During one of our annual Hidden CA roadtrips, we hiked to one of the most curious phenomenons. Located alongside a reservoir is what appears to be an unearthed kingdom from the ancient days. Strange pillar formations tower along the shoreline, twisting 20 feet high. It would not seem unlikely to assume this was a man-made structure, but it’s not!
These columns had actually been hidden for over a billion years before the reservoir’s pounding waves began carving them back out. Researchers determined that the structures were created by a combination of cold water dripping down and steam rising out of hot volcanic ash, then spewed by a cataclysmic explosion 760,000 years ago. They are an astounding product of a natural experiment in the physics of hydrothermal convection.
The columns began forming by snow seeping into the hot tuff, thus boiling and creating evenly-spaced convection cells similar to heat pipes. X-rays were able to prove that tiny spaces in the convection pipes were bonded together by erosion-resistant minerals. It is believed that as many as 5,000 of these columns exist within a 2-3 sq. mile radius of the lake.
Personal Experience: This is definitely one of the most unique natural sites I have visited anywhere. To think such an incredible place is accessible and exists in California is quite a treat. We visited in early September when temperatures were pretty hot. Having a lake as the final destination to cool off at was definitely a great reward.
The columns are truly magnificent to see and you are even able to explore inside of them! My mind imagined them underwater millions of years ago with some strange sea king inhabiting them. 😛
4WD is needed to get to the end-mark to where you hike down a hill. Otherwise, depending on what type of car you have, you may be hiking a couple miles to 4.5 miles. My car was able to get us halfway, to where we then parked it on the side of the dirt road and hiked the rest of the way. This spot will be part of our members section to help reduce foot traffic and aid in its preservation.
A long, summery hike ahead of us! Can’t wait to get in the water!
So close but so far. I am not a fan of blazing heat:
Finally! How exciting to see the pillars in the distance!
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