to collect more ash. The map we had laid out earlier had about ¾ of an inch of ash on it. Darkness came again as night fell. The night was quiet and starless.

A glimpse of light after Mount St. Helens eruption 19 May 1980
A glimpse of daylight in the evening

A new day

     We woke the next morning to an unfamiliar world. It was like a layer of gray snow had covered the land. Before, the plants had been green and growing and now they were a pale gray color and bent over from the weight of the ash. The ash covering the ground was nearly two inches deep. The consistency was like baby powder. If you picked up a handful and threw it in the air, it would stay suspended for a while. If you stepped onto it, it was like moon dust. It would whoosh around the sides of your shoe and when you moved your foot away, a deep and perfect print would remain.

Cinnamon Teal 30March2018
Cinnamon teal

     As we looked around, there were signs that animals had been very active during the night. Everywhere you looked, you saw tracks. It’s too bad we didn’t have a field guide to animal tracks with us because this would have been the perfect opportunity to use it. Rabbit, mouse, and bird tracks ran in neat lines across the ash. Several tracks formed intricate designs like those of the beetle we observed trudging across this new ash-covered world. It would do loops, turns, stop, and then do it again. Ants tunneled their way out of the thick ash, already adapting to the unfamiliar landscape. An occasional duck would fly by, and a few floated in the nearby creek. The animals were trying to adapt to this altered world, but they didn’t all survive the extended gloomy night.

Making our way towards civilization

Nursing a beer, stranded on a Mount St. Helens adventure 18 May 1980
Nursing our single beer

     We decided we had better try to get out of there and back to civilization. John and Dave picked up the tarp and guessed it held ten pounds of ash. We collected ash in containers and ended up collecting a lot on our shoes and clothing. The ash was still thick in the air and we wore bandanas to help keep it out of our noses and mouths. We took pictures of everyone looking like a bunch of bank robbers.

     A couple cars drove by in the distance so everyone decided we should try to get going too. We got in the van to drive to Odessa, an hour and a half to the northeast. The route went up a hill and after we had driven a few miles, the van conked out. It had overheated. This VW van was air cooled, taking air in through collectors on the sides and circulating the air around the engine. The hot, ash-filled air wasn’t cooling the engine down enough. John got mad and took a walk. When he came back, he told us there was an intersection not too far up the hill. Luckily the van started, and we took off towards “civilization.”

     Every time a car drove on the roads, it would kick up huge dust clouds that were almost impossible to see through. The main east-west highway in Washington State, Interstate 90, was closed because of the heavy accumulation of ash. 

An enormous amount of ash fell at Mount St. Helens, but as it drifted east, accumulations were heavier in certain parts of eastern Washington. We later learned that prior to the eruption, the mountain measured 9,677 feet at the summit. After the eruption, it measured 8,363 feet. A lot of that material had shot up into the atmosphere.

Ash fallout from the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. USGS.
The distribution of ash fallout from the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. USGS.

Royal City

     After stopping at a corner store and attempting to call Olympia, we headed for Royal City. The people at the store told us the church there was taking in travelers. The population of Royal City in 1980 was 676 people. We drove to the nearby church and the van almost died again. The van made it to the church and we ended up staying there with about 75 other people for four days.

     We donated most of our food to the church so they could share it with the other stranded travelers. The majority of the food served was from the community and there was plenty for everyone. We ate a lot of delicious home-canned vegetables and fruit.

Mount St. Helens adventure in Royal City, Washington 18 May 1980
The parking lot at the church in Royal City, Washington

     The pastor, his wife, and the sheriff showed great patience in a tough situation. During the last two days of our stay, people were getting antsy to get out of there and they were getting on each other’s nerves. Sally, Dave, John, and I were getting along fine and passed time by telling more dumb jokes.

     “Why did the cowboy want a dachshund? So he could get a long little doggie.”

Miniature dachshund by Ellen Levy Finch
Miniature dachshund by Ellen Levy Finch

     We went to the high school to take showers and once to play basketball and volleyball. As soon as you walked outside, you felt dirty because of the intense heat and the ash floating through the air. Back at the church, the pastor got everyone singing after dinnertime every day to get their minds off the situation. One night they sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and then a song about the walls of Jericho tumbling down. I don’t think most people even realized how the songs applied to our predicament.

