Back to the Desk

Serious Cave

Part One

"Ain't nothin' sinkin'. Somethin' is risin'." The dying man gestured toward the top of the map. "Look where it's a pointin' ya."
      "Yellowstone." Brooke read off the map.

©05 Levite

for Teresa with all the love I have

       [Note: All rights reserved, including the right to further publication. Distributed copies to proofreaders and editors remain property of the author. No infringement of copyright is intended. All persons are fictitious, all occurrences, while possible, have not happened… yet. No National Parks were destroyed in the writing of this story. All major geologic features (except the title formation) actually exist or are presumed by geologists. See Below    Email- dr_leftover{~at~}themediadesk{~dot~}com   Selah ]

      They say that Hurricane, Utah wasn't really the middle of Nowhere, but it was on the way there.
      It was a tired old joke that Brooke Custer was tired of hearing before she was in the third grade. But growing up fifteen miles from the main gate of Zion National Park was wonderful for a child with an interest in anything to do with rocks. From the small window in the loft of their garage she could see the mountains of the park. They seemed to be another world to her, and were endlessly fascinating with their snow caps well into summer and occasionally a shroud of clouds even on a sunny day. She could name the major area peaks before she knew her own address.
      Then in middle school Brooke was shown something that was even more fascinating than 'her' mountains. Caves under them.
      She'd known about Carlsbad and its bigger sister Lechuguilla in New Mexico and the Mammoth - Flint Ridge system in Kentucky for years. But something in the young girl's mind didn't click until her science class took a field trip to a small tourist cave north of Kanab. There wasn't anything natural about it any more, the floor had been raised and paved, most of the inside of the cave had been painted or otherwise altered. But still, it was a cave, and just one ridge over from Zion's own peaks.
      Then the guide sealed the deal for Brooke. He mentioned other caves in the area, some of which had yet to be fully explored and showed them a map of the southern part of the state with small dots indicating where a few caves had recently been found.
      "Now some of these aren't caves like you think of with Carlsbad. They might only be a small nitch in the rock that's been enlarged by the wind and end just a few meters from the opening. But others may have sudden drop-offs into pits or loose rocks in the walls or roof that could be very dangerous."
      His continuing speech about speleological safety was wasted on Brooke. She new all about mountaineering and was applying the same tactics to going up a sheer face to going under one.
      The following weekend she put together her kit including three flashlights, bottled water, reflective marking tape and other gear and started out on her bike toward the foothills outside of town convinced she would discover the next 'Lech' just outside her neighborhood.
      Two weekends later she had found some interesting formations and a few pieces of quartz her mother liked, but no caves. Undeterred she pursued her new interest whenever she wasn't begging her grandparents to take her to either Zion or the 'mini-Zion' Snow Canyon park, or even over to the new Grand Staircase National Monument. She never tired of the mountains and valleys and the breathtaking formations into which they had been carved by the 'hands of angels' as her youthful expression put it.
      But Brooke's interests had been worthwhile for more than just her education. Several of the rocks, crystals, and Indian artifacts she had found out in the hills had been valuable, and she had participated in selling several of them to dealers and collectors. Some of the proceeds went to purchase new and better supplies for Brooke, including a GPS unit and a full set of topographical maps of the area. The rest of the money was split between the family's expenses and Brooke's college fund.
      "So what do you have there young lady?" One dealer had asked her with a patronizing smile on his face as she sat a large rock on his counter. "I bet it’s a gold nugget for sure." He was planning on offering her two or three dollars for it.
      She smiled sweetly, "I don't think it's gold." She answered gently taking several more slightly off round stones out of a cloth bag and removing the tissue paper that was around most of them.
      "Maybe not. How much do you think they're worth?"
      "Well." She said then looked up at him. "Since rhyolite geods like these are unusual in this area and these amethyst and rose specimens are also unusual in that they are not broken and are most are perfectly round I would say they'd probably fetch close to full retail of from thirty to fifty dollars each. I'll let you have the lot for twenty each."
      The dealer blinked, "The girl knows her stuff."
      Her grandfather nodded gravely to him.
      The girl did know her stuff.

