Living in the Shadow of an Active Volcano

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(Click on any of the images to see a larger version.)

Mount Rainier is so beautiful and majestic to see that it’s easy to forget how potentially dangerous it is. Here in Tacoma, WA, we live in the shadow of this active volcano:

in the shadow of an active volcano
Living in the shadow of an active volcano (photographed at Washington State History Museum)

Washington is home to five major composite volcanoes or stratovolcanoes (from north to south): Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. These volcanoes and Mount Hood to the south in Oregon are part of the Cascade Range, a volcanic arc that stretches from southwestern British Columbia to northern California.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources

In conjunction with the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, May is Washington State Volcano Preparedness Month:

State of Washington Proclamation for Volcano Preparedness Month
State of Washington Proclamation for Volcano Preparedness Month

The Washington State History Museum presented an exhibit earlier this month entitled “Living in the Shadows” to remind the public that what happened at Mount St. Helens could happen here:

Photographed at Washington State History Museum
Photographed at Washington State History Museum

When most people think of the danger of a volcanic eruption, they think immediately of flowing lava. But there are two more immediate and potentially widespread dangers:

  • lahars—volcanic mudflows
  • pyroclastic flows—ground-hugging avalanches of hot volcanic ash, pumice, rock fragments, and gases that destroy everything in their path
Dangerous Mount Rainier
Dangerous Mount Rainier (photographed at Pacific Science Center)

As part of the state’s volcano preparedness program, students perform annual lahar drills in which they practice evacuating their schools ahead of lahar:

Student lahar drill
School lahar drill (photographed at Washington State History Museum)

Also see the local news article Orting schools conducting lahar drill Thursday.

On our recent visit to see Pompeii: The Exhibition, we found the Pacific Science Center in Seattle used the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy in 79 A.D. as a springboard for education about our local situation:

description of lahar and pyroclastic flow
Lahar and pyroclastic flow (photographed at Pacific Science Center)

This map shows the potential danger zones if Mount Rainier were to erupt:

Mount Rainier hazard zones
Mount Rainier hazard zones (photographed at Pacific Science Center)

My home town of Tacoma is up there near the top, on the left.

The beautiful Cascades have been around for years. Long before the USGS (U. S. Geological Survey) started keeping records, Native Americans knew of the mountains’ power:

Volcanoes through Native Eyes
(photographed at Washington State History Museum)

Washington’s Volcano Preparedness Month announcements and activities remind us that it’s not a question of “if Mount Rainier erupts,” but rather “when Mount Rainier erupts.”

Additional Resources

35 years after Mount St. Helens erupted: A new world of research

Dzurisin, D., Driedger, C.L., and Faust, L.M., 2013, Mount St. Helens, 1980 to now—what’s going on?: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2013–3014, v. 1.1, 6 p. and videos. (Available at

Recent News Articles about Erupting Volcanoes

Did she blow? NW submarine volcano likely just erupted

Scientists find missing link in Yellowstone plumbing: This giant volcano is very much alive

Calbuco Volcano Erupts in Chile, and Nearby Town Evacuated

‘Wired’ Underwater Volcano May Be Erupting Off Oregon

Synchronicity: Road Trip and a List

Definition of SYNCHRONICITY:

2: the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

If this definition is too “woo-woo” for you, just think of synchronicity as a meaningful coincidence that allows us to think of two seemingly unrelated objects, concepts, or events in conjunction with each other. Any writer will tell you that putting two things together in this way is a valuable source of creative insight.

Which leads me to today’s post. Recently this article, According To Science, This Is The Perfect And Best Road Trip You Can Possibly Take, came up on Facebook. I didn’t think much of it until, shortly thereafter, this WordPress Daily Prompt, The Satisfaction of a List, landed in my inbox.

Here’s the map from the road trip article:

road trip map

Discovery News worked with Randy Olson, a doctoral student at Michigan State University, to plan a trip that visits landmarks on all of the 48 contiguous states in the U.S. A computer algorithm plotted a route that allows participants to jump on anywhere and continue to follow the loop until they arrive back at their starting point.

This road trip map appealed to me because traveling is one of the things my husband and I hope to do a lot of now, in the early years of our retirement.

My first reaction to this map is that it omits the entire western side of Washington State, which happens to be where I live. And while the Hanford nuclear dump site in eastern Washington might be interesting, it is hardly the best landmark in the state. It looks as if the computer algorithm chose Hanford simply because it needed something from Washington to include that wouldn’t go too far off the path it wanted to beat.

If you undertake this trip, I suggest you go a bit further west in Washington to see these sites, which I think greatly outrank Hanford in terms of sight-seeing status:

Those are my additions to the list. As for the map’s list, I use underlining to indicate sites I’ve already visited and red text to indicate places that are on my bucket list of sites in the U.S. that I hope to visit before my traveling days are over.

Here is the list of the landmarks you’d stop at in each state on this road trip:

  1. Grand Canyon, AZ
  2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  3. Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID
  4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
  5. Pikes Peak, CO
  6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
  7. The Alamo, TX
  8. The Platt Historic District, OK
  9. Toltec Mounds, AR
  10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
  11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
  12. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
  13. USS Alabama, AL
  14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
  15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
  16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
  17. Lost World Caverns, WV
  18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
  19. Mount Vernon, VA
  20. White House, Washington, DC
  21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
  22. New Castle Historic District, Delaware
  23. Cape May Historic District, NJ
  24. Liberty Bell, PA
  25. Statue of Liberty, NY
  26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
  27. The Breakers, RI
  28. USS Constitution, MA
  29. Acadia National Park, ME
  30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
  31. Shelburne Farms, VT
  32. Fox Theater, Detroit, MI
  33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
  34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
  35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
  36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
  37. Gateway Arch, MO
  38. C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
  39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
  40. Taliesin, WI
  41. Fort Snelling, MN
  42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
  43. Mount Rushmore, SD
  44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND
  45. Glacier National Park, MT
  46. Hanford Site, WA
  47. Columbia River Highway, OR
  48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
  49. San Andreas Fault, CA
  50. Hoover Dam, NV

How about you? How many of these places have you already been to? What suggestions do you have for additional stops in specific states? Give us the benefit of your home-state experience in the comments.

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