      With the help of the townspeople, we made it through our time in Royal City. They made plans for a convoy with patrol cars, graders, and firetrucks with hoses to help us get back home. Water from the hoses helped to keep the ash down briefly. The convoy would leave the next morning.

The journey home

     When we woke up the next morning, the parking lot was almost empty because everyone drove by themselves. We took off with a couple from Seattle following us. It’s good they did because after the van broke down twice in 15 miles, we abandoned it. We left the van at a farm and gave them our food that would have spoiled. The six of us squeezed into the Seattle couple’s compact car and drove to Bellevue, where John’s parents lived. This ride normally took two-and-a-half hours, but it took way longer that day.

     John and Dave drove back to get the van the next day. They towed it to John’s parent’s house and worked on it. The ash had been very cruel to the van and unfortunately it would never run again. The van delivered us from our secluded ash-covered camp and worked a couple more times, but it just couldn’t make it the entire way.

Mount St. Helens adventure February 2020
Mount St. Helens in the foreground flanked by Mount Rainier (on the left) and Mount Adams (on the right) in February 2020

     When we finally returned to our offices in Olympia, it was like the four of us were joined at the hip. We moved in a herd from room to room. Because of our shared experiences, we couldn’t bear to be apart for a while.

     We will always remember this once in a lifetime Mount St. Helens adventure.

Mount St. Helens adventure February 2020
Closer view of Mount St. Helens in February 2020.

Written in May 1980 and edited for clarity. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

About the pictures

Today’s Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC) word is “photograph.” I was lucky because I had before, during, and after photographs for this story. I took a lot of pictures when the eruption was happening but I had a little problem. Ash got into my camera and destroyed it. The handful of pictures I was able to save were overexposed. If only I would have had a smartphone!

Go on your own Mount St. Helens adventure

You can learn more about the mountain at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, the Charles W. Bingham Forest Learning Center , the Mount St. Helens Science & Learning Center, and the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Making the cut-Capitol Reef National Park: LAPC

The Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week is cropping the shot. I’m sharing before and after images taken at Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey, Utah. These pictures show examples of making the cut to highlight the subject matter.

Sometimes you want to cut a road out of the picture so you can focus on the scenery. I loved the layered land forms at this park.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
Before…
Making the cut (cropped image) Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
and after.

Other times there’s a sign you overlooked. How did I not see that?

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
Before…
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
and after.

But there are other times when you want to emphasize a sign.

Sign at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
Before…
Making the cut (cropped image) of sign Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
and after.

I was interested in that sign because a thunderstorm was about to break. Needless to say, we did not drive down the narrow canyon.

Note: I also used a perspective correction tool in my photo editing program to straighten the sign.

Sometimes a place deserves a more panoramic view so you give it a little trim. You have to decide where the best place is when you’re making the cut. Hope I didn’t cut it too short.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
Before…
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
and after.

And then there are times when you add a little hidden Easter egg and wonder if anyone will notice it when you share the final cropped photo.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
Before…
Making the cut (cropped image) Capitol Reef National Park, Utah May 2017
and after.

Do you see the tiny tan smudge in the lower left corner on one of the flat rocks? That’s a white-tailed antelope squirrel traveling at Rocky J. Squirrel speed. Not a great picture of it, but good enough that I could identify it later. 😀

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Cropping the Shot

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: LAPC

When I saw that the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week was A River Runs Through It, I immediately thought of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

This river meanders its way through colorful rock formations

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 13 June 2011

And pounds down in the Upper Falls

Upper Falls, Yellowstone National Park 13 June 2011

Past pine forests

Pine trees along Yellowstone River, Wyoming 13 June 2011

And into the Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming 13 June 2020

Artist Thomas Moran captured the river’s spirit in this painting, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. He and others on the Hayden Expedition of 1871 traveled to the greater Yellowstone area and documented what they encountered. They were instrumental in the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in March of 1872.

Thomas Moran used his artistic skills to capture outstanding features in vibrant paintings of the landscape. He was an influencer in his time. See more of his work at Painter of Yellowstone.