      It wasn't long after that when Brooke raced home and jumped off her bicycle with a breathless "I found it!"
      The family had explored several small caves and canyons she had discovered. Only to discover that others had been there before her. She had marked several large maps with abandoned mines, chasms that looked like the mountain was yawning, even a couple of lava tubes from the ancient formations west of town. But this was different.
      "It's right there." She pointed to a tiny ripple on the map in a canyon she had explored end to end several times. "Those thunderstorms last week flushed out the entrance. I crawled in about ten feet and then I could stand up. There was still water on the floor along the left side, but it went back and back. I took some pictures." She dug her digital camera out of her pack.
      Her mother looked at the map and nodded as Brooke loaded the pictures on the computer. "We'll go see it as soon as your father gets home from the store." Then she stopped. "Wow."
      The images of the cave weren't as spectacular as the intricate formations of Lech, but they were something to see nonetheless. Gypsum tracings on the far wall above the water seemed to be the random scrawling of a toddler with an enormous marker. Then another picture showed a thin flowstone sheet from ceiling to floor.
      "And I swear I couldn't find any evidence of other people having been in there at all."
      About an hour later they were all stooping to crawl into the cave.
      "This is as far as I went." Brooke said. "Wanna see what's through there?" She asked her parents.
      "Sure." Her dad said and checked his light. His daughter had taught him well.
      Her mom went first at Brooke's insistence then her father. Finally she got to see what she had only glimpsed in the flash of her camera from the first room.
      "Yes daddy?"
      "You've found a serious cave."

      As the years passed she continued to know her stuff. And from an almost tomboy look with a backpack full of ropes and pick axes and a three D-cell flashlight hanging off her belt she developed into a beautiful young woman with an intense look in her eyes.
      But her academic interests were more toward the arts. Yes, she drew mountains and painted landscapes and diagramed her cave in painstaking detail, but science and geology were a hobby to her and she liked it that way.
      Serious Cave seemed to go on and on. And so far, she hadn't found another entrance anywhere. On one expedition she and her dad and a couple of friends had spent two days in it carefully bellying through a narrow fissure to another series of rooms, one of which had a stream flowing through it. In spite of their hot and dusty condition and the fact that the water temperature was cool and it looked clear, she wouldn't let anybody so much as touch it. Everything they brought in they carried out to ensure minimal contamination. And still the cave went on. Deeper and further back into the mountains. At one point Brooke's measurements indicated that the tunnel branch they were in had wound down and around and they were now more or less three hundred feet under where they had parked in the canyon below the cave entrance.
      Brooke was in heaven.

      One morning just before dawn her Grandfather shook her out of bed. He was dressed in a long sleeved flannel shirt, heavy blue jeans and a thick hunting cap. And he was holding a large flashlight. From his belt pack hung a large canteen that was still damp around the mouth.
      "You wanna go see Grandpa's House?" She asked him after her second blink.
      "Sure do Brookie." The old man smiled.
      The free standing formation was in one of the deepest parts of Serious Cave in a section she had just explored in the last couple of weekends. It was a series of sheets of flowstone that had swallowed a large column and in certain light from the right angle, it did look like a rambling old house in the middle of the large cavern. She had immediately named it for her Grandfather. But her friend and sometimes caving partner Tina had wrote the less formal name on the map. Brooke liked it, so it stayed as is.

      It took them all morning to get to the room with the formation. Her grandfather was in pretty good shape, but he didn't scramble over loose stones as agilely as Brooke or her friend either. That and he stopped to marvel quite often at many of the sights and take pictures of the two girls by one or another striking formation.
      It was already after noon when they got to the room with Grandpa's House. He walked around it on the smooth sand of the floor and shook his head at the rock.
      "You know, from the other side it does look like an old house. But from here it looks like a parade of camels." He commented from the far wall.
      The girls stood next to him and he pointed out the row of humps and necks and a few grooves that could be legs.
      "It sure does. A desert caravan."
      "Yeah, a Caravan." He smiled and moved his flashlight back and forth and one of the camels looked like it was walking and swaying.
      And so the other side of Grandpa's House was named.
      But now they needed a break. Well, her grandfather did. They sat on a dry stone and ate the snacks that he pulled out of his large belt pack. They talked and chewed the sticky granola bars and talked about how great it was that Brooke had discovered all this. After an hour or so, they started back out by a slightly different route to show the old man the stream.
      The following Monday, her grandfather presented himself at the hospital for cancer surgery.

      One year after her discovery Brooke did the bravest thing in her life. She walked into the field office of the Utah Park Service in St. George with the information about her cave.
      "Can I help you miss?" The clerk asked her.
      "I'd like to see the geologist."
      "We don't have a full time geologist on staff here at the moment. Perhaps Mister Kushnick could help you." She went to get him.
      A few minutes later she was sitting in front of his desk with her dad behind her. She explained what she had discovered last year and how extensive it was.
      "I don't think a cavern of the size you describe would have gone undiscovered in that area. There's a lot of development and mining in there." He was saying. Then his eyes took in the evidence she was laying on his desk. Photographs, measurements, the map of the system as she had explored it so far.
      "I took these last week of where a drill had gone through the Empire Room." She pointed to a hole in the floor next to a series of stalagmites that resembled the ruins of ancient buildings.
      Mr. Kushnick was silent for a minute. "Where's it at?"
      "We'll give you directions and meet you and your people there in the morning." Her dad said.

      The next morning Mr. Kushnick and five other people from the State were waiting at the end of the canyon for Brooke and her dad and grandfather.
      "Where's the cave?" One of the men said.
      "Just up the way." Her dad pointed. "Whatever happens, Brooke gets to keep access to it since she discovered it."
      "We can't promise that." One of the others said.
      "See ya." Her grandfather smiled and started to open the door to his truck.
      "No. Please." Mr. Kushnick interrupted. "I've sort of already promised the girl she'd be able to keep exploring it since she's done the preliminary work on the cave."
      It was clear to Brooke's father and grandfather that some sort of bureaucratic rule or other was being broken, but the man in charge, who was belatedly introduced as Mr. Baker nodded and agreed they'd consider it.
      "Get your stuff." Her dad said with a grin.

      The entrance to Serious Cave was blocked by the Utah Park system, but she was given her own key to it. There was a brief flurry of exposure as media experts discussed if it was top five or top three of the largest caves in the state. Brooke was a local celebrity for the rest of the summer and the first couple of weeks of school. Then things settled back down to normal.
      But Brooke and classrooms just didn't get along.
      During her senior year in high school she had to really work to maintain her solid A average.
      Her full ride scholarship to Utah Valley State College gave her some freedom to explore fields other than geology so she took a lot of art classes once again. To no end. She'd rather be either on a mountain painting the landscape or deep underground exploring a new tunnel.
      She switched majors in college several times but couldn't find her nitch. She was finding out that being a breathtakingly beautiful young woman with an above average intellect with a good working knowledge of a hard science either intimidated people or made her irresistible to those that didn't know a speleothem from a taco.
      Brooke hooked up with the American Fork Cavers Association and spent almost all of her free time with them. They were delighted with her unusual status with her own key to Serious Cave and its near virgin status.
      Then Brooke got another disappointment. Her key to the lock worked. There was no sign of vandalism or that anybody had tried to break in. The sign in and out sheet hanging inside was still there. But other than a few visits early on by a couple of people from the state office, nobody else had bothered to do the exploration and testing she thought it deserved. She was certain some of the pools of black water deep in the cave held new species of Archaea microbe that might yield a cure to something like the bone cancer that was slowly killing her grandfather. But all the state scientists had done was to go in and take a few pictures and go home. The longest any state team had spent in the cave since it had been sealed had been six hours.
      Now she had a cause.
      Brooke got so wrapped up in organizing and leading expeditions into Serious Cave that she let her schoolwork slide. It took her two weeks of no holds barred studying and work to make up what she hadn't done for the semester that so she could pull her grades up over a C average and keep her scholarship for another term.
      During a marathon trip the group spent four days in the cave, they charted several new divisions off a passage Brooke had only given a brief inspection since it went up instead of down, and they found another access to the surface. It was barely big enough for a bat to sneak through, but there was clearly daylight pouring through the crack in the rock. In a dead end room that looked like it had been under water several times they found bones of several small animals in almost perfect condition except for their being almost entirely mineralized. The team carefully took photographs and documented the collection of one skeleton for identification on video.
      After four days of living underground and going for almost eighteen hours at one stretch without being able to stand up straight the team was ecstatic when they finally emerged outside and were able to look up and see the moon and stars. But the expedition had proven a success. Three separate branches of the cave had been traced until they became either dead ends or impassible fissures. Brooke's favorite branch, she had dubbed it 'I-70', still needed more exploration of its multiple leads.
      After just half an hour outside Brooke was ready to head back to I-70 and see how much further they could map it. The others talked her out of it with promises of a hot shower and soft bed back at the campus.

