Day 1We are "camped" here between I-5 and a very active train route because it is close to Mount Saint Helens. We had an unbelievably clear, sunny, warm day and took advantage of it to explore the mountain. We downloaded a brochure titled, The Road to Mount Saint Helens, and took off. The brochure listed the mileposts of the various centers and view points and told us a bit of what to expect. We also found much helpful information on the Forestry Service's website. Throughout the day we watched various tours herding through the centers and going on various hikes, but we were content to be on our own self-guided tour. We spent considerably more time than any of the tours we saw.
We zipped one exit up I-5 - (49) and turned East on Silver Lake Hwy (Hwy 504) towards the town of Toutle, WA. The mileposts are seen on the right hand side of the road before you reach the various centers.Our first stop was the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center at milepost 5. This center is run by Washington State Parks, and they do an outstanding job. It is 45 minutes from the ridge, but I recommend stopping here first. There is a great view of the mountain, an informative film presentation, and some fascinating exhibits to explore. Stacia had her first experience with the Jr. Ranger program here. We will do this whenever possible - the workbooks helped us ALL get much more out of the experience. ::grin:: The center's focus was on the geology of the area. Entrance fees are $5 for adults and $2.50 for 17 and under.
|INSIDE a Volcano ::grin::|
|Discussing various layers of sediment with Michael|
|Ever the teacher|
|Looking at different types of lava|
|They were IMPRESSED Stacia put thought into her answers - um - |
she said the groups before us had just slopped anything down.
|Note Yuuki - the Trailer Dog|
|We're still enamored with fall colors|
|Concrete Sasquatch - what do you think?|
Continuing up Hwy 504 we passed many spectacular viewing sites. Most have info boards to tell one what is being observed.
|I think this is destined to be one of my favorites of Michael - living his dream|
The time was getting away from us at our leisurely pace of discovery. We opted to drive to the furthest point, Johnston Ridge Observatory at mile 52, to conserve time on future days of driving. Johnston Ridge is the closest viewpoint of the crater and hosts an EXCELLENT exhibition center. (The observatory is named after David Johnston, a geologist with the USGS. He was stationed on this ridge when the volcano erupted. He perished in mere moments following the eruption leaving a wife and three children bereft of their husband and father.) We watched a film about the events on May 18, 1980....at the end of the movie, the curtain drew back, the lights came up and we were looking into the crater. This is also called the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument and is run by the USGS. The area has been set aside as a science experiment. Geologists, Ecologists, and Volcanologists work daily up here observing the changes which have already occurred and are still occurring. The ranger talks are fascinating. They expected it would take at least "a thousand years" for any life (plant or animal) to return to the blast zone. Life returned quickly. Canyons were created in hours rather than millions of years. They've been able to take their OBSERVATIONS from this explosion and make sense of things seen in other areas around the world. I'm not doing justice in my description. This is a spot well-worth the drive. They also had a Jr. Ranger program in which "Stacia" participated. We have a one year military National Parks pass and that was accepted here for payment. Fees are $8 per adult and children under 15 are free.
|Best theater ever!|
Above and below views are from the observation deck just outside of the observatory. You can see the new course of the Toutle River in the above photo. It used to run out of Spirit Lake, but that bit of geography has completely changed. It now runs directly from Mt St Helens. In the below photo, you can see the far southern corner of the new Spirit Lake. Most of it is out of sight from the observatory. They say that in the moments following the blast, the wave of debris and the pyroclastic flow buried all of the lodges around the lake (Harry Truman's remains were never recovered - presumably buried under hundreds of feet of earth, ash and debris) and pushed the waters of Spirit Lake up the side of the mountain on the far side. When the waters rushed back into the lake, they brought what is estimated as a million trees with them. The lake was/ is choked with trees, but even here there is new life appearing with fish (some think transplanted in by some do-gooder), otters and wildlife in abundance all around it.
|Second ranger badge of the day. Thank you Ranger Teddy.|
The logs laying on the ground and the jagged stumps are remnants of a once lush and majestic forest. The 18 May eruption laid waste to everything in this area within minutes. 240 square miles (the exact number varies according to the source) of forest were broken off, knocked down, and thrown like match sticks by the violence of the eruption.
There were lots of warnings an eruption was coming. Nonetheless, 57 people lost their lives, and many were injured. Most expected the eruption to go skyward rather than blast out laterally. The biggest blast zone known for a lateral eruption was 5 - 6 miles in a Japanese eruption. People thought they were safe and outside the blast zone but were, in fact, in grave danger. We knew we wanted to explore the human story a bit deeper. We did learn the stories of Harry R. Truman (not the President nor related to the President) and David Johnston. We've had several conversations about the choices Harry made and wondered what choice we each may have made.
|Jamin - we thought you'd like this run|
It is hard to imagine, but as deep as the front of the crater is, the mountain top used to stand that much above the top of what is known as the "Curtain Wall" of what is left. In other words, it used to stand 1,300 feet taller than it does today.
We ended our day by hiking the ridge behind the observatory. We would love to have had more time, but the sun was setting, and it was time to make our way down the mountain.
