Mystery Flora Addendum: They Like Cliffs, Too. Plus, Volcanic Musings

So no shit, there I was, flicking through the rest of my Mount Rainier photos for reasons unrelated to mystery flora, and I found more of the Lewis’ Monkeyflower identified by Hotshoe yesterday. So what if they’re no longer a mystery? They’re still nifty.

Lewis' Monkeyflower cuddling rock

The outcrop there is no slouch, either. I’ll have more to say about it at some future date when I’ve, y’know, actually read the book on the roadside geology of Mt. Rainier, and can speak intelligently on the subject, and additionally have remembered where, precisely, we were. It was a long time ago on a geotrip far, far away. Luckily, the photos have GPS data, so once I load the program that maps them, I’ll be able to jog ye olde rusty memory.

Lewis' Monkeyflower pretending it's a mountain goat

Mt. Rainier, I can tell you, is a fascinating volcano, and not just because it’s a volcano, which makes it inherently fascinating. It’s got a little bit of nearly everything. There’s granite, 15 million years old if I remember rightly, which is exposed in spots. There’s andesite, of course. All sorts of pyroclastics. Lahar deposits. Hot springs. Glaciers and all sorts of landforms created and carved up by glaciers. The neatest little box canyon ever. Every five inches or so, it seems, there’s a new vista, a new point of interest, a new fascination. I plan to go back there this summer and really poke around. Then I’ll write it up for you, and you’ll book a flight to Seattle nearly instantaneously and come pounding on my door demanding to be taken up the mountain. It’s that kind of mountain.

Closeup of above Lewis' Monkeyflower aka mountain goat wannabe

Mt. Rainier’s kind of like the grand aged relative who fascinated you as a kid. The one who was really old but come sometimes seemed very young, and knew all sorts of stuff you’d never even suspected existed, and whom you knew a lot about without ever really knowing at all. That’s rather the feeling I get every time I’m up there. And it’s restful. It’s the most dangerous bloody volcano in America, and yet the peace and beauty up there can send you into paroxysms of poetry without warning. Maybe its danger is what makes its beauty so acute. Your senses are sharpened. You know how temporary this is. A moment in geological time that will never come again.

Only that’s not quite true. When this mountain tears itself down, it will build itself back up again. It will wear wildflowers and conifers once more. And when it’s gone, somewhere in the world there will be another young volcano that grows into a majestic old one. Those moments may be fleeting, but they come round again and again, and will do so until the Earth grows too cool to sustain plate tectonics.

Even then, somewhere in the vast Universe, there’s probably another world just enough like this one to have volcanoes clothed in locally-evolved flora. It may look wildly different, but the beauty of it will be much the same. Somewhere, when the clock’s stopped here, the geological moments will tick on there.

I like having been a second in that eternity.

Mystery Flora Addendum: They Like Cliffs, Too. Plus, Volcanic Musings

7 thoughts on “Mystery Flora Addendum: They Like Cliffs, Too. Plus, Volcanic Musings

  1. 3

    As for “most dangerous,” I think the reasoning is that a relatively minor eruption at Mt. Rainier is far more likely than a super-eruption at Yellowstone. There is evidence of lahar deposits in Tacoma which came from Rainier. Therefore, the more-likely, though much smaller event at Rainier could melt glaciers on the mountain flanks and flood surrounding valleys with waves of mud and gravel, with these flows extending to the SEA-TAC metro area. Hundreds of thousands of people would be buried, the survivors isolated on high ground with comm and transport cut off.

    As for visiting Mt. Rainier, I did so almost two years ago…and I still think about selling everything to go live there.

  2. 4

    If you want to talk super volcano then Long Valley (mammoth mountain area) in Ca is in the same class as Yellowstone, but not discussed as much. Note that there have been small eruptions in that area in the last 1000 years (See Mono Craters etc). It has some hot springs as well.

  3. 5

    Your last 2 paragraphs are exactly why I do geology. I love knowing that Earth is always changing, there’s always something new, and that endings are beginnings. I love that no matter what we (humans) do, the planet will keep on doing its thing, and that those sort of processes – so intricately tied to the beginnings of life – will (and possibly now) do those things somewhere else in the universe.

  4. F

    It’s the most dangerous bloody volcano in America,

    That’s because of the flying saucers, right?

    If you want to talk super volcano then Long Valley (mammoth mountain area) in Ca is in the same class as Yellowstone, but not discussed as much.

    Well, not really. It isn’t as long-lived, nor does it have an active magma source. It’s mostly a giant plug. What’s truly odd, and maybe a reason to be nervous about Long Valley, is that the magma source seems neither to be the result of a plume nor subduction. So, spooky. But the “Yellowstone” plume is huge, much larger than previously hypothesized, and has been active for at least 15my (possibly ~70my if one can include evidence from the Yukon and Vancouver) in and left a track across four states as the continent moved over it.

    Personally, what weirds me out is where people aren’t looking for potential subaerial volcanics. Because volcanoes sometime poke you where you don’t expect it. Moar geologists, moar geology, moar money! Shake some pocket change out of the DOD to guard against actual dangers and learn stuff at the same time.

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