Vegas Volcanoes: Could another blast be in our future?

Did you know that extinct volcanoes are all around us in Southern Nevada? Find out more about these natural wonders, responsible for forming the community we call home. 8/12/16 (KSNV)

Charles Platt doesn’t mind a little hard work in the summer sun.

"They never say it on the news but were always 8 degrees cooler," he said. " I think it's because of Black Mountain and the breeze."

His front yard is an oasis of drought tolerant trees, but creating his paradise didn’t come easy. The soil, he said, has always been a challenge.

"It's hard digging here," said Platt. "You got rock right away. You better have a big pry bar."

Platt can thank ancient history for all of his toils. That mountain keeping his Henderson neighborhood a few degrees cooler is actually a lava flow from an extinct volcano. On the south side of the valley, that is not an unusual discovery.

"If you live in Henderson, you're basically surrounded by old volcanoes,” said Gene Smith, Professor Emeritus of Geology at UNLV. "The McCollough Range is basically a large volcano that was ripped apart by faulting."

It is movement that occurred up to 16 million years ago. No chance for a local eruption today, though.

"There is a possibility of volcanoes nearby. For example, near Flagstaff or near Baker might erupt. And ash plumes from those volcanoes might disturb air traffic here at McCarran” said Smith.

All over the world, there are vivid examples of the force that nature has bubbling just beneath the surface. One volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has been erupting for more than 30 years. This summer, lava spilled from the volcano and into the ocean in dramatic fashion.

It is a tourist attraction, just like Mount St. Helens in Washington, which blew in May of 1980, killing 57 people. Scientists there now say there are signs that the volcano is slowly recharging, still alive.

Here in southern Nevada, our volcanos died out long ago; even if the remnants are still visible from space.

"Here's the rim of the volcano right here," said Smith, pointing at a map. "Here's where they're making housing pads."

For an even closer look at some of our Vegas volcanoes, travel no farther than Lake Mead. The Historic Railroad Trail, for instance, cuts right through volcanic rock. A series of tunnels, popular with runners and hikers.

"It's beautiful out here," said runner Bruce Magruder. "Lake Mead in the background, Hoover Dam at the end."

The tunnels were created in 1931. Teams of men dug for 5 months through solid volcanic rock. Today, some of it has started to wear away, but it is still clear that the tunnels were created with a purpose. Hiker Denise Magruder said she’s walked the trail at least a dozen times.

"It's amazing to think of the trains coming through here and bringing the supplies," she said.

Back at the Platt’s place, time is relative. The lava flow near his property is nothing more than an ancient landmark, but the rocky soil now prevents future development from going in behind him.

"Thank you Black Mountain and the volcanic rock!" he said.

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