Stumps - trees were cut off by the blast, but new life is springing up everywhere - just the way God created His world to respond - beauty for ashes...
The 18 May eruption holds the record for being the largest landslide in recorded history. The force of the eruption released the equivalent energy of somewhere between 500 and 1,000 atomic bombs.
Life reclaiming land that scientists could not imagine having life for a thousand years...
The silver ribbon streaming away to the right is the new Toutle River.
Yuuki was very interested in smelling things... Interesting side note, some mentioned that on the morning of the eruption, they did not see or hear any birds in the area.
We decided to take our time and spend another day exploring Hwy 504 and Mount Saint Helens. We headed back up and stopped at the Mount Saint Helens Creation Information Center just beyond milepost 9. This is a Christian center supported by donations - unless you want to schedule a tour. According to their brochure the center, "tells the whole story of the eruption. This includes accounts of remarkably rapid changes to the landscape, caused by the high energy processes unleashed by the eruptions. We show how the face of the mountain was changed in minutes, and how rock layers and canyons were formed in a matter of hours. In short, we show how the mountain and the surrounding area constitute a living laboratory, that helps us to understand the devastating effects of the aftermath of the worldwide biblical flood."
We were the only patrons in the center. We found the information here to be useful in integrating the various pieces of information we'd observed the day before. Paul graciously gave us a lecture complete with photos and video clips and dialogued with us on a variety of questions Day 1 at the mountain had raised for us. I am happy we chose to do this on the second day rather than the first day. This allowed us to observe and listen to rangers, experience the exhibits and discuss our thoughts BEFORE we heard the conclusions reached by others. It worked well for us this way. I think it allowed us to ask more honest questions during ranger talks. We innocently asked some of the "harder" questions of our own initiative. It was refreshing to ask both the USGS rangers/scientists and Paul Taylor the same questions and get the SAME answers. I love integrity in observation. This was an enjoyable stop and we were happy to leave a family donation. Paul Taylor has written many books, his latest being, "Where Birds Eat Horses; Understanding the Language of Evolution." We've not read any of his books. Have you? Would you recommend them?
I'm including these photos just to make sure I can go back and look up the info later.
Our final stop was the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor's Center at milepost 26. We heard the center hosted a "small, free exhibition concentrating on people's memories of the eruption." The KOMO car a journalist was in during the eruption is parked outside. They did have newspaper clippings showcased and some stories; but we were disappointed. We expected video clips from survivors etc. - more displays of the personal side of things. This felt commercial. It felt like the exhibition was a "hook" to draw you up for a helicopter tour, lunch at the diner or shopping in the gift shop. I can't quite put my finger on how it fell short of what we'd hoped to experience. HOWEVER, the view was beautiful. We DID enjoy our lunch - something for everyone. My meal was the best vegan meal I've had since Crescent City, CA. The memorial grove was moving.
The mountain and the Toutle valley - very different from its pre-1980 version.
Lots of newspaper clippings - not much in the way of actual remembrances...
We left Mount Saint Helens knowing there was MORE....more stories, more sights, more sides of the mountain to explore...but content we'd seen "enough" for this trip.
We watched a 45 minute YouTube clip as we drove away. Minute by Minute: The Eruption of Mount Saint Helens. This did a good job of telling the human story we felt we'd not quite gotten the day before.
The Forestry Learning Center (milepost 33) is only open May - Labor Day. This would have been another great free stop. We found the way the forest is renewing itself to be interesting and this would have been a great addition to our trip.
The Coldwater Science and Learning Center (milepost 42) is only open on weekends.
In the future we'd like to explore the above centers we missed, go on a couple of more hikes, visit Spirit Lake, and explore East Side of Mountain.
A side note from Michael:
I remember the eruption quite well. I was living in Eugene, OR at the time. I remember the circus-like atmosphere around the road blocks and from those that dismissed the volcano's rumblings as nothing. I remember Harry Truman's refusal to leave. I remember the dire warnings that most dismissed. I remember the day it erupted, but more than this, I remember the day after it erupted. This was a Monday morning, and I was at the airport taking a class. A girl was making a cross country flight to Portland, OR that day in a small, single engine airplane. The flight had been scheduled for quite some time. I managed to hop into the back seat. When we arrived in the Portland vicinity, we were only able to travel a little to the North, but the sight of Mt St Helens the day after her fury was awe-inspiring. Massive billows of black smoke were still coming from her broken, scarred summit, but it did not rise straight up into the air. Instead, it flowed over the Eastern edge of the newly formed crater, poured out across the countryside spreading even more ash and smoke on those unfortunate enough to live in its shadow - a shadow that turned out to be very long, indeed. As brief as this encounter was because we were cleared to do a touch and go and return to Eugene, it remains a vivid memory of the immense destructive power that lays just beneath our feet. It reminds me that our God holds this power in check, loosing bits and pieces every so often that we would remember that we are not the masters of our fate, not the captains of our souls; we are small indeed - what is man that thou art mindful of him?