Monday, April 27, 2009

Desert Destination: Black Rock Lava Flow

Every Monday we visit a Desert Destination.
Out in the middle of the three-hour long drive between Ely and Tonopah, with no public bathrooms, no telephones, no gas, and no soda machines, part of US Highway 6 passes through the Lunar Crater Volcanic Field. A BLM sign alerts drivers who are still awake about the nearby Black Rock Lava Flow. You can see it from the highway, but it's much more interesting to take the one-mile detour (the sign says two miles, but it's wrong), and get out and stretch your legs a bit.

A sign gives some information about the lava flow with the unimaginative name. The lava flow is made of basalt. Hot lava swelled up inside the nearby cinder cone and broke through the walls, flowing towards the west. As the lava cooled, it solidified. The Black Rock Lava Flow is the youngest of the lava flows in the lunar volcanic field, and covers about 1,900 acres.

Behind the lava flow are a couple of the many cinder cones in the area. The entire Lunar Crater area in central Nevada encompasses about 100 square miles and includes more than 20 extinct volcanoes and 35 lava flows. You can read a bit more about the geology of the area on this USGS page.

I was a little surprised when I walked up to the lava flow to see that not all of it was solid lava, like I've seen at other lava flows. The south edge of the lava flow has many scattered pieces of basalt.

Among the basalt are bushes and dirt--and probably quite a few wildflowers right about now.

I visited in March, when the temperatures were wonderful for exploring. In the middle of the summer, this area can be scorching, with the black basalt absorbing the hot desert sun. In the winter, it can be covered in snow.

The basalt hosts an interesting array of lichens. Here's an interesting post about lichens in the Salt Lake area. They certainly lend more color to what might be described as a rather stark view.

I should mention that the Black Rock Lava Flow is many hours away from the Black Rock Desert, where the (in)famous Burning Man Festival is held every year. 

Embedded in some of the basalt are rocks and crystals that the magma picked up deep within the earth on its way to the surface.

Lizards love to hang out in the lava field.

The road continues on around the lava field, where it becomes more continuous. I didn't have time to see the entire lava field, so when I got home I took a look at Google Earth and found this image of the lava flow (I added the labels):

As you can see, the lava flow really stands out from the surrounding scenery. Not too far away is Lunar Crater, a maar about 4,000 feet across and 400 feet deep. I hope to get there soon!

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