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Tahoe Nugget #152:

Volcanic Tableland at Bishop
October 14, 2008

Yesterday I returned from my annual sojourn to Bishop, California, which is located along the spectacular Eastern Sierra Front in the northern portion of the beautiful Owens River Valley. Once again I discovered new and exciting landscape features that simultaneously inspire and overwhelm.

This trip I didn't bring any maps or informational booklets so I just hopped onto roads that looked promising. (Many great hikes and stunning high- altitude valleys that rank up there at the National Park level are often at the end of obscure roads with little to no signage.) I certainly wasn't disappointed with the new spots that I stumbled across. I'll share a couple of them in future Tahoe Nuggets.

The photos in this Nugget will focus on the Volcanic Tableland region, which is an easy drive about five miles north of Bishop. This dramatic landscape has its origins in a violent eruption that occurred 760,000 years ago when the Long Valley Caldera belched an avalanche of hot gas and molten rock (pyroclastic flow) more than 300 hundred feet deep across 36,000 acres.

Due to the extremely dry climate in Owens Valley (about 5 inches of precipitation annually) there is little erosion due to rain or snow, so the hardened lava has retained many of the unique shapes and fluid-like features from the pre-historic eruption.

The Owens Valley has a long and dynamic history with volcanic and earthquake activity, part of the mountain building processes that created the Sierra Nevada to the west, as well as the Inyo-white Mountains to the east of the valley. I could go into the details of the eruptions and flows, but I'll let those people that are more interested in the subject search the many resources available on the Internet.

Photo #1: Entrance to Volcanic Tablelands with White Mountains in background.
Photo #2: Notice the vesicles created by expanding gas and erosion.
Photo #3: Close up detail of lava vesicles.
Photo #4: Nice road to Volcanic Tablelands heading north from Bishop.
Photo #5: Eastern edge of vast lava flow from 760,000 years ago.
Photo #6: Lava with interesting facial profile.
Photo #7: Note how the more obdurate rock cap has created a mushroom as the softer, more easily erodible base slowly disappears.
Photo #8: A malevolent mood during a rare mid-October winter storm.

Nugget #152 A Volcanic Tableland sign

Nugget #152 B Vesicles in lava flow

Nugget #152 C Lava vesicles close up detail

Nugget #152 D Road to Volcanic Tableland

Nugget #152 E Lava flow Inyo-White Mountains

Nugget #152 F Lava facial feature

Nugget #152 G Volcanic Mushroom

Nugget #152 H Storm over Owens Valley lava


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