      But in her junior year it began to pay off. Several of the microbes she had helped collect turned out to be either totally new species or new variations of an existing type. She gained notoriety as an expert on specimen collection. And was beginning to be recognized as an first class underground surveyor.
      Her latest interest in cave exploration was actually measuring angles of descent, or ascent, depending on which way you looked at things.
      She had come upon it when she helped her dad and uncle build a wheelchair ramp for her grandfather. Her uncle pulled a laser level out of his toolbox and used it to make sure the ramp was level and even in its slope. Brooke had been using an old transit that seemed to be able to withstand bumping and banging over rocks and still retain enough focus to pick out the target spot sometimes a hundred yards away through a misty room. Now watching her uncle set the device on the post and have it self-level and then shoot out perfectly straight lights to the other posts and the porch she couldn't wait to take it into her cave and check her manual measurements.
      When she found out that they made more accurate versions for site surveying, she became even more animated.
      "You might as well give in Craig, she won't be content until you do." Her Grandfather said.
      "Well OK. I'll go with you tomorrow and show you how to do it." Her uncle said with a slight smile.
      "I'll buy her one of those gizmos and you can show her how to use it in the cave. That way you don't get yours busted or something."
      "I don't want to go down in a cave dad."
      "Oh please Uncle Craig."
      Her uncle looked at her, then at his brother, finally at the old man. "Well. OK. Let's get this finished and then go out and get it. I've got an idea of which one would work for what you're doing."
      Uncle Craig even chipped in some money at the hardware store and then he and the store manager took turns showing her both the new transit and the laser range finder from the kit. Brooke was a quick learner and asked detailed questions about using the instrument in an environment where 'level' was a relative term based on whether or not you could stand up on your own without holding onto something.
      The next morning Uncle Craig and Brooke met some of her regulars at the entrance to Serious and they carried the equipment down to the large dry room they had been using for some time as base camp.
      Brooke was soon using the old and new equipment to check and double check the measurements she had first made with string and a plumb bob years before. She had made a few errors, but overall, her readings had been pretty good.

      That night she noticed something about the numbers on her old charts.
      She had made some mistakes. But they were consistent mistakes, and only at the deepest depths. And even then they were only off by a matter of a fraction of a degree. Just within the margin of error for the equipment.
      Her measurements along the south west to north east axis showed less slope three years ago than they did now. Measurements across that axis, showed little if any deviation from the old readings.
      For now Brooke could only file it away as a curiosity. But she was just as anxious to check her measurements from the caves in the Wasatch mountains where her club had been doing most of their exploring and even in some old mines they had checked out because they ran through some natural galleries that were otherwise inaccessible.

      Her grandfather's condition didn't allow her any time underground for several months. One of the other caving members borrowed her equipment when he led a trek through an old mine north of Evanston, Wyoming near the Fossil Butte monument, which they had partially surveyed out two years ago as a favor to another group.
      When the old man was up to it all he wanted to talk about was Brooke and her caves. When she was there they looked at photographs and talked about the water features and he hung on every word when she told him about how her friends had found the grave of a miner from the gold rush days deep in the mine in Wyoming. He smiled broadly and laughed for the first time in weeks when she told him about how the Chinese student from BYU refused to go any further into the mine until they all paused and asked permission to continue from the spirit of the old miner.
      When he stopped laughing he smiled some more. "Tha's good respect." He said in a weak voice that was still full of the joy of life. "But tha’ ol’ long gone bummer don' care whose down that ol’ hole."
      Then Brooke showed him the emailed pictures from the mine and he stared at them. Asking questions about who the cavers were, how was the new transit working out, and other details that showed that while his body was failing as they talked, his mind was as sharp as ever.
      Then Brooke told him about the results of the survey.
      "It's showing the same declination toward the south southwest. Just a few minutes of a degree. But it is there, and the deeper they went into the mine the worse it got."
      Her mother looked at the numbers and charts on the laptop's screen. It meant nothing to her, but she was interested none the less. "But what does it mean. Is part of the area sinking?"
      "Show me that map ag’in." Her grandfather asked slowly. "Make it show more the state."
      Brooke did as she was told.
      "Yer cave is here." He pointed with a pale gray finger. "Those Wassa' caves is up here. Then they was in Wyomin' up there." He paused a second. "Ain't nothin' sinkin'. Somethin' is risin'." He gestured toward the top of the map. "Show more a the country. … Look where it's a pointin' ya."
      "Yellowstone." Brooke read off the map.
      They were still looking at the maps when the old man put his hand on Brooke's.
      "Brookie. Do something for me."
      "Anything Grandpa."
      "Somethin' big is goin' on. I jus' know it. You get your friends toge'her and find out what it is. Then you tell the people."
      "I will."
      "I mean now. Don't sit aroun’ here with me. Go on. Call'em and get to work." He managed to put a bit of force in his voice.
      "But Grandpa."
      "I love you Brookie." The old man said with tears in his eyes. "But this is importan’." He smiled at her. "I'm more afre'd of Yella'stone than I am what's happenin' to me." He tapped his chest.
      "I love you too Grandpa." Brooke managed to gasp out holding him tightly.