Thomas Moran 1872 Painting of Yellowstone River. Smithsonian

Photo Bloopers 4: More photo fun

It’s time once again for fun with photos. Welcome to Photo Bloopers 4! This is what I do with pictures that don’t quite fit in or turned out weird looking. They needed a few words to make them more interesting. Hope they entertain you!

Photo bloopers Ground squirrel at Lava Butte, Oregon July 2018
Painted Hills in Oregon with funny caption October 2018
Western juniper tree burdened with cones (berries) August 2019
Photo blooper of pronghorn surrounded by rainbow colors April 2018
Collared lizard at High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon October 2019
Shelves in the General Store in Fort Rock Museum, Oregon May 2019
Rock formation at Arches National Park May 2017
Photo bloopers , dog in front of DNA kits July 2019

Do you want to see more of my Photo Bloopers? See:

WPC – Fun!: Bird Bloopers

Photo Bloopers 2

Fun photos: Photo Bloopers 3

Stories within the layers of stone: LAPC

Sometimes I look at layered rock formations and imagine stories within the layers.

This formation at Fort Rock looks like the giant prow of a ship bursting through the cliffs.

Stories within the layers, Fort Rock 10 June 2016

A closer look shows where the water levels were before the ship drained the basin.

Rock formation at Fort Rock, Oregon 10 June 2016

This jumbled formation at Malheur NWR looks like it was made by a giant who was in a hurry.

Rock formation at Malheur NWR, Oregon 8April2016

But a closer look reveals the perfect spot for great horned owls to raise their young and protect the land.

Stories within the layers at Malheur NWR, Oregon 8April2016

This Painted Hills formation looks like an immense shark swimming through the hills causing a commotion.

Painted Hills, Oregon 25October2018

A closer look shows some of the magical green stones left in its wake.

Painted Hills, Oregon 25October2018

There are stories within the layers that you can learn if you just pause to look and listen.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Layered

In this land…Oregon countryside : LAPC

In this land near Diamond, Oregon 29August2019
Near Diamond, Oregon

In this land, Nature weaves colorful tapestries into the earth and sky

Pronghorn buck, Hart Mountain
Pronghorn buck, Hart Mountain

And creates havens for its creatures to pause and rest

In this land, Alvord Desert, Oregon 28 August 2019
Alvord Desert

In this land, pale sandy deserts settle in some basins

Warner Valley, Oregon 27 August 2019
Warner Valley

While water collects in others

In this land, Hart Mountain, Oregon from the west 27 August 2019
Hart Mountain viewed from the west

In this land, mountains tilt and rise above sagebrush plains

Big Indian Gorge, Steens Mountain, Oregon 28 August 2019
Big Indian Gorge, Steens Mountain

Where glacial sculptors carve them into works of art

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Countryside/ Small towns

Finding Different Angles: LAPC

Angles are often used in art and architecture and are also found in nature. Here are several photos that show art and nature from different angles.

This sculpture of a flock of birds zigzags down a foyer and flutters around the corner of a building in downtown Bend, Oregon.

Different angles Bird sculpture, Bend, Oregon 17August2019
Bird sculpture

Swallows collect beakfuls of mud to create these nests along the roof angles at Summer Lake Wildlife Area, Oregon.

Red, white, & blue--swallow nests 30March2018
Red, white, & blue–swallow nests

Columnar basalt forms when volcanic rock cools rapidly. In this picture, at Cove Palisades State Park, the columns formed in different angles. Orange lichens highlight their form.

Different angles basalt at Cove Palisades Park, Oregon 25February2017
Columnar basalt

The fire pit contest is an exciting event at the Oregon WinterFest in Bend, Oregon. Sparks shoot out of this globe-shaped fire pit. Another fire pit behind it is sheltered by a angular tent.

Sparks flying at fire pit contest, Bend, Oregon 12February2016
Sparks flying at fire pit contest

The supporting beams at the Warm Spring Museum are set at different angles in imitation of how shelters from the past were constructed.

Trails of smoke from passing jets form an angle that points toward a field of flowering corn in Silverton, Oregon.

