Monday, September 14, 2015

Forces of Nature

"Like a force of nature" is a common enough simile. I suspect I've used it on occasion. Hopefully I haven't used it trivially, because the forces of Nature are (in another too often trivialized term) awesome ...

The forces of Nature in this post aren't similes. In recent, post-Hugo, post-Worldcon comments, I mentioned that my wife and I took a vacation immediately after the con. Three destinations on our itinerary offer opportunities to reflect on the true forces of Nature.

(And speaking of my recent posts, an aside. If, when you read this, it's still September 2015, you might want to check out my too narrowly titled post "Holiday-weekend reading." One of my publishers is running a month-long special on ebook editions of two of my non-series novels. For one of these novels, you can choose your own price. Even free. Now back to today's topic ...)

Clements Mtn. (with glacier)
First, Glacier National Park in Montana. One force of Nature, forest fire, manifested in a thick haze well before we arrived. Until a few days before said arrival, I wondered if we'd even be able to make this stop. Parts of the park remained off-limits to tourists throughout our visit.

We never got close to any of the eponymous glaciers, and smoke softened some spectacular vistas. One glacier, glimpsed from a distance -- with the haze from recent forest fires all too evident -- is shown above. And surely the seismic forces that raise such mountains likewise demonstrate Nature's incredible power.

We also drove through sections of the park where everything had burned, the landscape reduced to the appearance of a telephone-pole convention. I don't have any pictures of those sad, bare, scorched trunks. We followed the park rangers' admonitions not to stop along that part of the road.

At the end of the Avalanche Trail
All that said, we saw some awesome (in the literal sense) sights at Glacier. Take, for example, this charming mountain lake at the end of Avalanche Creek Trail. As all those scattered rocks suggest, the avalanche reference in the name is apt. We'll chalk up avalanches (and gravity) as yet another force of Nature.

The other Grand Canyon
From Glacier we went to Yellowstone National Park in (mostly) Wyoming. It's an incredible park, and huge: larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Here we saw the power of running water, as in the nearby shot of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. That's the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  The trails along both rims of the canyon are easy and very scenic.

Of course Yellowstone is best known for its active seismic regions. We saw the famous geyser Old Faithful -- but that area was so built up, so mobbed with other visitors, that it was my least favorite aspect of the park. Instead, to represent an active seismic function, I choose a close-up of the mud volcano.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble
Then, in Idaho, there was Craters of the Moon National Monument (on schedule to be promoted to full national-park status). Magma hotspots can move -- one such, in the Pacific Ocean, built in succession all those wonderful Hawaiian islands. The hotspot now under Yellowstone was under Idaho just a few millennia ago. Craters of the Moon (named when the origins of lunar craters were not understood) was an active region then; to this day, the eruptions have left their mark. And despite the desolation, life -- yet another force of Nature -- manages to take root.

An old lava field
In some of my fiction, I've had occasion -- as future lunar colonists might have occasion -- to exploit the lunar lava tubes. (A lava tube, per Wikipedia, is "a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow." As geologically inactive as the Moon now appears, in an earlier age its surface seethed with lava.) Think: a preformed tunnel and a shelter from the ceaseless cosmic rays and solar wind sleeting down on the unprotected lunar surface.

Tubular, man
Hence: I couldn't resist the opportunity to pop into a real-life, if terrestrial, lava tube. (Only I didn't stay long, or venture far inside, because I had flown cross-country sans hardhat.)

Yup, the forces of Nature truly are awesome.

No comments: