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Serious Cave


©05 Levite

To part 3

      The caving group, including the old field hand, all climbed into the vehicles and caravanned up US Routes 26 and 191 into the South Entrance of the park.
      "It's been a long time since I've been here." Dave said as they passed the south entrance. "We came up after the big fires to see what was left. But I haven't been here since."
      Brooke hadn't been there at all so they stopped at the Grant Village and walked to the visitor center.
      Anderson stopped everybody outside. "For this morning, let's play tourists and see if we can learn anything."
      "You mean like spy on them?" The old man asked.
      "Exactly. If the rangers find out what we're up to they may escort us off the premises." Dave nodded. "Then after lunch I want to go check out some of the old craters around the Washburn Mountains and the lava dome up there."
      Paul nodded. "You mean you want to see if any of the old plugs are moving? I'll come with you."
      They looked at Dave and Brooke. He thought about it. "Norris Geyser's. That's the most active area. We'll see what there is to see."
      The others divided up between the two leaders then they went into the visitor center to watch the movie about the fire and the park's recovery since.

      "Look at this." Brooke said standing next to a huge map of the park.
      "Trail temporarily closed due to increased thermal activity." Dave read out loud.
      "Sound interesting?"
      "And how."
      The intern and the old man looked at each other.
      "We'll wait.... Someplace." The old man said.
      "That might be a good idea." Brooke grinned at Dave.
      The group wandered down the trial taking pictures and chatting. Then when the coast was clear Dave and Brooke slipped away and around the barricade to check out the thermal activity.
      "Sulfur dioxide is high." Dave read off a meter.
      "Eighty five degrees C." Brooke had laid a thermometer on the ground near the boardwalk. "That's warm."
      The walked to where they could see more barricades blocking the other end of the trail, then they turned back. Brooke took some more pictures, then they made their way back to the others and reported what they'd found.
      "We heard something interesting while you were gone." The student said.
      "Ol Steamboat blew again."
      Brooke recognized the name but didn't know the significance.
      "Steamboat is the largest geyser in the world. But it doesn't erupt often. It didn't blow at all for like ten years. Then it cooked off about six times in three months a couple of years ago."
      "The man said it erupted again the other day and it was one of the largest eruptions they'd ever seen."
      "Shot hot water five hundred feet in the air and sputtered for two days." The old man said only slightly exaggerating what the amateur geyser expert had told them.
      "The guy also said there's a couple of new geysers just down the road that just appeared."
      Brooke and Dave looked at each other. "Let's go see."

      Paul's group stumbled down some incredibly rough trails and up some even rougher hills without the benefit of a trail.
      Anderson checked his map and GPS readout about every nine steps. Finally he stopped them. "That's the lava dome." He said pointing to a slight and unassuming rise in the terrain.
      They made their way over to it and looked around. There was no lava breaking through cracks in the ground. Only the occasional whiff or gases or trace of steam let them know anything was different in this area from dozens of other hills in the region.
      They hiked around the area.
      "Oh. Wow."
      "That's not good."
      The vegetation in front of them was either dead or dying.
      Anderson looked closely at the trees that were still alive. "Looks like it just started. The trees aren't dead yet."
      "Everything else is." The student kicked at a clump of thick grass that came loose from the soil. They picked it up and examined the soil around the roots. "Look at this. Dead ants."
      Paul checked it out. "Yeah." He paused. "Carbon dioxide buildup?"
      "Like at Mammoth Mountain?" Anderson nodded thoughtfully.
      The intern didn't know what that meant. "I thought plants liked carbon dioxide."
      "They do. Around their leaves." He gestured to the trees. "But in the soil, it's a bad thing. And since pure CO2 is heavier than air. It collects in the ground and kills your friends there."
      "In the park out there they tell you not to sleep face down on the ground or go down into a hole or a well." Paul said.
      "How much of it is coming out of the ground?"
      Paul shrugged. "Something like a hundred tons a day."
      "Of Carbon Dioxide? That's a lot."
      "Yeah. I think Congress needs to regulate volcanoes due to global warming." Anderson said looking up the hill. "Let's go."

