When I went to undergraduate school I was absolutely fascinated with vulcanology – the study of volcanoes. I could visualize myself walking along steaming cauldrons of hot lava taking measurements and glorying in one of nature’s most magnificent creations. Heck, I was used to 110˚ in the shade in Southern Idaho. Piece of cake, right? Okay, reality check. I had no hope of doing the math required because of my dyscalculia, but boy, did I ever fall in love with volcanoes.
I came to realize rather quickly that there are vanishly few people who can make a living at anything I was interested in – from astronomy to vulcanology. Where math is not my strong suit (I never figured out the slide rule aka slipstick) I turned to people, who I do seem to have a knack with. Or so I’m told.
Perhaps it should have been no surprise when, on May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens blew. Why no surprise?
Because I was on my way to northern Idaho to interview for a job as the manager of a very small social services office. I was turned back by the State Police because of volcanic ash. For quite sometime thereafter I read the news and watched TV stations – in black and white, no less – document the enormous amount of ash falling across Washington and Idaho.
It took months to clear all the ash. By then little office in northern Idaho was closed and its staff relocated. I guess it was just as well that Mother Nature sent me home from what I thought would be my new adventure. At the time I kept telling myself how fertile the soil was going to be now – probably not what was going through the minds of the people going through it.
I remember following the news about old Harry Truman’s refusal to leave his lodge at Spirit Lake at the foot of the mountain and in the danger zone at the time of the eruption. What a way to go.
Not many years after, I was in Alaska, which is on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Most of what I experienced was earthquakes and lots of them. They were more fascinating than scary, although my daughter has told me she’d rather be in a hurricane zone than in an earthquake zone. Eh, to each their own. I can live on bedrock and be fine.
The first time Alaskan volcanoes reminded me of how much I always wanted to experience a volcano (be careful what you wish for, you just might get it) was when Mt. Redoubt blew in 1989. As you can see, it had all the appearance of a nuclear bomb going off.
And I got to experience volcanic ash in action. Anchorageites knew it might blow. We
all had surgical masks – well, most of us. And those of us with breathing problems such as asthma were doubly alert.
When we were alerted the ash cloud was on the way there was scurrying to schools to pick up kids. Everyone wanted to be home when it hit.
People were stocking up on oil and oil filters, and air filters. Driving involved brushing ash off the window so as not to scratch it or using a soft cloth. Because of the acid levels you had to be careful with water or windshield washing fluid. And you were changing oil, oil filters, and air filters once every two weeks – or you would end up with a car that didn’t run.
I seem to recollect a KAL jet flying through the ash cloud (what were the pilots thinking?) and almost crashing. I do remember that our vacation plans at Disney World were totalled as we could not fly in nor out of the Anchorage airport. There was great lamentation since it was the middle of the winter and we really wanted sun and warm weather.
The Reboubt eruption caused Fairbanks to become a much more popular endpoint destination as there are few quakes and no volcanoes near it.
We had various eruptions between 1989 and 2000, but the worst – at least to my recollection – was Mt. Redoubt’s ash fall in ’89.
In June of 1992 Mt. Spurr graced us with ash fall. A friend of the family who was helping at a summer camp for asthmatic kids said it was a madhouse with counselors running all over the place trying to keep everyone breathing. That was a summer camp cut short.
This time my very artistic sister-in-law asked for 5 pounds of the ash with which to make ceramic glaze. I still have a bowl she made of red clay she dug from a riverbank in NC which was hand thrown and then glazed with Mt. Spurr ash.
I have concluded that the fascination I still have with volcanoes is best satisfied with videos and photos. The toxic fumes, the ability to blow out entire sides of cones, etc. is a lot more dangerous than a young undergrad understood. As a bona fide klutz I’d probably fall into slow flowing Lava in Hawaii. I’ve developed a healthy respect for volcanoes, while still having a fascination with them. Pele is an awesome Goddess who should be respected no matter where she shows herself.
Sleeping Lady aka Mt. Susitna is an extinct volcano right next door to Anchorage. I remember saying, “If she wakes up, I’m outta here.” So far she continues to sleep. Fingers crossed for Anchorage. I miss seeing her almost every day. This photo gives me heart pangs.
By the way, Idaho is full of lava fields and ancient, burned out cinder cones. I didn’t
realize it at the time, but from 1956 until 1981 I primarily lived in an area where lava left cinder cones and huge outcroppings such as Lizard Butte by Marsing, Idaho. Possibly the love of volcanoes is in my blood. Ya think? The lava layer making the lizard is at least 3 stories deep – maybe more.
Wow – I didn’t realize this post would involve so many links and photos. Educational, yeah?
There are volcanoes in Mexico. Not close to where I want to settle though.
Toad in the Hole