Corn Flowers in Silverton, Oregon 20September2018
Corn flowers

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Angles

Obsidian Up close & personal

I enjoy visiting Glass Buttes in Central Oregon to collect obsidian. Did you know there are over 24 kinds found there? Here are photos of obsidian up close. The stones are beautiful in color, but also in form.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Detail

Favorite Rocks in Oregon: LAPC

Oregon rocks come in a wide variety of shapes and colors. Here are a few of my favorite rocks.

Craggy cliffs circling wonder

Blue Pool 14September2016
Blue Pool

Sculptures shaped by the sea

Favorite Rocks, Pacific City, Oregon 21June2018
Pacific City

Lined with layers of lichens

Favorite Rocks Lichens, Tumalo Creek, Oregon 9April2017
Tumalo Creek

Sharpness bordered by softness

Favorite Rocks Obsidian, Glass Buttes, Oregon 1May2018
Glass Buttes

Painted with pictographs in the past

Lizard pictograph, Harney County, Oregon 11April2019
Harney County

Clustered in concentrations of color

Favorite Rocks Painted Hills, Oregon 26October2019
Painted Hills

Rounded by rambling rivers

Favorite Rocks Metolius River, Oregon 24June2016
Metolius River

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge – Favorite Things

Yellowstone Elements: LAPC

The Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week is the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Here are pictures that feature several of the elements that I took at Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone Elements -Morning Glory Hot Spring, Upper Geyser Basin 30May2018
Morning Glory Hot Spring, Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone NP - Firehole River, Midway Geyser Basin 5June2015
Firehole River, Midway Geyser Basin
Yellowstone Elements - Near Blood Geyser, Artists' Paintpots 2June2018
Near Blood Geyser, Artists’ Paintpots
Yellowstone NP - Emerald Pool, Black Sand Basin 2June2018
Emerald Pool, Black Sand Basin
Bison at Churning Caldron, Mud Volcano 5June2015
Bison at Churning Caldron, Mud Volcano

The five pictures above of Yellowstone elements each include wood, water, fire, and earth. In this case, the fire is below the surface. This area sits inside a giant caldera and geysers and hot springs are common in the park. Steam rises over these thermal features.

You may be wondering where the element of “metal” is in these photos. In the photo below, I was using our metal car as a blind to take pictures of the bison and accidentally took a picture of myself holding my metal camera. 😀

Hope you enjoy my interpretation of this challenge!

Siobhan in the Lamar Valley 31May2018
Siobhan in the Lamar Valley

Lens- Artists Photo Challenge – Five Elements

Blue Basin Bench: Pull up a Seat

Blue Basin bench at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

This bench awaits you at the end of the Blue Basin Island in Time Trail at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Eastern Oregon. When you sit there, you are surrounded by an amphitheater of greenish blue stone highlighted by hills of red volcanic soil. It’s a dramatic, and impressive, landscape.

Here is a 360-degree view of what I saw at the end of the Island in Time Trail.

Pull Up a Seat Photo Challenge

Showing less can reveal more: LAPC

When focusing on only parts of a scene, showing less can reveal more.

Fox at Yellowstone 7June2018

This fox didn’t pause to smile for the camera, but this image of her running across a sun-dappled meadow captured her spirit.

Peaceful pond 25July2018

This image doesn’t include any wildlife or colorful flowers but it conveys peace.

Less can reveal more  Bunchgrass in the snow 5February2019

Snowfall accentuates and enhances the simple and beautiful form of bunchgrass growing in my yard.

larno Pailsades Arch 15June2018

There is an arch at the top of this formation at Clarno Palisades but I was amazed by the stair steps near its base.

Less can reveal more Lunar eclipse 30January2018

Part of the moon hid in the shadows during an eclipse but showing less can reveal more of its interesting details.

Lens Artists Photo Challenge – Less is more

A different world-Utah rocks: LAPC

You live in the image you have of the world. Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.

Alejandro Jodorowsky

The geology of Utah is so unique and interesting. I imagined many details of alternate worlds while visiting there.

Alternate worlds at Capitol Reef NPk 5May2017

The formations at Capitol Reef form thrones ready for giant-sized royalty.

Mountains at  Zion NPk 6May2017

The mountains of Zion National Park look as though they have been compressed, kneaded, and scratched by the claws of big cats

Patterns at  Canyonlands NPk 5May2017

At Canyonlands National Park, an army of stone soldiers is forever frozen in time.

