Saturday, July 17, 2010

Entering the Blast Zone: A visit to Mount St. Helens

I am a Washingtonian through and through.  I was born in Seattle, and spent the first 18 years of my life, plus the summers since, romping through every corner of this great state, save for one, Mount St. Helens.
    The mountain itself is hard to miss.  Each time I drove south I could see it's massive, headless bulk on the horizon, but that's as close as I ever got.  When my friends were going on field trips with their classes in middle school I sat jealous because somehow, I was never in the class that went.  We learned about it in Washington State History Class and watched a movie of the eruption every year on it's anniversary.  I knew everything about Mt. St. Helens, I just never got to experience it.
    So you can imagine my excitement yesterday as my family loaded up our pick-up truck, set to finally visit the volcano.  After a week of many adventures my family was a bit hesitant to take this long day trip, but in the end I was able to convince them. Victory.
    As we drove south on I-5, we sat for what felt like hours in traffic as fighter jets flew overhead, part of an air show at joint base Lewis-McChord.  The wait paid off in our favor.  As we finally broke free of the gridlock the low laying gray cloud cover burned off to reveal a cloudless blue sky.
     Now we had to decide where we wanted to go.  Mount St. Helens can be approached from three different sides, each miles apart and with very different vantage points.  For this first trip we decided to visit the Johnson Ridge Observatory, which offers one of the best views of the crater and path of destruction.
    As we drove closer and closer to the mountain we could see that slowly the trees became shorter.  Then to our right the forest opened up into the giant flood plane of the Toutle River.  By the time we reached the observatory the terrain was sparse and treeless, but far from dead.  Purple and red wildflowers painted the hills in vibrant colors.
    At the observatory you can read about the history of the eruption, watch a movie, follow a guide or just take in the mountain from some awesome vantage points.  I could have stood and watched the mountain for hours, just pondering it.  I've never seen destruction so incredible.  Even now, 30 years after the eruption, trees lay flat upon distant mountains, a result of the lateral blast.  Far below canyons carved by the mudflow stream out of the mountains crater.  The resulting appearance looks more like it belongs in the southwest than in western Washington.  But, as desolate as the area looks change is happening.  Tree's are growing once again in the far reaches of the blast.  Snow once again settles on top of the mountain, fish have been found in spirit lake, and in the center of the crater you can see a lava dome forming, growing more and more each year.

my little 'ode to Thailand
tree's were blown down on the mountains
   Now I have a goal to get back to the Mountain, but from different sides.  If you approach from the east you can visit Spirit Lake and see the greatest reaches of the blown down forest.  If you approach from the south you can crawl through ancient lava tubes called the Ape Caves.  I also think it would be amazing the climb up to the rim of the crater one day.  You know me and mountains, their hard to climb but I just can't stay away.

1 comment:

Mary E. Trimble said...

Interesting piece--I love the pictures. I, too, am an avid fan of Mount St. Helens. In fact, my latest novel, Tenderfoot, has a sub-plot of the 1980 eruption. My blog this week discusses the amazing transformation from ashes back to life: