Early one Saturday morning, my parents had decided to take a well-deserved rest and sleep in. At the time they had two loud, annoying children (four more would come eventually, though if you told them this at that time they might have started weeping) and had decided to take a small break from it all. It was doomed from the start. 1

2 With a loud BOOM their bedroom door burst open. Standing in the doorway, in his underwear, wild-eyed and crazy-haired, stood…me, age 4.

3 I strode purposefully towards the bed, and came to a stop at the foot. Opening my mouth, I announced, 4 With that announcement, I strode out the door with another BOOM. Other parents might have become concerned, thinking their oldest child had gone mad. They may have even followed me out the door to make sure I didn’t start chewing on furniture or tie up my sister to leave on railroad tracks. They were not concerned in the slightest. 1 They simply rolled their eyes, and went back to sleep. Not long after the Bedroom Incident (as it came to be called) we were at my grandparents’ house. My uncle had heard that I was “really into” volcanoes, and decided to give me a treat. “Hey, Zach,” he said. “Did you hear about the volcano that erupted in Mexico a couple of days ago?” He never made that mistake again. 6

(Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the Wikipedia article for this fascinating volcano is here.)

I can’t help it. When it comes to volcanoes, I can never help it. They are, bar none, the most interesting things to ever happen on planet Earth. I mean, think about the awesomeness of it all: There was a farmer (also in Mexico) that became concerned when he saw smoke coming from his cornfield. It was a baby volcano. In something like a year the thing was a thousand feet high, and it was wiping out entire towns with lava. I pray the poor farmer wasn’t held liable for property damage-it was his mountain, after all.

6a

“No bueno! No bueno!”

Some volcanoes erupt with a roar like a jet engine; others haven’t stopped erupting since the Roman Empire. One volcano in Alaska buried an entire valley with ash and rock; the valley smoked and steamed for another seventy years while it slowly cooled (Hence the name “Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes”). I want everyone to love volcanoes as much as I do. So, listed below are some of my favorite volcanoes, as well as a little bit of sarcasm and information thrown in.

YELLOWSTONE CALDERA

7First let me say that YELLOWSTONE IS NOT GOING TO BLOW UP IN YOUR LIFETIME. STOP FREAKING OUT WHENEVER YOU SEE BISON RUNNING AROUND IN THE PARK. THAT IS WHAT BISON DO. THEY ARE STUPID FURRY COWS WITH ATTITUDE. THANK YOU.

That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to it erupting. I only live five hours away, and it would be something to behold. I’d probably die, but what a way to go!
There is solid evidence that Yellowstone tends to blow up in a massive way every once in a (great) while. In fact, if you look at a map of Idaho, you can see a smiley face where there are no mountains; over millions of years, the volcano blew them all away and left very fertile plains where potatoes frolic in the summer sun.
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(Incidentally, the volcano doesn’t move. North America moves, which allows the volcano to erupt in a new spot on the continent every few hundred thousand years.)
Because its eruptions are so massive, there isn’t a traditional cone-shaped mountain. Instead, the entire landscape collapses as the molten rock underneath the surface erupts. Imagine a cake with pudding in the center. You stick a straw in and suck the pudding out (please excuse me while I vomit), and the center of the cake sags. Same principle, except your cake is twelve inches across instead of sixty miles.
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This is called a caldera.
When my eight year old brother went to Yellowstone with us in 2008, he became very upset.
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He was hoping to see lava, and all he got was stupid water. “I could turn on the stove at home and see that!” Once I explained that we were standing in the CALDERA of the LARGEST VOLCANO on the planet, he…was still not impressed. I blame this on the fact that he was eight and had the attention span of a goldfish. YOU, however, should be impressed.
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Yellowstone-home to the world’s largest tea kettle.

There are MOUNTAINS near Sulfur Cauldron in the park that exist only because the molten rock underground is LIFTING THEM UP as the chamber fills again. The volcano isn’t even sleeping; it’s more like it’s nodded off in the middle of a boring blog post (much like you now) and will snap out of its doze with a jerk.
One of Yellowstone’s last eruptions was so powerful it killed animals in Nebraska and ash fell on the East Coast. If that same eruption happened today, we would be screwed. The Great Plains would be covered in massive amounts of ash, rendering them unfit for farming for years. The climate would cool worldwide and billions would starve.
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On the plus side, Al Gore would stop whining about global warming.

Again, Yellowstone is in no serious danger of a major eruption. It would take decades of increasingly ominous signs before it spews forth in almighty glory. (Massive uplift as the magma chamber underneath fills up, a sharp uptick in earthquakes, perhaps minor eruptions, etc.)There is a risk of lava flows and steam explosions (one crater from a steam explosion is a half mile across, and a geyser actually exploded in 1989), but even those are extremely rare. There hasn’t been a lava flow in the park for at least sixty thousand years.

