October 7 – 9, 2018
Rain and gloom for two straight days. We’re so damp from this stop and the last one that the window sills are growing mold. As usual, we picked a perfectly shady spot, so no drying out to be done. But then the sun isn’t out anyway. Hope springs eternal though, and we’re crossing our fingers for just a glimpse of Mount St. Helens.
Seaquest State Park
This park is strategically placed almost directly across the highway from the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument visitor’s center. Exactly what we needed to plan our visit to the mountain. There’s a path from the campground that goes through a tunnel under the road and dumps you out along a wetlands area.
On our first walk to the visitor’s center, we were told to stand right at this spot for the best view of Mount St. Helens. The clouds and fog just won’t budge so we don’t see anything but the wetland area. Picture a volcanic peak in the background.
Fall is here, though, and the non-evergreen trees are showing off.
Jackson says “Happy Fall ya’ll”.
The Visitor’s Center
That same visitor’s center view two days later. Looks promising that we might actually see the mountain in all its glory.
We weren’t prepared for just how fascinated we were with the place. We remember the big eruption from 1980 of course, but didn’t remember or probably never knew the details. Pat remembers the ash falling in North Dakota a few days later. That ash made it to the east coast in a matter of days and around the world in about 15.
In addition to the the side of the mountain blasting off, huge barges ran aground in the Columbia River due to ash and silt clogging the outlet to the Pacific. They had water shortages as far east as Spokane, WA when everyone tried to wash off the ash that blanketed everything, and power transmission lines were short-circuited.
57 people were killed, over 200 homes were destroyed and miles of roads and railways were damaged. The most striking story I read was about photographer Robert Landsburg. He took some amazing photos of the eruption only a few miles away and realized that he couldn’t outrun the ash cloud. Instead, he took what last photos he could, rewound the film, put it back in the camera, put the camera in his backpack, and then lay on top of the backpack to protect it. National Geographic published those important shots in 1981.
It’s our last day here and we’re taking the drive to the Johnson Observatory site no matter what the weather. Our first stop was at an overlook for a silt retention center. It was built to keep all that ash and silt with the consistency of pudding from clogging all the waterways leading away from the mountain.
Next stop, Hoffstadt Bridge. This is 14.8 miles from the crater and at the edge of the blast zone. Hard to imagine that everything that far out perished or was knocked flat during the eruption.
Toutle River Valley on the way to the mountain.
We were fortunate to meet a couple at the Elk Rock viewpoint who were from the area. They told us stories from that day and brought the history to life. He was a logger working about 11 miles from the blast and his crew dropped everything and hauled it out of the area when they felt the eruption. Eleven miles out and they still had to book it to survive. She was home with the kids and sent them to the coast with the grandmother until she could find out about her husband. Fortunately their home was out of the blast zone and out of danger from the killing mud flows.
The mountain played peek-a-boo with us while we listened spellbound to the couple telling us about that day when the skies turned dark with the ash cloud. I’d read at the visitor’s center that local people didn’t hear the blast and I just couldn’t believe it. According to park signage “sound waves were directed upward and debris in the cloud muffled the blast creating a ‘zone of silence’ within 50 miles of the volcano. However, people as far away as 575 miles heard it”. The couple we met confirmed that was true. No sound for them.
Mount St. Helens did not disappoint and showed herself completely at the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Mount St. Helens with 1,000 feet blasted off the top, and a look inside the crater. A bulge inside continues to grow from smaller eruptions as recent as 2008.
The surrounding terrain forever changed.
A few more from the hike above the observatory. In the end we couldn’t have asked for a better day.
The Cascades Volcano Observatory issues a weekly update on the active volcanoes in the Cascade Range. We checked before we got to the campground and were happy for a ‘green/normal’ activity report. I think I’d be a little nervous to live in the shadow of this mountain, but then Glacier Peak and Mt. Rainier are also considered active and we didn’t even realize it while we camped in their shadows. I guess every place has something to keep you up at night and you just get used to it. A highly educational and beautiful spot and we enjoyed it very much.
Next up – Cape Disappointment and our last Washington stop of the year. See you on the way!