Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ginormous Mount Saint Helen's Post

This is a long post - perhaps one can excuse the length as it covers three days of exploring Mount Saint Helens.

Day 1
We 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
At milepost 19 we visited a buried A frame. This little home, 30 miles away from the mountain, was damaged and half buried by the mud flows that followed the eruption. There is also a 28 foot, concrete, smiling statue of Big Foot here. Some say this is the "grave of Big Foot" - though others would consider that to be heresy on a variety of levels. Nearby is the location where Megan Masser supposedly sighted Bigfoot in June 1991. This is a free stop. The gift store has a giant collection of t-shirts etc.

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, 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.

Family selfie
Ranger Janet did a good job of introducing the HUMAN side of the story. Most of our day had been spent looking at the scientific, geological side of the eruption.  Standing at the top of the ridge, it was easy to imagine the forest, the camping lodges, the hunting and logging that happened on Mount Saint Helens.  I find myself empathizing with the human side of these stories much deeper after experiencing the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.  This quote from Christine Colasurdo  after she'd visited her family's lodge on Spirit Lake (Spirit Lake disappeared) moved me to tears, "I've been here before, I murmured.....But not only had I lost an entire landscape, I myself was lost - a stranger in what should have been familiar land."   A stranger in what should be familiar land - that resonates with me.

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.

Three different time shots of Mount St Helens.  It went from being the Mt Fuji of America to a desolate wasteland in a mere moment of time.
The gray cones are pieces of the tip top of Mt ST Helens blown across
 the valley.   They are called "Hummocks."
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.

 Day 2
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.

Memorial Grove

This is the story of the KOMO News reporter's escape from the fury of the mountain's eruption.

KOMO car

Can you IMAGINE?
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?



Unknown said...

Loved this long blog post! We have never explored Mt. St. Helens. We always have the dogs with us when we head that way and we have read that dogs cannot go on any of the trails. But there is a fall hike I REALLY want to do down there!

Adored the fall leaves with the multi colors! After living for 47 years in Louisiana, I just cannot get enough of fall color! My favorite season! And you found what just might be the latest blooming lupine this year! I can't believe it! It bloomed in June this year, a full six weeks earlier than normal!

Your post made me realize we are just going to HAVE to leave the dogs with a puppy sitter and head down that way!

Linda said...

GORGEOUS photos!

Yvonne Ferlita said...

Loved hearing about Mount St. Helen! Thanks for mentioning the YouTube clip - will definitely watch it. :)

timsarmywifey said...

When we visited they were just building the Johnston Ridge site. I remember a Ranger talking about the power of the mountain and standing there thinking, um? How can you not see the vast power of GOD in this landscape? ... very cool place to visit, love your post.

Anonymous said...

Great post, super information. We've only ever flown past the crater on the way to Seattle. The hummocks--WOW, fascinating, incredible. Like Mike, I remember the eruption and subsequent ash; we lived in the SF Bay Area.

I did a double take on Nolan--with his new haircut (love it!) and glasses, I wondered if Bre and Izaak had joined you. He looks a lot like Izaak in the pictures!


DeEtta @ Courageous Joy said...

Ginger - YES - we had to leave Yuuki while on the trails - and that wasn't fun - but was worth it. We have loved that we can take Yuuki on the beach and most trains in WA. For some reason, in CA there are signs everywhere that your dogs are not allowed on the trails. I totally get it HERE where the ecoo systems are so fragile and struggling to renew.

Anonymous said...

Sis: so beautiful! We were in the Philippines. However we remember listening to "Rick Santiago" (president of PICOP) when he got back from a trip to the States. He was on a plane heading for Seattle which allowed him to see the actual eruption (of course from a distance) and he got pictures from inside the plane. NEAt\T TO SAY THEW LEAST.

You take such great pictures and make your blog so totally interesting.

loive/prayers - mom t.

Herding Grasshoppers said...


(Old reader, resurfacing...)
So glad you got to see all this! We've taken our kids through the area and exhibits, and I remember the eruption as well. Heard/felt the explosion clear up in Bellingham (almost to Canada.)

Interesting that you commented on the 57 that perished. While that does seem like a lot, it could've been far worse. but for the grace of God... Being a Sunday, there were few loggers working in the area. As you said, nobody anticipated such a strong lateral blast and workers were allowed in areas that ended up being devastated. As well, many people who had been evacuated from homes/cabins were waiting along the highway at the road block to be allowed in for one day to collect belongings, and had the eruption happened later in the day, those also would undoubtedly have lost their lives. Still breaks my heart that 57 died, but could've been so much worse.

So glad you found the Creation Center!

Julie G