Beautiful and dangerous


No, not some wacky Hollywood leftist starlet like Maggie Gyllenhaal. Volcanoes, specifically some in California.

The U.S. Geological Survey has identified 3 California volcanoes as posing a "very high" risk of eruption. Mr. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and the Long Valley Caldera are not only headed for eruption, they are not at all adequately monitored with instrumentation.

Mt. Shasta arguably poses the greatest threat to human life, since it has a couple of towns near its base, and because it lies along Interstate 5, providing smashing views for travelers along the principal north—south route for the entire West Coast.

Driving north from Berkeley, I have always looked forward to catching sight of Mt. Shasta after passing Redding, the last actual city until Oregon. You can see Shasta from a long way off, because it dominates a huge valley. At the Mt. Shasta interchange, you can get off and drive into the town of Mt. Shasta, home to thousands of new agers, many belonging to various cults. (My favorite is the one which worships George Washington as a God, but the flying saucer folks are fun, too. Some of them claim that the mountain is actually hollow, and home to an extensive colony of aliens.)

Such folk are attracted to Mr. Shasta by the "energy." Which might just mean that they actually perceive some of the geological rumblings. They bring with them arts and crafts,  and plenty of therapists of all stripes (check out the bulletin board at the Safeway or in any of the many cafes and coffee houses for an endless profusion of their cards). You can always get a vegetarian meal in Mt. Shasta, plenty of sprouts on your sandwich, and have fun looking at the real estate ads. There seems to be a pretty high turnover on properties up there.

It is all too easy to visualize the mountain erupting and turning the town of Mt. Shasta into another Pompeii. I always get a kick out of imagining explorers 2000 years from now attempting to decode American culture by examining the well—preserved artifacts of Mt. Shasta, buried in pumice for a couple of millennia.

But I would much prefer that state—of—the—art instrumentation be installed, to give everyone a chance to run for their lives, should the eventual eruption become imminent. How California and the Pacific Northwest would cope with the closing of I—5 and the Union Pacific north—south mainline (also running through the town of Mt. Shasta) is another question. But such is pretty minor stuff compared to the awesome power of a volcano. Nature, as the bumper sticker tells us, always bats last.

Thomas Lifson   4 30 05 

Dennis Sevakis adds:

When considering what future archeologists will wonder about when we are the subject of their digs, I chuckle at what they will have to say about the presumed religious ceremony indicated by the two large lumps of gel silicon placed on the chests of all the female remains. Must be the post—modern symbolic preservation of internal organs, as the Egyptians did with jars for holding the real organs of those mummified.