      Later they met the other crew for dinner then they found their campsite in the Canyon complex.
      The old man produced a large plastic bottle of spiced rum and passed out paper cups of it to anybody that stuck out their hand.
      "Well." He said after most of them had had a sip. "What cha'all find out? She gonna blow or not?"
      They sat in silence and stared at the small fire burning in the grate.
      The man refilled a couple of the cups.
      Brooke noticed he was looking at her. She nodded.
      "Hopefully not tonight." Paul said to the following silence.

      The next day they wanted to go out to the eastern side of the park where there had been rumors of recent seismic activity with surface deformation.
      The only information they could get from a park geologist was that the reports were under study and nothing had been officially determined.
      When Anderson asked questions about groundswell and expansion fissures the employee became a little more evasive and talked about a class they had that discussed the geology of the area.
      After breakfast they decided the best way to get to where they wanted to go was to simply set out as a group and hike out there.
      The old man volunteered to walk for awhile with them, then come back and mind the camp.
      They crossed streams and climbed hills and slid down steep hills and took measurements and finally realized that a couple of inches on a map of Yellowstone Park translated into one heck of a long cross country hike where the vertical distance covered was almost equal the horizontal distance.
      They trudged back into camp just as the sun was going behind the western hills for the evening.
      "Oh yeah. I can cook too!" The old man said. He uncovered a big pot of beans and rice that smelled strongly of spiced sausages.
      While they were eating the amateur geologist from the geyser basin stopped by their camp with a bit of news.
      "In the morning we're going over to Cooke City. A friend of mine said his uncle's ranch had a fissure open up. Since you guys are into that kind of thing..." The man said. "Wanna check it out?"
      Paul and Dave looked at Anderson who shook his head and looked at Brooke. She passed the look on to the interns.
      The old man was still dipping up beans. "Well... it kinda came up when we was at the geysers." He smiled sheepishly. "Me and Gil had a long talk about all that."
      "In that case. Yes sir. When you leaving?" Anderson said to him.

      They had breakfast on the go and met Gil's friend at a gas station in town. Then they were off up a road that promised to at least make a good attempt to jar their fillings loose.
      The friend's uncle nodded without saying a whole lot anybody heard then he pointed off toward the north east and nodded some more. Then as they got back into the trucks and vans he finally said a complete sentence. "Let me know what ya find out 'bout it."
      Gil's friend said he knew where it was and they set out again. They opened and closed gates and drove past cattle that seemed to be too bored to watch them go by.
      The crack was at the base of a steep cliff that most of the team recognized immediately as basalt with some obsidian veins in it that was sitting on a large mass of granite. They parked along the trail and walked toward the cliff.
      "Over there." Gil's friend said as they got out and walked around.
      "What about that one?" Gil said pointing the other way.
      They walked over and looked. A small crack ran along the base of the cliff.
      "Is it receding?" Paul asked as Dave scrambled down to look at it.
      "I don't think so."
      They took some gas readings but the results didn't impress anybody including Boo who ran back and forth along the top of the opening barking at the squirrels in the trees over them.
      Then they walked to the other crack.
      "Now That's a fault scarp." Anderson said.
      "Yes sir. But in my professional opinion. I'd call that a big crack. A really big crack."
      Between the cliff above them and the erosion rubble below there was an opening that started beneath a clump of bushes and extended along at the base of the rock wall for a good distance. Some distance away it had opened to over two meters across. Yawning open it exposed sheer rock down as far as the bright morning light could reach.
      "Well. To work." Dave said. "I'll check for emissions."
      The team each had their jobs. Gil, as an enthusiastic amateur pitched right in and helped as much as he could.
      Brooke set up a tripod and took a series of pictures to create a panorama of the crevasse.
      Several of the team climbed to the bottom of the crack with sensors and gas meters to check for volcanic gasses. The readings weren't as high as some locations in Yellowstone, but they were definitely elevated.
      "Almost textbook." Anderson said looking at the numbers. "Something is going on."
      "There has to be a magma chamber under here." Dave looked at the ridge then stood straight and stared off to the southwest. "But we're nowhere near the main caldera."
      Paul shrugged and screwed his face up thinking.
      "Do we really know how big the original caldera was? And where the hotspot is moving too?"
      They let that sink in.
      "Damn I like her." Paul said.
      "Too late. She's mine." Dave replied. "Brooke. You're a genius."
      The old man was standing next to Gil and his friend. "OK. She's got good looks and brains. Ya mind tellin' the rest of us what she's talking about?"

