Podcast Episodes

Hell, with the Fires Out

It’s that time of year. You’re getting pelted with the supernatural from every direction – on TV, at the Movie Theater, in the grocery store. Far be it from us to miss an opportunity for a themed episode. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks – Three stories of the supernatural. Myths from the distant past. Ancient gods of Mount Ranier, the evil Queen of Death Valley, and the banshee that haunts Badlands National Park to this day. 


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Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.


Transcript

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean.

This year, L.L.Bean is joining up with the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, to help you find your happy place – in an amazing system of more than 400 national parks, including historic and cultural sites, monuments, preserves, lakeshores, and seashores that dot the American landscape, many of which you’ll find just a short trip from home. L.L.Bean is proud to be an official partner of the National Park Foundation. Discover your perfect day in a park at findyourpark.com.

It’s that time of year. You’re getting pelted with the supernatural from every direction – on TV, at the Movie Theater, in the grocery store. Far be it from us to miss an opportunity for a themed episode.

I’m Jason Epperson, and on today’s episode of America’s National Parks – Stories of the supernatural. Myths from the distant past. In fact, all of these stories come from one source. In 1896, Charles M. Skinner published a massive, 9 volume collection of eerie legends from coast to coast, many of which happened in national parks. Not surprisingly, stories of the unexplained tend to draw from the heritage of indigenous people, and it should be said right up front, that native American people take their legends seriously, almost as if they happened yesterday. By no means are we attempting to make light of any particular tale, or to set them aside as spooky Halloween fodder. Many are creation stories, explaining the very existence of some of our nation’s treasures, or parables that help us learn more about ourselves.

We begin at Mount Ranier National Park. We’ve talked in the past of Ranier’s capacity to wipe out thousands of people if it were to erupt. But another tale talks of how Tacoma, Ranier’s original name, is the place where the tamanous, or a divine being, teaches lessons to those who brave its climb.

Here’s Abigail Trabue

——-

Mount Tacoma has always been a place of superstitious regard among the native people of the Northwest. In their stories, it was the place of refuge for the last man when the sound was so swollen after long rain, that its waters covered the earth. All other men were drowned. The waves pursued the one man as he climbed, rising higher and higher until they came to his knees, his waist, his breast. Hope was almost gone, and he felt that the next wave would launch him into the black ocean that raged about him, when one of the tamanous of the peak, taking pity on him, turned his feet to stone. The storm ceased, and the waters fell away. The man still stood there, his feet a part of the peak, and he mourned that he could not descend to where the air was balmy and the flowers were opening. The Spirit of all Things came and bade him sleep, and, after his eyes were closed, tore out one of his ribs and changed it to a woman. When lifted out of the rock the man awoke, and, turning with delight to the woman, he led her to the sea-shore, and there in a forest they made their home. There the human race was recreated.

On the shore of the sound in later years lived an Indian miser who dried salmon and dried the meat that he did not use, selling it to his fellow men for shells. The more of this treasure he got, the more he wanted. One day, while hunting on the slopes of Mount Tacoma, he looked along its snow-fields, climbing to the sky, and, instead of doing homage to the tamanous, or divinity of the mountain, he only sighed, “If I could only get more shells!”

Sounded a voice in his ear: “Dare you go to my treasure caves?”

“I dare!” cried the miser.

The rocks and snows and woods roared back the words so quick in echoes that the noise was like that of a mountain laughing. The wind came up again to whisper the secret in the man’s ear, and with an elk-horn for pick and spade he began the ascent of the peak. Next morning he had reached the crater’s rim, and, hurrying down into it, he passed a rock shaped like a salmon, next, one in the form of a kamas-root, and presently a third in likeness of an elk’s head. “‘Tis a tamanous has spoken!” he exclaimed, as he looked at them.

At the foot of the elk’s head he began to dig. Under the snow he came to crusts of rock that gave a hollow sound, and presently he lifted a scale of stone that covered a cavity brimful of shells more beautiful, more precious, more abundant than his wildest hopes had pictured. He plunged his arms among them to the shoulder—he laughed and fondled them, winding the strings of them about his arms and waist and neck and filling his hands. Then, heavily burdened, he started homeward.

