Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Living on a Volcano


An old lava vent near my house. Like, less than 1 km.

Flagstaff sits atop the Colorado Plateau, and the plateau is slowly cracking apart to add to the Basin and Range region. The process sometimes liberates magma from deep in the earth. We see the evidence of that all around the community. The entire landscape is blanketed in lava flows and volcanic cinders. The original sedimentary bedrock is rarely visible at the surface.

I climbed atop the pictured lava vent within easy walking distance of my house last weekend. It's humped up perhaps 40 feet or so above the surrounding terrain, and maybe 50 above I-40, which runs nearby. The area is within a new housing development, and soon it may not be possible to climb up it.

When I got the top, I was surprised by two things: a small, smooth, unused concrete pad, and a tent. The concrete pad showed no obvious sign of its previous purpose. The tent looks like a homeless camp. It's odd to camp within 50 yards or less of an interstate, but it is a very private spot in most other respects. I've noticed that homeless people are very good at finding spots where a camp can't be seen by passers by. But this will all go away soon due to the housing development.

I feel this way about earthquakes and volcanos around Flagstaff. Life here is great, but it could all be taken away in a minute, and the conical volcanic mountains, ubiquitous cinders, lava flows, and lava vents are reminders. I don't expect a volcano on the west side of town where I live, but there are faults all over the place and I live only about a mile from the major one, the Lake Mary Fault, which is believed to have produced earthquakes over magnitude 6 in the past.

The experts predict the next volcano in Northern Arizona will probably occur either east of Flagstaff or up north on the Arizona Strip, but I looked over some geologic maps and from the dates you can tell that these predictions are not certain.

An earthquake could happen almost right under my feet.

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