Different worlds at Bryce Canyon NPk 6May2017

A city of towers pushes out the forest at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Patterns at  Arches NPk 3May2017

At Arches National Park, layers of earth tilt and reach towards the sky, hoping they may someday form archways of stone.

Lens Artists Photo Challenge – Something different

Finding a new world in close-ups: LAPC

When I last visited Yellowstone, I was searching for a new world to inspire me in my fiction writing. Here are some that I found…

New world Artists' Paintpots 2June2018

A new world of waves and wonder

New world at Black Pool 2June2018

A world of contrasting colors

Artists' Paintpots 2 2June2018

A world of muted rainbows

Three Sisters Spring 2June2018

A warm and fuzzy new world

Mud Volcano 30May2018

A cold, colorless, and cracked new world

Grand Prismatic 3June2018

A world where meandering water turns to gold

new world at Anemone Geyser 30May2018

A new world where everyone lives in spherical houses along the shore

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Close-up

Landscape of Grand Prismatic: LAPC

The water in some of the springs presents to the eye the colors of all the precious gems known to commerce. In one spring the hue is like that of an emerald, in another like that of the turquoise, another has the ultra-marine hue of the sapphire, another has the color of topaz; and the suggestions has been made that the names of these jewels may very properly be given to many of these springs.

Nathaniel Pitt Langford in Diary of the Washburn Expedition to the Yellowstone and Firehole Rivers in the Year 1870.

Grand Prismatic Spring is the crown jewel of hot springs at Yellowstone National Park. The landscape of Grand Prismatic has all the colors of the rainbow. The cracks and tracks add some interesting texture as well. This 370-foot wide spring is the largest in the United States and third largest in the world.

Landscape Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park 3June2018
Close-up Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park 3June2018
Landscape Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park 3June2018
Tracks at Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park 3June2018
Landscape Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park 5June2015
Close-up Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park 3June2018

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Landscape

Blue Basin Trail – Island in Time

Green scenes on Blue Basin trail

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
An otherworldly landscape in Blue Basin

I did this easy hike on the Blue Basin trail in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument last October. I felt like a stranger in a strange land on this trail through blue-green badlands.  

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
A bench along the trail

The trailhead is 14 miles northwest of Dayville, Oregon. This trail is in the Sheep Rock Unit of the monument. The Island in Time trail is a 1.3 mile long out and back trail with an elevation gain of 200 feet. The Blue Basin Overlook trail also starts here. It’s a 3.25 mile trail with a 760 foot elevation gain. There are several other trails nearby.

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
Colorful contrasts

The geologic history

The unique blue-green colors of the rock formations in Blue Basin are stunning.  They range from a pale dinner mint green to a darker, bluer green. The blue-green and tan claystones and siltstones are part of the John Day formation.  There were multiple eruptions of Cascade Mountain volcanoes 29 million years ago. The ashfall formed the blue-green layers of this basin. Celandonite and clinoptilolite give these formations their green color.

A shallow creek of green-tinted water

You’ll see impressive tiered layers of rock bordering the trail. At the end of the trail, an amphitheater of colorful stone will surround you. I had the place all to myself on my hike. Rotate your way around this photo sphere to see what I saw.

Blue Basin Lower Trail

I also noticed the smaller landscapes on this trail. Here are a few of those scenes.

Fossil and facts on Blue Basin trail

You will see several fossil replicas covered with protective plastic bubbles along the trail.  They removed the actual fossils to protect them from the elements.  Over 2,000 species of plant and animal fossils have been identified in the vicinity.

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018

Cat-like Nimravids. These cats ranged in size from bobcat-sized to tiger size.
Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018

Oreodonts. This sheep-sized mammal was once as common as deer are today.
Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018

Tortoise. This tortoise is like species living today.
A cracked shell may have caused its death.

Map and a word about dogs

Blue Basin map, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
Map of Blue Basin and vicinity

Here’s a map of the Blue Basin. Please note the warnings associated with this trail. In the warmer months of the year, you may see rattlesnakes. In October, I saw none.  Blue Basin experiences high temperatures in the summer months so be prepared.

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
My dog liked this nearby trail better. No bridges!