In his eagerness to take away his treasure he made no offerings of shell strings to the stone tamanous in the crater, and hardly had he begun the descent of the mountain’s western face before he began to be buffeted with winds. The angry god wrapped himself in a whirling tower of cloud and fell upon him, drawing darkness after. Hands seemed to clutch at him out of the storm: they tore at his treasure, and, in despair, he cast away a cord of it in sacrifice. The storm paused for a moment, and when it returned upon him with scream and flash and roar he parted with another. So, going down in the lulls, he reached timber just as the last handful of his wealth was wrenched from his grasp and flung upon the winds. Sick in heart and body, he fell upon a moss-heap, senseless. He awoke and arose stiffly, after a time, and resumed his journey.

In his sleep a change had come to the man. His hair was matted and reached to his knees; his joints creaked; his food supply was gone; but he picked kamas bulbs and broke his fast, and the world seemed fresh and good to him. He looked back at Tacoma and admired the splendor of its snows and the beauty of its form, and had never a care for the riches in its crater. The wood was strange to him as he descended, but at sunset he reached his home, where an aged woman was cooking salmon. Wife and husband recognized each other, though he had been asleep and she a-sorrowing for years. In his joy to be at home the miser dug up all his treasure that he had secreted and gave of his wealth and wisdom to who so needed them. Life, love, and nature were enough, he found, and he never braved the tamanous again.

———

Jason: Special places on earth often get special origin stories that explain why they were formed the way they were. One of our most curious National Parks is no different.

——-

In the southern part of California, near the Arizona line, is the famous Death Valley—a tract of arid, alkaline plain hemmed in by steep mountains and lying below the level of the sea. For years it was believed that no human being could cross that desert and live, for horses sink to their knees in drifts of soda dust; there is no water, though the traveller requires much drink; and the heat is terrific. Animals that die in the neighborhood mummify, but do not decay, and it is surmised that the remains of many a thoughtless or ignorant prospector lie bleached in the plain. On the east side of Dead Mountain are points of whitened rock that at a distance look like sheeted figures, and these, the Indians say, are the ghosts of their brethren.

In the heart of this desert is said to be the ruin of a pueblo, or village, though the shape and size of it suggest that it was made for a few persons rather than for a tribe or family. Long ago, the tale runs, this place of horrors was a fair and fertile kingdom, ruled by a beautiful but capricious queen. She ordered her subjects to build her a mansion that should surpass those of her neighbors, the Aztecs, and they worked for years to make one worthy of her, dragging the stones and timbers for miles. Fearing lest age, accident, or illness should forbid her to see the ending of her dream, she ordered so many of her subjects to assist that her tribe was reduced to practical slavery.

In her haste and heartlessness she commanded her own daughter to join the bearers of burdens, and when the toilers flagged in step in the noonday heat she strode among them and lashed their naked backs. As royalty was sacred, they did not complain, but when she struck her daughter the girl turned, threw down her load of stone, and solemnly cursed her mother and her kingdom; then, overcome by heat and weariness, she sank to the earth and died. Vain the regrets and lamentations of the queen. The sun came out with blinding heat and light, vegetation withered, animals disappeared, streams and wells dried up, and at last the wretched woman gave up her life on a bed of fever, with no hand to soothe her dying moments, for her people, too, were dead. The palace, half-completed, stands in the midst of this desolation, and sometimes it seems to lift into view of those at a distance in the shifting mirage that plays along the horizon.

____

There’s another story from Death Valley, a place with more ghost towns than actual towns. In one of the rough, Old West mining settlements, a saloon owner named Joe “Hootch” Simpson gunned down a banker in a drunken rage in 1908 to settle a $20 debt. The townspeople formed a lynch mob and hanged Simpson, then buried him, exhumed him and re-hanged him for the benefit of a visiting reporter. Finally, the town doctor beheaded him. Legend says that Simpson’s headless ghost continues to haunt the area to this day.

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park is another place with an ominous name, but it isn’t really bad at all. In fact, it’s a striking world of rugged formations that appear almost out of nowhere in the middle of a massive grassland. It was named the Badlands because it was deemed useless for farming. But there is one very frightening tale. Our final story tells of a banshee that is said to haunt the cliffs.

