Fortunately, it’s the extinct one that is a supervolcano and I mean SUPERvolcano, as in dwarfing Yellowstone’s biggies.
Of course, things were very different (jargon alert) back when what’s now the San Andreas fault was ending its early career as a subduction zone, and western North America was on fire — long before the Yellowstone hotspot surfaced.
Beardogs or their ancestors probably saw and survived that and other supereruptions at the time.
It really is extinct, too. Yay!
The other two, although active and monitored by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory — as are all Four Corners volcanoes — are considered to be either Low/Very Low or Moderate threats
Let’s start with the moderate-threat volcano first, since that made the news a few years ago.
Black Rock Desert
This is the one in Utah, not the site of Burning Man and much else in western Nevada.
But it might be on Mars, judging by parts of this video!
That’s the Lace Curtain at Pahvant Butte, in Black Rock Desert volcanic field. A few millennia before the last ice age ended, cooling lava hardened in place as it oozed over the cliffs.
Remoteness and that dry climate have preserved it ever since. There were more eruptions in Black Rock Desert, though, with the most recent one occurring around 10,000 years ago (USGS) or 660 years ago (GVP).
In case you’re still reeling from that video on Wah Wah Springs Tuff caldera, please don’t think that any eruption at Utah’s Black Rock Desert would be a major US/world catastrophe.
Both of these active sites in Utah are only monogenetic volcanic fields.
[Layperson opinion] Any eruption at either one would “just” be a hassle for people living nearby, interstate and other ground traffic, and perhaps air traffic, too.
My guess is that Black Rock Desert is listed as Moderate Threat because it’s a little closer to people and traffic routes. [/layperson opinion]
In 2018 and 2019, though, Black Rock Desert did remind everyone that, unlike the Wah Wah Springs caldera, it still has a magmatic heartbeat.
Things are much quieter at the other Utah active field.
Want to continue the off-world feeling of these places?
This is exactly what I would do if I were exploring the Moon or Mars on foot:
It takes runny lava to make such structures and yet Wikipedia is not wrong in describing lava here as blocky.
The Markagunt Plateau volcanic field has a long history and it is a complicated place.
Of note, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the plateau is considered the top “step” of a geological “staircase” that descends southward all the way to the Grand Canyon (which, as we’ve seen, contains an active volcano).
A little more than 20 million years ago, the Markagunt Plateau was also involved in one of Earth’s hugest landslides!
But all that has been over for a long time.
So, why is there this volcanism in Utah (and elsewhere in the region?
As you can see here, some of the best minds on the planet are trying to figure it out!
I hope that they all take a break this weekend and relax in a nice place with those they love, as this Japanese man did in October 2021. Happy Labor Day!
How did he get the cat to do that? This couple, particularly the man who appears on camera, have an understanding of house cats that most of us can only dream about!
Featured image: Julia Culp/Shutterstock