      "This isn't a case where the land or the cliff or anything is subsiding." Dave said as they took a break and dug out some cold drinks. He thought about it. "Where do you want me to begin? At the beginning?"
      Some of them nodded.
      Anderson took it up. "Somewhere on the order of ten, maybe fifteen million years ago. The volcano that's under Yellowstone was all the way down where Idaho, Oregon and Nevada come together. Now we can talk about whether or not its moved, or North America has moved over it. It comes out to the same thing. Every few million years it erupts in a new place. Four or five million years ago or so it was down at Island Park over in Idaho. It cooks off almost like clockwork every half million years. Two million years ago, there was a big one at Yellowstone at Huckleberry Ridge, then Lava Creek went up..."
      "That was six hundred thousand years ago." Paul added.
      "So its overdue..." Gil said quietly.
      "Something like that."
      They got quiet as they sipped their drinks.
      Gil's friend still didn't understand. "So how did that cause the crack over here?"
      It was Brooke's turn. "The hotspot is moving North East. Usually about twenty to about fifty miles at a time."
      "And as it fills the new magma chamber it's pushing this ridge up."
      Light dawned. "It could be right under us." He said slowly.
      There was no huge volcanic explosion. The birds in the bushes down the hill were still chirping. A slight breeze was blowing.
      "Could be." Dave said.
      "But there's no way of knowing when it'll erupt. It could be that this is all just normal sequence that will take another million years before anything happens that we have to worry about." Anderson said.
      He nodded.
      "Or... It could blow, anytime. Maybe next week. And level most of the region."
      "You mean it'll wipe out the house?"
      Dave shook his head.
      "If the coming eruption is anything like the last couple were. It'll wipe out houses in Billings and Cody." Paul said slowly.
      "A hundred miles around." Dave drew a circle on the ground in front of him.
      "Or more." Anderson added. "They've found ash in southern Texas from the Huckleberry Ridge explosion."
      "Damn." Gil said.

      The group bid goodbye to Gil and his friend and headed back south.
      They spent the night back at the campground and discussed and diagramed everything they knew so far.
      "I want to try it. Just once. Just run through it once for somebody so we can say we've done it." Anderson said as it got late.
      Brooke nodded. "Me too."
      "To appease your conscience in case..." Paul said then paused.
      "In case you're right." The old man added.
      Brooke frowned at them but Dave nodded. "Yeah. That's exactly it."
      "Who do we take it to?" One of the students asked. "It has to be a geologist or somebody."
      "There's an office here in the park. Start there."
      Anderson nodded at Paul. "Good idea."
      "Just in case they throw you in jail. We'll wait outside with a copy of everything in the trunk of my car."

      They got directions to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory office. There they met a staff geologist that knew Bill Anderson through some mutual contacts in the academic environment.
      They started showing them their findings and conclusions and began to bring out the evidence that supported them, when a more senior staff member came out of an office and politely stopped them.
      Then they listened to a pat speech about the supervolcano and how everything that had happened in the last twenty years was part of the natural cycle and no suppositions about an increase in activity that would lead to a major eruption should be made.
      "OK. Do you at least want to hear what we've found?"
      "Send me a copy of your paper and I'll pass it on." The senior geologist said. "You've got a class tour in a few minutes." They said to the staff member.
      "See ya around Bill." The staffer said getting stuff together for the tour.

