Close-Up Portrait Of Mammoth Mountain: Ready To Go?
By Charles P. Watson, Consulting Geologist
From Holly Deyo
As a geologic consultant to the Reno Gazette Journal for an upcoming newspaper report, I just returned from a field trip to the Mammoth Lakes, Long Valley caldera area. Despite the 2-3 feet of recent snow fall and -2 degree F temperatures, we toured many of the popular geologic locations, like the Hilton Creek fault, Hot Creek Hot Springs, the geothermal power plant, Inyo-Mono Craters, and the infamous Mammoth Mountain. We also interviewed many people in town. A bright blue sky, still winds, and a 4x4 - a perfect day for a cruise about.
A couple things were outstanding:
1) There were a lot more dead tree locations than described in Chris Farrar's paper. Interestingly, it was not hard to locate them as there seemed to be thermal anomalies associated with dead trees zones and the snow had already melted off, quite striking since there was 2-3 feet of snow in most other places. These locations are near the geothermal power plant and in the Hot Creek area, all along the south boundary to the resurgent dome.
2) Standing at the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery which is near the center of the caldera and with a 250 degree panorama of the caldera rim, I was amazed at the size of the caldera. It is moving to imagine the whole caldera performing one huge strombolian eruption! look at the resurgent dome and get a feeling for up much uplift had occurred since the last rhyolite flow or even the past few look at Mammoth Mountain from 8 miles away and imagine it spouting a 30,000 ft. column of ash...Stunning!
3) There was a broad denial from many of the residents to the situation at hand. The Gazette Journal interviewed many 'man on the street' and it was far too common for people to say, 'oh, another quake" or "yeah, I felt it' or 'Excuse me, I have to go back to work' or "no comment". Many would probably like to see the whole situation go away. One said, 'well, if I gotta go, this is a beautiful place to leave the planet.' (At that moment, I remember the care taker of Spirit Lake Lodge at the base of Mt. St. Helens who refused to leave for similar reasons.) Yet, given the day and the outstanding skiing conditions, I couldn't blame her.
4) Just how big the Inyo-Mono Craters chain of extrusions really are. Many reports call them small eruptions. I beg to differ. And to imagine some of them going off just 500 years ago! Clearly moving to this geologist's soul! We ended up at the North Crater near Mono Lake. Beautiful obsidian glass. But more spectacular was the mirror reflection of Mono Lake on that windless and cloudless day. We drove to the South Tufa location and took the small nature trail trail to the shore where there was a stillness to the water I had never seen before. And in the fading sunlight of the afternoon and the intense quiescence of the area, there was a serenity which was thoroughly captivating. A brief note: we found a freshwater upwhelling at shoreline near some spires which was moderately warm, perhaps giving clues to its possible thermal origins. Abundant fresh calcium carbonate (and aragonite?) rinds and crystals, growing new a new generation of tufa spires.
5) A greater potential for earthquake-induced avalanches. I think this could be a potential hazard during winter months and should be looked into further.
While we were there, a M3.7 temblor occurred. I didn't feel the quake. I was eating dinner at the Chart House when it happened at 9:12 pm. There was a Lyons Club meeting going on at the other side of the building and they were making quite the racket. But, as a reference, many people interviewed said they did feel the quake. Most seem to be experts to feeling them by now (perhaps like the residents of Landers and Yucca Valley, CA, eh?). They said if your are on a second story building and quite still, you can even feel the M2.2's. (Imagine that! Then imagine trying to sleep the night of Nov 22 or Nov 30 in a loft when hundreds of M2+ quakes occurred..Eeek!)
Interestingly, there was a lot more damage from the M4.5, M4.7 and M4.8 events on Nov 22 and the Nov 30 M4.9 quake than previously reported. Many items toppled from table and shelves, including pictures, nick-nacks, etc. Some stores experienced some damage to commercial items. Some pictures fell from walls. Also, it seems as though some person in town sells painted old tree cutting saw blades and many of these fell from the walls. One person said she had to duck to keep from getting hit by one from the Nov 30 jolt.
One more item to the Jim Berkland fans. Pet owners in the area are having difficulties. The animals are doing weird things,dogs are incessantly barking and howling, cat are clawing the heck out of furniture, and birds are squawking and flying about their cages. One person we talked to correlated the animal behavior with the earthquake activity. This should be looked into further.
While I was there, I secured a weekly Seismo-Watch earthquake graphic in the Mammoth Times newspaper. I am looking for sponsors, so if any one would like to have their company acknowledged for sponsoring a valuable service to the residents and tourists of the area, please contact me. I am looking at the $25-35/week range for sponsorships with a minimum 6 month commitment. The graphic will be no doubt be heavily read and your commitment will receive a lot of attention as well. There is an obvious PR potential there.
Anyway, an interesting trip. Beautiful country! Condos are as expensive as ever.

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