There are 13 metal grate bridges on this trail. The sign says dogs may refuse to cross and you may have to carry them. My dog would not cross the first bridge.  Sorry, but I couldn’t imagine carrying a 60+ pound dog over 13 bridges.  She waited patiently in the car on that cool day.  

Amazing paleontology center

Don’t miss the amazing Thomas Condon Paleontology Center while you’re here. The displays impress me and I’m always excited to see paleontologists hard at work in the viewing area. I often wonder what new treasures they will uncover in their daily work.

Soft sights at Sunset Lake: LAPC

A harsh landscape with soft edges

Soft sights at Sunset Lake, Yellowstone National Park, WY 2June2018

There are many soft sights to see in Yellowstone National Park’s harsh environments. Soft and steaming mist drifts over Sunset Lake. Soft puffy clouds float over rounded hills in the distance.

Soft sights at Sunset Lake, Yellowstone National Park, WY 2June2018

The colors along the shorelines blend softly into one another giving the lake its name. To me, it is a mystical sort of place that has many stories to tell.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Soft

Clarno Palisades Hikes

Stepping back in time at Clarno Palisades

Arch at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Arch at Clarno Palisades

In May I visited the Clarno Palisades area, 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon in the Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This unit gets light usage.  We only saw a few other visitors.

The palisades at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

The palisades

There are three short hikes near the covered picnic area. The Geologic Time Trail winds along ¼ mile to connect you to the other two trails. Interpretive signs note the changes of the last 50 million years. The colorful small signs explaining the geologic history looked brand new. The Trail of Fossils takes you up a ¼ mile loop trail on the hillside and shows you fossils that left their imprints in large boulders.

An almost-tropical forest covered this region 44 million years ago. 120 inches of rainfall per year, compared to about 9 inches today. Bananas used to grow here! Bear-like predators, four-toed primitive horses, and other creatures once roamed this land. The Clarno Arch Trail takes you up ¼ mile trail (yup, another ¼ mile one!) to the base of a cliff with a natural arch cut into the stone. This trail has a 200 foot elevation gain. If you hike all the trails out and back, it adds up to 1.25 miles.

Spring shrubs and flowers

When I was there in mid-May, wildflowers were in full bloom. The rose bush featured in one of my earlier posts—Wild Rose: Friday Flowers—was near where we parked. The “trunk” of that shrub looked like a formidable weapon!  We saw orange globemallow blooming along the trail.  Large netleaf hackberry shrubs grew on the slopes near the cliffs.

Canyon wren at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Canyon wren

Birds of the cliffs

There were a handful of birds out that day. Canyon wrens serenaded us with their descending song. A prairie falcon, American kestrel, and golden eagle flew near the cliffs protecting their nest sites. A California quail called Chi-ca-go in the background. Swallows flitted overhead.

Fossilized logs forming a "T" at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Fossilized logs forming a “T” on the cliff face

Logs and lichens

We spotted several fossilized leaves and branches along the Trail of Fossils. When we went up the Clarno Arch Trail, we saw large fossilized logs sticking out of the cliff face. The colorful lichens covering the rocks attracted my attention as usual.

Colorful lichens at Clarno Palisades 8 15May2018

Colorful lichens on the rocks

Stairway to the arch

The columns of the Palisades were formed by volcanic lahars 54-40 millions years ago. They are stately and beautiful but the stair step-like structure beneath the arch really got my attention. Water must have pooled up in each “step” before falling.

Steps beneath the arch at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Steps beneath the arch

When we were there with Bend Parks and Recreation, it was a cool day. I imagine it gets hot in the summer here so plan your visit with that in mind.

The palisades at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

The palisades

Other attractions nearby

I highly recommend visiting the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, an hour and a half southeast of the Palisades. Read my post on that amazing place here.

Here is a Trail Guide for hikes in the Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rocks Units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

An ombre monolith filled with fossils at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

An ombre monolith filled with fossils

Grand Prismatic Circles: Travel with Intent – Circle

Circles within circles at Grand Prismatic Spring

Circles of varying size dissected with cracks and surrounded by steaming mists arising from a rainbow of color at North America’s largest hot spring. Oh the wonder!

Grand Prismatic Spring Circles, Yellowstone National Park, WY 3June2018

“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”     Ralph Waldo Emerson

To see a photo of this spring as a thunderstorm approaches, see An Artist’s Wish.

Travel with Intent – Circle

Delicate Arch – Beloved Icon: CFFC

A treasure in stone

There it is. The view of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park I was waiting for. What a sight!

Delicate Arch 3May201:

Now here’s “the rest of the story.” Lines of people wait to take pictures of their loved ones or themselves under the arch. That is the life of a beloved icon like Delicate Arch.

It’s great that so many people treasure our natural resources in national parks. Just be quick if you want to get that perfect shot! 😉

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah 3May2017CFFC: Arch, Dome, or Half Circle

 

 

Glass Buttes obsidian field trip

Glass Buttes Flint knappers camp 1May2018
Glass Buttes Flint knapper’s camp

I went on a field trip recently to one of my favorite places–Glass Buttes. Obsidian is everywhere you look! It’s like being a kid in a candy store. In fact in one of my previous posts, Glass Butte Dragonglass, I show a picture of some obsidian I have collected displayed in a candy bowl.

Obsidian at Glass Buttes, OR 1May2018
Obsidian everywhere you look!

Glass Buttes – Rockhounding and habitat

Located about halfway between the towns of Bend and Burns in eastern Oregon, this site is a rockhounder’s paradise. You can dig and crack open obsidian with a rock hammer, but you really don’t need to because it’s all over the surface.  The Bureau of Land Management oversees most of this site. Individuals may collect up to 250 pounds of obsidian per year.

Glass Buttes, Oregon 1May2018
Glass Buttes, Oregon

Glass Butte, elevation 6,388 ft., and Little Glass Butte, elevation 6,155 ft., tower over the surrounding hills. Sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and bunchgrass cover the landscape. Western juniper and mountain mahogany are interspersed over the land. Sagebrush-dependent species such as Brewer’s sparrows, sagebrush sparrows, and sage thrashers were seen and heard the day we were there. A pair of mountain bluebirds was seen perching high in the juniper trees. We caught glimpses of ferruginous hawks.

Mountain bluebird pair at Glass Buttes, OR 1May2018
Mountain bluebird pair

Geological history of Glass Buttes

Glass Buttes formed during the Miocene and Pliocene periods, 5-5.8 million years ago. Three layers of lava flows from volcanic domes and vents formed the buttes. The first flow was basalt, the second rhyolitic lava, and the third another layer of basalt. Rhyolite contains a high percentage of silica and it forms much of the substrate. Due to a rapid rate of cooling of magma at Glass Buttes, larger mineral crystals didn’t have time to form. The silica-rich “glass” of obsidian formed as a result of this process.

Lichen Painted Rhyolite Rock 1May2018
Lichen covered Rhyolite rock

Here’s an interesting article with more details about the obsidian at Glass Buttes for you geology geeks. Obsidian is Hot Stuff.

This area is in the Brothers Fault Zone of the High Lava Plains physiographic province. The many faults are easily observed in aerial photos and through the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data. A 2011 map of Glass Buttes based on LiDAR can be seen here.

Desert Driftwood
Desert Driftwood

Flint knappers then and now

Obsidian from Glass Buttes has been used in making tools for thousands of years. Native Americans made arrowheads, spear points, and other cutting tools with the glass-like stone. Obsidian from this site has been found throughout western North America.

Lupine at Glass Buttes 1May2018
Lupine at Glass Buttes

Modern day flint knappers take advantage of the abundance of obsidian at this site. Some groups meet annually at events such as the Glass Buttes Knap-in to work on their craft. My first photo on this post shows what flint knappers left behind at one of their campsites.

Types of obsidian at Glass Buttes

There are MANY types of obsidian at Glass Buttes. I will quote Tim Fisher who runs the Oregon Rockhounds Online website. “Need a list of what’s here? OK, here goes: black/mahogany, leopardskin, mahogany, Midnite lace, triple flow, double flow, pumpkin, purple and silver sheen, gold sheen, silver sheen, rainbow, peacock, purple sheen, fire, green, Aurora Borealis rainbow, black, opaque black, opaque banded, gunmetal, and probably many more!” If you want detailed information on where to find the different types, please purchase the Ore Rock On guide from his website. We own it and it contains invaluable info for sites in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and western Montana.