      Back in the parking lot Anderson shook his head.
      Brooke looked up at the sky. "Well, Grandpa, we tried."
      Paul sighed. "It'd have to blow before they believed it."
      Dave wasn't put off at all. "Wait a minute. We only stopped by here as a courtesy." He took Brooke's hand. "We'll send them a copy of your paper all right. With all the photos and gas readings." He smiled. "In a special edition of the magazine." As they walked back to the van he talked about a wall to wall issue with a special center section of Brooke's photos and charts and graphs outlining their data and all.
      "Make sure you spell my name right." The old man said.
      "You got it." Dave grinned.

      It was a lot of work.
      But the issue finally hit the presses a couple of months later.
      It exploded like the supervolcano it talked about. Some of the team did TV interviews and Brooke was something of a celebrity back in Hurricane.
      Every time the ground shook at all anywhere near Yellowstone it was all over the headlines. But the Park Geologists explained that the ground had always been shaking there and that they averaged a fairly sizable earthquake about every other year somewhere in the park.
      All in all it was good publicity for the park and the stream of visitors spiked during all the hype.
      But then an airline strike and a tropical storm pushed the story off the national scope. And after a couple of months of no blazing lava engulfing the Old Faithful Inn, it became old news.
      Public television updated their special about supervolcanos, several scientific magazines did bits about what was and was not known about them, and there was a noticeable increase in interest in geology departments at several universities.
      And that was it.

Sometime later

      Dave and Brooke sat over an alcohol stove in Serious Cave after pushing a small climbing lead that ended in a narrow shaft that might have an opening at the surface.
      Brooke took a picture of Dave trying to unobtrusively use a relief bottle.
      "Oh gee. Thanks." Dave said.
      "My pleasure."
      "Later." Dave said. "Is the soup hot?"
      After lunch they went back to the narrow lead and surveyed it back out until it joined up with an already mapped passage.
      "BROOKE!" Somebody called. "DAVE! BROOKE!"
      "It's my dad." Brooke said. "HERE! Come on." She said to Dave. They started back up the passage to meet him.
      Her dad was out of breath and panting. "I'm glad I found you. I wasn't sure which way you'd gone." He sat heavily on a rock outcropping and turned off his handheld flashlight.
      "What's wrong?" Dave asked him.
      "Oh." He took a deep breath. "It might be starting."
      "What?" Brooke said, then the look on his face told her. "Oh God."
      Her dad nodded. "The news said there was a massive earthquake in the park and some of the people evacuated talked about seeing lava near the lake."
      "Brooke? You OK?" Dave asked her. "You wanna go?"
      She looked at her husband, then at her father. She nodded, but then changed her mind and shook her head. "I wanna go see Grandpa's House first." She started through the cave to the formation.

End Cave

    Except for 'Serious Cave': All Geologic features exist or are presumed. Some modifications of actual formations or features were made for literary reasons.
    Lechuguilla Cave, in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, is the deepest cave in North America and one of the deepest in the world. As of this writing over 115 miles of passages have been mapped.
    The Yellowstone Supervolcano is an active volcano that is being monitored by the United States Geological Survey. The last major eruption was the Lava Creek event just over 600,000 years ago. Other Supervolcanoes include Toba in Indonesia which exploded 75,000 years ago with even more energy and debris than the Huckleberry Ridge event. The Traps of Siberia and a large area of volcanic rock in southern India are ancient sites of such eruptions. The Campi Flegrei area near Naples in Italy is another site that is currently active.
    No National Parks were destroyed in the writing of this story.

Copyright 2005, Levite. 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 volcanic disasters, while possible, have not happened... ... yet.
Email- dr_leftover{~at~}themediadesk{~dot~}com   Selah ]

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