_____

“Hell, with the fires out,” is what the Bad Lands of Dakota have been called. The fearless Western nomenclature fits the place. It is an ancient sea-bottom, with its clay strata worn by frost and flood into forms like pagodas, pyramids, and terraced cities. Labyrinthine canyons wind among these fantastic peaks, which are brilliant in color, but bleak, savage, and oppressive. Game courses over the castellated hills, rattlesnakes bask at the edge of the crater above burning coal seams, and wild men have made despairing stand here against advancing civilization. It may have been the white victim of a red man’s jealousy that haunts the region of the butte called “Watch Dog,” or it may have been an Indian woman who was killed there, but there is a banshee in the desert whose cries have chilled the blood that would not have cooled at the sight of a bear or panther. By moonlight, when the scenery is most suggestive and unearthly, and the noises of wolves and owls inspire uneasy feelings, the ghost is seen on a hill a mile south of the Watch Dog, her hair blowing, her arms tossing in strange gestures.

If war parties, emigrants, cowboys, hunters, any who for good or ill are going through this country, pass the haunted butte at night, the rocks are lighted with phosphor flashes and the banshee sweeps upon them. As if wishing to speak, or as if waiting a question that it has occurred to none to ask, she stands beside them in an attitude of appeal, but if asked what she wants she flings her arms aloft and with a shriek that echoes through the blasted gulches for a mile she disappears and an instant later is seen wringing her hands on her hill-top. Cattle will not graze near the haunted butte and the cowboys keep aloof from it, for the word has never been spoken that will solve the mystery of the region or quiet the unhappy banshee.

The creature has a companion, sometimes, in an unfleshed skeleton that trudges about the ash and clay and haunts the camps in a search for music. If he hears it he will sit outside the door and nod in time to it, while a violin left within his reach is eagerly seized and will be played on through half the night. The music is wondrous: now as soft as the stir of wind in the sage, anon as harsh as the cry of a wolf or startling as the stir of a rattler. As the east begins to brighten the music grows fainter, and when it is fairly light it has ceased altogether. But he who listens to it must on no account follow the player if the skeleton moves away, for not only will it lead him into rocky pitfalls, whence escape is hopeless, but when there the music will intoxicate, madden, and will finally charm his soul from his body.

_____

Stories like this surround most of our National Parks, next time you’re heading to one, take some time to learn about the legends of places and people that surround it. You’ll be glad you did.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

The Sleeping Volcano

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted — it was the “deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, generating “about 500 times the force that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” it killed 57 people and thousands of animals and lopped 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain.

Still, there’s another volcano that is much more concerning to volcanologists. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park, and its namesake volcano’s potential for mass destruction.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Mount Rainier National Park – National Park Service Website

This May Be the Most Dangerous US Volcano – National Geographic

That Fissure Opening “Near” Yellowstone? Not a Sign of an Impending Eruption. – Discover

Mount St. Helens and the Worst Volcano Eruption in U.S. History – Time

The historic inns at Rainier – Rainier Guest Services

 


Transcript

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean.

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–

About a month ago a large fissure opened up in the wall of a cliff face at Grand Tetons National Park. A fissure is a separation in rock caused by geological movement and is a fairly normal occurrence. The park closed off the surrounding area because loose rock can dangerously tumble for extended periods after a fissure opens up. Again…this was a totally normal occurrence.

But you can’t tell that to a conspiracy theorist.

Grand Tetons National Park neighbors Yellowstone National Park, full of all its wonderful, dramatic geothermal features. All of that bubbling and gurgling and spraying is caused by a plume of molten rock that rises beneath the surface – a Supervolcano.

The first major eruption of the Yellowstone volcano occurred 2.1 million years ago, and it’s one of the largest volcanic eruptions we know of, covering over 5,790 square miles with ash. So if you do a quick google search for the Yellowstone Supervolcano, you’re going to find some pretty terrifying theories about what will happen when the Northwest corner of Wyoming erupts again.

What’s more, you’ll find a heck of a lot of articles, and youtube videos, in particular, about how the government is keeping the signs of an impending eruption secret. They’ll point to the changes in Old Faithful’s predictability, increased earthquakes, and other totally normal geothermic occurances that they can make sound uncommon.

So it was no surprise that, when that fissure opened up 60 miles from the Yellowstone caldera in the Tetons, the conspiracy theory machine kicked into hyperdrive:

[Youtube clip montage]

The government, of course, is hiding all of this from you for some reason.