Glass Buttes Aurora Borealis Obsidian Photo by Tim Fisher
Glass Buttes Aurora Borealis Obsidian – Photo by Tim Fisher

Some rockhounds search for specific types, such as rainbow and fire obsidian, and they can be the most difficult to find.

Other land use

We made a couple additional short stops on the field trip. We stopped at an abandoned mercury-bearing cinnabar mine. The site was discovered in 1933 and mined until 1957. Another stop was made at an exploratory geothermal well site. No development is currently taking place but it may happen in the future. Greater sage-grouse live and breed here and that may limit development.

Obsidian-paved road at Glass Buttes 1May2018
Obsidian-paved road at Glass Buttes

Additional information

This is a great area to visit but I should remind you of a couple things. Obsidian is SHARP so make sure you have good tires and a spare tire. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for certain areas. There is no water or facilities here. If you visit, be prepared. Access to this site is on an unmarked road near mile marker 77 on Highway 20. Drive south a couple miles to find obsidian. Additional information is available from the organizations listed here.

I have been to this site several times. My recent trip was with Bend Parks and Recreation. I always wish I could stay at Glass Buttes just a little bit longer. It’s a hard place to leave if you love rocks!

View from the Caldera

Hiking on a caldera

Today I took a hike up Gray Butte, northeast of Terrebonne, Oregon. It was a nice hike with lots of wildflowers and spectacular views. This view is from the edge of the Crooked River Caldera looking west to Mount Jefferson, on the right, and Black Butte, on the left. The rocks in the foreground are splattered with messages left by lichens.

View from the Caldera 9May2018

My place in the world is out in the wild places of central Oregon. From dry sagebrush steppe in a caldera to lush meadows bordered by pine forests. There are so many special places to explore…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Place in the World

 

Time Lines 2: Bryce Canyon National Park

Time Lines Bryce Canyon NPk 6May2017

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Lines of Hoodoos

Here’s one more entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge of Lines. The many layered castles in Bryce Canyon National Park are an amazing sight. A single hoodoo formation is impressive, but when you see hundreds of them in lines like soldiers standing at attention,  they are just plain stunning.

See my previous post Time Lines: Utah Parks for more pictures featuring a small taste of the geology in Utah’s parks.

Time Lines: Utah Parks

Time lines from long ago

The time lines are obvious in the many rock forms in state and national parks in Utah. Can you imagine the stories from hundreds of millions of years ago these land forms could tell us?

Time Lines Capitol Reef NPk 5May2017

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Time Lines Arches NPk 3May2017

Arches National Park, Utah

Time Lines Zion NPk 6May2017

Zion National Park, Utah

Time Lines Canyonlands NPk 4May2017

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Time Lines Dead Horse Pt StPk 3May2017

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Weekly Photo Challenge – Lines

Yellowstone Favorite Places: WPC

I have so many Yellowstone favorite places it’s hard to choose. Here’s a collection of photos of things that make the park special. I start this post with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt who was known as the “conservation president.”

“The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”

Theodore Roosevelt, April 24, 1903 at the laying of the cornerstone of Gateway to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Favorite Places Mammoth Hot Springs 2017Yellowstone National Park, with its larger-than-life landscapes, dramatically changing weather conditions, amazing menagerie of wildlife, variety of plant life, and geology in action, is one of my favorite places. It also has a rich history as the world’s first national park.

A park is born

Evidence shows ancient peoples lived in Yellowstone Country 11,000 years ago. European Americans began exploring the lands in the early 1800’s. Teams of explorers brought back tales of wonder of this unique environment. Their work was supported by images created by artists Thomas Moran and Henry W. Elliot and photographer William Henry Jackson.  The park was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Additional protections for the park and its wildlife were instituted in 1894 when congress passed the National Park Protection Act – now known as the Lacey Act.

President Theodore Roosevelt had a love of the land and he was instrumental in making sure many natural areas were preserved. His quote above reflects the importance of preserving wild places so that all may enjoy them “in perpetuity.”

Landscapes – large and small

Here are photos of some special landscapes.