A spectacular view into the upper section of Mud Creek Canyon.
A few years ago I posted an article on the hoodoos hidden away in Mount Shasta’s Mud Creek Canyon. The canyon is the largest on Mount Shasta and one of the most spectacular landmarks in California’s North State. For all of its grandeur, it remains a largely unappreciated destination, in significant part because there is no trail access. Only the Clear Creek Trail offers glimpses into the staggering chasm. These views, while magnificent, are focused on the lower part of the canyon and the upper section is obscured. It is in this isolated upper canyon that the hoodoos are sequestered. The hoodoos, tall pillars of volcanic rock and compressed ash, are some of the more fascinating and unusual formations on Mount Shasta, made all the more so by their anonymity and inaccessibility.
I recently revisited the rim of Mud Creek Canyon, one of my favorite spots on the mountain. Here, beneath the tall spires of Sargents Ridge, the Konwakiton Glacier and the gaping maw of the massive canyon, one gets an unusual sense of the wildness of Mount Shasta, as land itself is still in upheaval. Great cataclysm created this landscape and cataclysm continues to shape terrain. The glacial outburst from the Konwakiton Glacier in 2014 sent huge amounts of debris roiling down the canyon all the way into the McCloud Flats. However, it is the deep cut into the mountain, a fissure nearly 1,500 feet deep, that is the most volatile. While there is a significant amount of bedrock within Mount Shasta, much of the volcano is composed of loose rock, cinders and ash, the result of numerous eruptions. Mud Creek, which flows from the glacier, has succeeded in carving deeply into the flanks of the mountain, exposing the eruptive layers and more loose debris that demands to be settled. Consequently, the slopes of the canyon still seek their angle of repose. The hoodoos are redoubts that have, to some degree, resisted the erosion that has undermined the canyon walls.
The first time I came to the canyon rim and spied the hoodoos, I was shocked to discover their existence. These were a completely unappreciated but incredible feature on the mountain. I reckoned the towers measured 100-150 feet high, impressive monuments to the mountain’s violent past. A few of the hoodoos were impressive enough to warrant naming at that time. A pair of particularly prominent spires boasted balanced rocks. Through a bit of convoluted logic, I dubbed these Thor’s Twins (see my first post on hoodoos for the reasoning). Another nearby formation seemed to be a cluster of towers and these I named the Valkyries.
On this latest trip to Mud Creek Canyon, I was surprised to notice that the landscape had been altered considerably. The balanced rocks on the Thor’s Twins had been toppled. Meanwhile, the somewhat nondescript tips of the Valkyries had eroded into small balanced rocks of their own. Obviously there had been a significant amount of tumult in the earth since I had last visited.
Be sure to enlarge these images to see the detail. The changes in the rocks and conditions of the canyon is amazing!
While I was dismayed to see the loss of the balanced rocks atop the Twins, I was happy to see the evolution of the Valkyries. However, the most astounding change to the landscape was atop a tower that had previously lacked any distinction. Where a loose pile of rock had rested atop the tower when I last photographed it, I was now excited to observe a fabulously balanced rock now appeared. I reckon the rock is nearly 15 feet across and it sits tenuously atop a narrow stem of tufa (I am guessing as to the composition). It immediately reminded me of Camel Rock in New Mexico. I thus christened this new formation Camel Rock, in honor of the one in the Land of Enchantment.
While gazing out over the canyon and observing the changing conditions of the hoodoos, I was struck by how active the mountain had been. When I last photographed this part of the canyon, much of the slopes were blanketed in scree, creating a smooth texture from afar. Now the the slopes are littered with massive boulders and exposed strata. It is obvious that things have been shaking loose in dramatic fashion.
Below is one illustration of this change in condition. Note the increase of large boulders on the slopes and the exposed strata. In particular, observe the yellow tower in the first image. In the current image the tower is gone. Just below it in the earlier image a large boulder just pokes out from the scree. In the current image much more of the boulder has been exposed. I have no idea what kind of event precipitated the collapse of the tower, the exposure of the volcanic strata and the inundation of the slopes with huge rocks. Obviously something significant has taken place.
The forces at work get even more mysterious one looking at specific rocks. Some of the boulders, which can generally be described as “car-sized”, have been blown apart by a powerful force. Despite the rocks being obliterated, their precarious situation on the loose slopes does not seem to have significantly altered. The only force I can think that would work on rocks in this fashion is frost fracturing. However, this process would likely take longer than the interval at which I captured images of the hoodoos. Here is an example:
The rock seems to have been split in half. Oddly enough the rocks around the split boulder do not exhibit evidence of an event that wrought destruction of the whole area. The damage is quite localized. The clues of what forces at work are tantalizing but the true story of what has been happening in Mud Creek Canyon remains something of a mystery.
It seems obvious now that the hoodoos of Mud Creek Canyon are part of a landscape that is in constant flux. As awesome as Camel Rock it, it will eventually collapse, probably sooner rather than later. It is humbling to think that such an amazing formation could have formed and died and no one would have ever been blessed to have marveled at its beauty and mystery. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to preserve the rock’s existence in some fashion. Even more humbling is to know how powerful the forces at work on and within Mount Shasta are. This is the revelation of something mighty, something bigger than Mount Shasta. May it be that we recognize it.
Downstream from hoodoo canyon, Mud Creek Canyon widens significantly.