      There was no telling her anything but "Yes Brooke, I'll be there" when she started calling people.
      Then Brooke drove from Hurricane to American Fork in record time.
      Before, when she just had a cause, she was extremely motivated and driven. Now, she had a mission, and her enthusiasm was somewhat contagious.
      Brooke delegated different jobs to several people. One of the members who was laid up with a badly sprained ankle got to pull in every bit of geologic news from the Web. Another contacted other caving groups to see if anybody else had done any detail work like this. A member who was very pregnant waded through the group's logs and records to see if there was any information from the past. The rest set out to deep caves all up and down the state to obtain new readings.
      After an exhausting couple of weeks they held another briefing in the back room of the restaurant they had been using.
      "Bill. You're sweating." Somebody said to William Anderson while he loaded his plate with fried chicken from the buffet.
      The group's president was the popular long serving high school science teacher from the town. A self described 'Cave Bug' and perennial doctorial candidate he was well known both inside and outside of speleological circles. He had gotten a kick out of "Hurricane Brooke from Hurricane, Utah" as he called her when she became the de facto center of the group a couple of years ago. But her energy had also driven the club that had been withering in the light of day back underground where they belonged. The first couple of outings she had attended there had been only a bare handful of active members who still had batteries in their headlamps. Now they split up into two groups for most weekend caving expeditions and he had been talking about re-instituting the test before they issued their so called 'Underground Cards' to new members, allowing them to join in on expeditions into Federally controlled caves.
      "Yeah, I know." He answered.
      "You OK?"
      Anderson had read all the information they had put together. He had to swear Brooke to secrecy because she had wanted to run out to the TV station or something. He had allowed her to call her grandfather and tell him that his instinct was right, her mom said the old man smiled broadly and nodded but he couldn’t speak. But other than that, he wanted to share it with the group before they did anything else with it. But then when she asked him what it all meant, he just had to shake his head and tell he that he didn't know, but he didn't like it. Then he broke his own rule and called a former student of his who just happened to be an assistant professor of Earth Science and Geology at the University of Utah and asked him to come down and said he'd buy him dinner for his trouble. He was at the salad bar doing something with spinach and cheese.
      They made small talk and ate for awhile. Then Anderson stood up and said they had a lot of stuff to cover and he thought they'd better get started. The waitress closed the door on her way out and the president walked over to a flip chart while he wiped chicken grease off his fingers.
      "You're really going to use that thing?" One of the members kidded him. Anderson always brought it, but seldom did anything with it.
      "Oh yeah." He moved the cover sheet that showed a rather nicely hand drawn map of the inter-mountain area running from roughly the middle of Arizona and south-eastern Nevada up to the middle of Montana. "Recognize this?" He asked them.
      "I dunno. Looks like France."
      "OK." He smiled. "I can work with that." Sometimes he was glad he had twenty five years in front of high school kids to prepare for this group. "I'll introduce the people in order, and add to this as we go." He nodded to Tony who was still on crutches.
      "Going back well over a year, there's been a series of very small to middle sized Earthquakes running through this region from down toward the Gulf of California up to the Teton Range and beyond."
      Anderson flipped a clear plastic sheet over the map. Dozens upon dozens of small colored circles dotted the map. Blue for magnitude one or below. Yellow for two. Red for three and above. "OK? Now. Sue?"
      The pregnant woman smiled warmly at the whistles and other signs of appreciation. "Over the last two years we've logged instances of cave disturbances, fallen stalactites and the like in caves all over this area. There's been more of them the further north you go. I looked into some journals and newsletters from a couple of other groups and they reported the same sorts of things."
      Anderson turned over another clear sheet. These dots were white. They seemed to form a slice of a bulls eye centered on northwestern Wyoming with fewer incidents the further you got from that area.
      "We've gone out and re-surveyed about twenty caves and mines. The further north we went from Serious the more pronounced the inclination in the deepest parts were. At the surface and for about a hundred meters down it wasn't even worth measuring. But once you got two hundred meters or more below the surface, it became very pronounced, and the few three hundred meter galleries we got to showed significant inclination toward the north northeast. In some places, two or three degrees."
      "But only in the deepest rooms?"
      "Yes." Anderson answered for her as he turned her clear sheet over. "Buddy?"
      Anderson's guest nodded and stood up. Most of those in the room knew him as Doctor Fielder, only Anderson called him Buddy.
      "Go ahead and go into it." Anderson said to him.
      "As most of you know seismic activity in the Yellowstone area has been on the increase for the last several years. Groundswell and temperature have increase markedly in many locations inside the park and in the immediate surrounding area. Parts of the park have been closed to tourist use because, quite frankly, the ground is too hot to walk on. The US Geologic Survey is sure the magma pocket under the Yellowstone caldera is active again…." He looked at their map. "But they didn't know about this. When I relayed most of this to Doctor Smith up there. He told me he'd be on the next plane down. He should be here, well, he should be here."
      "But what's it mean?" Brooke asked for all of them.
      "That Yellowstone could blow sooner than we had thought." He got up and went to the map. "Don't breathe a word of this until I talk to Dr. Smith, because I could be talking out my…" He smiled, "Backsides. But, think of Yellowstone as a giant boil on the surface of the Earth. As the sac inside… I'm sorry, I know you all just ate, but it’s the only way I can explain it. As the sac inside fills up, the skin around it stretches. The skin on the surface may not move, but the tissue underneath has to shift to accommodate the extra material in the area."
      "Which is why all the deep caves are tilting and the surface is normal?"
      "Essentially. And all these small earthquakes are the relieving the stress."
      "What happens when the magma pocket fills up?"
      "Either nothing or…" He looked at Anderson.
      "When the Yellowstone caldera exploded some thirteen thousand years ago it left a crater two miles across on one end of Yellowstone Lake." He pointed to the blue smudge on the map. "The larger eruption six hundred thousand years ago covered much of North America with ash and left a crater about two thirds the size of the current park. The largest one was two million years ago." He looked back at Buddy and nodded.
      "That was one of the largest volcanic explosion in the history of the world. It probably shook the entire continent and may have been heard in Europe."
      "It created a caldera sixty miles across." Anderson added.
      "Sixty. Miles." One of the members repeated slowly.
      "They estimate the energy released as over two Thousand times that from Mount Saint Helens in 1980." Dr Fielder nodded in emphasis. "But even that was only a fraction of the size of the Fish Canyon blowout eruption in Colorado."
      "You see. Volcanoes around here are not the nice quiet lava producers they have in say Hawaii. The further into the center of the plate you get the more explosive they are. St Helens is mildly explosive. Yellowstone is…" Anderson shook his head.
      The silence in the room was broken by Fielder's cel phone ringing. He picked it up off the table and answered it. Then he started giving directions. "He's here, he missed the shopping center and got onto a one way street."
      They agreed to take a break and get dessert, then resume once Dr. Smith had seen their data.

      Brooke had known Dr. Fielder from working with the caving group in Salt Lake. But she had no idea who Dr. Smith was or what he'd be like.
      What Dr. Smith was like was simple to describe. He looked like anything but a geologist. Physically he was wholly unremarkable. A man of medium build, in his mid fifties and slightly balding with a thin slightly unkempt mustache, he could be anything from an accountant to an assistant manager at the zoo. But as they explained their findings and the possible conclusions to him Brooke could see that he was about four steps ahead of them.
      He nodded at crucial points, then would as precise questions that, in some cases, they couldn’t answer.
      Finally he had both eaten dinner and seen everything they had to show him.
      “Well?” Anderson asked him.
      Brooke was sitting across and just to one side of him. She watched him sip his coffee and study the large map and the diagrams. Then he stared at some of the photographs they had laid out around him as they talked. She could see him thinking, evaluating, then rethinking.
      He asked a couple of more questions and sipped his coffee while he listened to the answer.
      Dr. Smith looked at Dr. Fielder and took a deep breath. “What do you think?”
      The younger man was caught off guard. He wet his lips and looked around for a second. “I’d like to be able to say it’s just routine activity. But I can’t find any reason to say it is.”
      The high school teacher in Anderson spoke up. “Gut reaction.”
      Fielder nodded. “OK, here it is. I just get the feeling there is a huge upwelling of magma under Yellowstone and it is coming up from under us instead of the original hotspot which is now in Montana and traveling that way to the chamber agitating the series of faults that begin somewhere south of here. Causing everything in this area to shift.”
      Dr. Smith didn’t say anything or let his facial expression change. “Your turn.” He said to Anderson.
      “I talked to an old Ute some time ago. He said that when the sprits of the mountains moved to their new hunting grounds the stones got sad and shook while they cried out in despair.” Anderson frowned. “A little more fanciful, but it’ll serve. The mantle is looking for its old hunting ground and the stones are shaking because of it.”
      “Continental drift has taken the Yellowstone chamber from over its hotspot, which has moved north east, true. Perhaps, just perhaps there is a new plume and it has found a path of least resistance.” Dr. Smith said.
      There was silence in the room. The ranking scientist finally nodded. Then he asked for some more coffee.

      On the public side the press release was carefully worded and discussed magma movement and fault stress, but carefully avoided the mention of anything that could be interpreted as: Catastrophic Eruption of Supervolcano Caldera.
      Dr. Fielder did a few interviews on TV where most of the questions dealt with the recent unrest of Mount St. Helens. And even Mr. Anderson had a turn in front of some cameras.
      But on the private side things were far more interesting as the scientific argument built to a pressure that could rival the magma chamber under the caldera.
      “OK Brooke. Just for the sake of saying it. OK, Yellowstone may erupt. Now. When?”
      She looked down and admitted once again there was no way of knowing.

      “Let’s say it’s going to erupt next Fourth of July. How big will it be? Something like Mary Bay. That wasn’t much worse than St. Helens. Or maybe like the Lava Creek explosion or Huckleberry Ridge? How do we tell the Governor of Wyoming he has to evacuate his state? And then what if we’re wrong?”
      She looked up. “What if we’re right?”

End part 1

Continued in part 2

Back to the Desk