Unfortunately, this completely normal occurrence was also picked up by some more mainstream media. Especially in the UK, where the Daily Mail headline read: “Rock fissure sparks URGENT closure at Grand Teton National Park, just 60 miles from Yellowstone supervolcano.” “Urgent is in all caps. It’s accompanied by a scary map showing waist high ash covering the country as far as Chicago and Los Angeles. Epcot could be blanketed in as much as 3 inches. In the Daily Express: “Yellowstone Volcano latest: 100-FOOT fissure sparks URGENT park closure“ — “Urgent” again in all caps — and after an explanation from park officials the article went off on its own tangent — I’m quoting here:

“If the Wyoming volcano were to erupt an estimated 87,000 people would be killed immediately and two-thirds of the USA would immediately be made uninhabitable. The large spew of ash into the atmosphere would block out sunlight and directly affect life beneath it creating a ‘nuclear winter.’ The massive eruption could be a staggering 6,000 times as powerful as the one from Washington’s Mount St Helens in 1980.

End quote.

The reality is that the most recent major eruption was 640,000 years ago, and it was on nowhere near that scale. Since then, 80 smaller eruptions have occurred, most recently 70,000 years ago, partially filling the caldera. A cataclysmic eruption is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. If an eruption were to happen, what we’re more likely to see is some smaller lava flows, similar to the most recent eruptions in Hawaii. And just to be safe, monitoring of all sorts of volcanic eruption indicators is constantly underway at Yellowstone. Worrying about the “big one” isn’t too dissimilar from worrying about an asteroid crashing into the planet. There’s nothing you can do, so why bother?

There are 169 active volcanoes in the United States, most of those are in Alaska, and Yellowstone doesn’t even break the top ten of the ones that scientists consider the most dangerous. On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted — it was the “deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, generating “about 500 times the force that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” it killed 57 people and thousands of animals and lopped 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain.

Still, there’s another volcano that is much more concerning to volcanologists. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park, and its namesake volcano’s potential for mass destruction.

The picturesque wonder of Mount Rainier looms in the background of most postcard photos of the Seattle skyline, like God’s reminder of the trivial accomplishments of man. What does the Space Needle have on a 14,000-foot volcano?

The 3.7 million people of the largest metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest go about their days, generally without a thought of the danger that lurks to the southeast.

“Mount Rainier is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world,” Volcanologist Janine Krippner told National Geographic. A significant eruption of Mount Rainier could result in one of the worst natural disasters in US history.

To understand why you only need look at the icy cloak that Rainier wears. Over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow cover it. Of all the glaciers in the contiguous U.S., Mount Rainier’s Emmons Glacier has the largest surface area. Carbon Glacier is the longest, and the thickest at 700 feet deep.

What happens to that ice under a major volcanic eruption is worse than the layperson can imagine. For an analogous event, Krippner pointed to the story of Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano which erupted 33 years ago.

Beginning in November 1984, geologists observed an increasing level of seismic activity near Nevado del Ruiz, as well as increased fumarole activity, deposits of sulfur on the summit, and small explosions where magma came in contact with water, instantly turned it into steam.

A year later, volcanic activity once again increased as magma neared the surface. The volcano began releasing gases and the springs in the vicinity became enriched in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, leached from the magma. The gas releases caused pressure to build up inside the volcano, which eventually resulted in the explosive eruption.

At 3:06 pm, on November 13, 1985, more than 35 million tons of material ejected 19 miles into the atmosphere. That may sound like a lot, but it’s only about 3% of that of the Mount Saint Helens eruption.

Pyroclastic flows — or fast-moving streams of gas and molten rock — began to melt the summit glaciers and snow, and the water mixed with rocks and clay as it traveled down the volcano’s flanks, in four thick flows — like rivers of uncured concrete. It’s a phenomenon known as a lahar.

The violent lahar mudflows ran down the volcano’s sides at nearly 40 miles per hour, breaking off more rock and soil and vegetation in their path. At the base of the volcano, the lahars were directed into all of the six river valleys, which grew to almost 4 times their original volume.

One of the lahars swallowed a town nearly whole. One-quarter of its 29,000 inhabitants survived. Another killed 1,800 people and destroyed 400 homes. In total, over 23,000 people were killed, and approximately 5,000 were injured in the eruption, and more than 5,000 homes were destroyed. It’s the deadliest volcanic disaster in the last 100 years and the fourth-deadliest eruption in recorded history.