MOUNT SAINT HELENS

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This mountain erupted sideways in 1980. It lost more than a thousand feet in height, and the mudflows shut down shipping on the Columbia River, forcing the government to dredge it so the tankers could get through. It also buried a tranquil little lake, which isn’t so tranquil anymore. Its bed is now HIGHER than its pre-eruption surface, and thirty four years later still has tree corpses floating in it.
She is the most active volcano in the Cascade Range, and one of the youngest. Every once in a while St. Helens erupts fairly gently, oozing lava into a dome in the crater. Eventually the lava dome will fill the crater and become the new summit. The forests destroyed by the eruption are slowly coming back, as is the wildlife.
I visited St. Helens in 2000 and loved every minute of it. The Johnston Ridge Observatory is only a couple of miles from the mountain, and gave spectacular views of the devastation.
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Mt. St. Helens would make a terrible interior decorator.

Sadly, it has since been closed due to budget cuts. The government can fund cowboy poetry festivals in Nevada, but can’t be bothered to spend money on national parks and monuments. Not that I’m bitter.
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I’m much angrier than that.

I tell people I love this mountain because of the triumph of life over destruction, of beauty and peace over devastation. Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument is an incredible testament to the resilience of life on this beautiful blue rock.
I’m lying. I like this mountain because it blew up freaking sideways.
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Also of note is Mount Rainer, which is practically next door to Mt St. Helens. If that bad boy ever erupted in a big way Seattle would be buried under ten feet of hot mud. Because of its potential danger, Mt. Rainer is considered a Decade Volcano, one worthy of continued study and attention.

17Rainier is such a drama queen.

Ol Doinyo Lengai

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This mountain is in Africa. It erupts black lava which quickly cools to brittle white rock. It’s like a volcanic Oreo cookie!
19 If only it erupted Oreos.

Scientists believe it’s because of the unique chemical content of the lava, which also has a much lower melting point. Whatever. I just think it’s AWESOME.
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Vesuvius

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Remember the incident from the start of this post, where I explained I was thinking about pyroclastic flows? Think of an eruption that doesn’t go straight up, but goes down the mountain. Choking, toxic gases, superheated rock and ash…you’d die pretty quickly.
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Pyroclastic flows-the Nickelback of the geologic world.

Vesuvius did that in 79 AD to the Roman city of Herculaneum.
23Hundreds died in the boathouses trying to flee when the pyroclastic cloud hit.
The more famous city of Pompeii was “merely” buried under ash, forgotten for 1750 years. Our excavation of this city has told us more about ancient Rome than almost anything else.
Incidentally, the city of Naples is not far from Vesuvius and another dangerous volcano called the PhlegraeanFields. When Vesuvius has a major eruption, Naples is in serious trouble. When the Fields erupt, Italy will be in serious trouble, and Naples will be remembered much like Pompeii is today.
Vesuvius last erupted in World War II, right as Allied forces were trying to liberate Italy.
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Vesuvius clearly wasn’t a fan of Mussolini.

Tambora

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Tambora used to be a mountain. It isn’t any more. In the largest eruption in recorded history, Tambora blew itself apart, collapsing like a pudding-less pudding cake into a new caldera.
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 Now I’m hungry.

That was in 1815. 1816 is known as the “Year Without a Summer,” or “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death.” Frosts were occurring in American and Europe until July. Crops failed everywhere. Keep in mind Tambora is located on the other side of the planet in Indonesia.
This is Tambora today.
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Yes. There is a giant pit where a towering volcano once stood.

Many farmers in America lost their land when their crops failed. Others gave up the land they were farming as a bad job, and moved elsewhere. One family in particular decided after their farm failed to move to upstate New York, where the most interesting thing happened to them.
28You read this correctly. Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church, moved to New York because of a volcano.
Where it not for this eruption, Joseph Smith never would have had the First Vision or found the gold plates. He wouldn’t have founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My ancestors would have never converted to it and moved to America. My name would be Hans Jensen or Jens Hansen, and I would live in Denmark. My life would be far, far emptier; and I would be much less happy than I am today.
So as you can see, I appreciate this mountain blowing its top.
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It’s a shame we can’t learn about this in General Conference.

I could go on. There’s a volcanic field in Idaho that has a better than even chance of erupting by the end of the century, a volcano that was the inspiration for Atlantis, and another that blows smoke rings. Now you can be as excited and passionate about volcanoes as I am; they really are the coolest things on planet Earth.
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But when you tell people your new hobby, don’t dress like this.

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