Since the volcano’s last substantial eruption occurred more than 140 years earlier, it was hard for many to accept the danger the volcano presented, even though it was known that an eruption was highly possible due to the increased activity the year prior. Maps showing completely flooded areas in the case of an eruption were distributed more than a month before the eruption, but the Colombian Congress criticized the scientific and civil defense agencies for scaremongering. The town of Armero’s mayor and religious authorities kept residents calm after the initial eruption, and then a storm hit that evening, causing electrical outages and hindering communications. The lahars hit the town of Armero at about 30 miles an hour as its residents slept.

At Rainier, The US Geological Survey has mapped and studied the sleeping volcano, and it’s clear that lahars are an extreme danger. At least 60 lahars have dramatically altered various portions of Mount Rainier during the past 10,000 years.

“Lahars can lift houses. They can overtake a bridge. They can take the bridge with it,” Krippner said. There’s evidence that in the past, lahars filled Rainier’s valleys to heights of almost 500 feet. “Imagine if you’re in that valley today,” Krippner said, asking if you could climb to that hight faster than a 40 mile per hour mudflow.

At least 80,000 people sit in zones that lahars are capable of reaching. But are those people prepared?

Rainier’s glaciers and proximity to large amounts of people led to its inclusion as one of the sixteen volcanoes worldwide studied through the United Nations Decade Initiative aimed at leveraging a partnership between science and emergency management to reduce the severity of natural disasters. In 1992, a plan was developed through the National Academy of Sciences for researching the hazards and risks connected with Mount Rainier. The US Geological Survey has an extensive strategy to communicate warnings and aid authorities, but many people remain blissfully unaware of the real dangers Rainier represents. That’s compounded by the popularity of the Pacific Northwest in recent years.

Rainier last threatened to blow in 1895, when minor explosions shook the summit, but it hasn’t significantly erupted for a thousand years or so. Still, a cataclysmic eruption isn’t required for a lahar. In 1947, massive amounts of water discharged from a Rainier Glacier, channeling a one-mile canyon in the ice. The resulting mudflow moved 50 million cubic yards of debris, drastically changing the topography of the area. Several smaller debris flows followed.

Rainier is one of the most monitored volcanoes on the planet, but the next eruption or lahar could come with little to no warning. Evacuation routes are in place, but it’s unlikely that it will be possible to evacuate thousands of people in minutes. If they even listen to the warning. It’s often assumed that in the face of a disaster, people panic. History tells us that they’re more likely to shrug off a warning.

____

It’s not lost on me that we started this episode of belittling conspiracy theorists and fear-mongerers, and then gave you a terrifying story. The Danger at Rainier is real, but it shouldn’t stop anyone from visiting or living there. Preparation is the key to surviving any disaster. The local municipalities and science communities are doing everything they can to help keep people safe. They’re learning how lakes upstream of dams on the lahar paths can be drained to stop them cold. They’re creating information campaigns and awareness plans. And hopefully, we will have warning of an imminent eruption, and when we do, people will heed it.

Mount Rainier is one of the oldest national parks, and one of the most visited. The park is famous for its wildflowers, and is home to a vast array of Pacific Northwest wildlife, including Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Red Fox, Coyote, Black Bear, Deer, Elk, Mountain Goats, Porcupine, Marmots, and Beaver. And, of course, if you’re a mountaineer, you can attempt to summit the 14,410-foot active volcano. Reaching the summit requires a vertical elevation gain of more than 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles.

On weekend days in the summer, parking lots can fill by mid-morning. Try to visit on weekdays, or arriving in the early morning or late afternoon when people begin to leave.

The weather is generally cool and rainy even during the peak of the summer. Visitors should always bring rain gear. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit, and the park has four campgrounds open during the summer months, three of which can accommodate RVs. There are also established campsites along many trails. All require reservations.

There are two inns located inside the park, the National Park Inn, located in the Longmire district is open year-round, and the historic Paradise Inn, Designated as one of the “Great Lodges of the West,” sits at an elevation of 5,420 feet, with hiking trails just outside the door. Here you’ll find no televisions, telephones, or Internet, just the tranquility of nature.

At an elevation of 6,400 feet, the Sunrise area is the highest point that can be reached by vehicle. In summer, mountain meadows team with wildflowers. Sunrise Point offers nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys, Mount Rainier, and other volcanoes in the Cascade Range such as Mount Adams.

The Paradise area is also famous for its wildflower meadows and stunning views. The park’s main visitor center is here, and it’s the prime winter-use area in the park, receiving on average 643 inches of snow a year. Winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing. The road between Longmire and Paradise is plowed throughout the winter.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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