Kelso, WA July 14, Sunday
We left Paradise early. The road to Mt. St. Helens is all back roads, except for 10 minutes on an interstate, and, as usual, I added some extra time. Due to cloudy weather on Saturday, we did not have a good, long distance photo of Mt. Ranier.
Sunday was a clear, warm day so on one of back roads on our way to Mt. St. Helens was a great shot of Mt. Ranier. We realized how great it was as we zipped past it, and assuming there would be another opportunity, kept going. No other opportunity presented itself. Trees along the road and then high ridges consistently blocked the view. Eventually we turned around and went back to the one location and took photos.
The major visitor center to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is on Johnston Ridge in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service runs it. The observatory and ridge are named after a geologist working at the location the day it blew as the on-site scientist who died in the blast.
Over 100 miles of road and over 20 bridges were destroyed in the eruption. When they rebuilt the area, they made sure the drive to the visitor center presented several good photo ops. We took a few and then spent several hours at the main center. (The county and Weyerhauser each have visitor centers also.)
The film here is excellent and drew the largest crowds I have ever seen at national park/forest visitor centers. As the film ends, the curtains open and you have a direct view of the mountain and the crater the eruption created on May 18, 1980.
We also listened to two ranger talks and hiked up to another observation point. Along the path, two volunteers also were available to answer questions.
The talks and film explained the difference between this eruption and the volcanoes in Hawaii. Very simply put, the amount of gas in the magma determines if the magma flows smoothly (Hawaii) or explodes (Mt. St. Helens). For two months before the eruption, the mountain was giving increasing signs of eruption and everyone was expecting it would blow its top.
What it actually did was to explode laterally out the side of the mountain, sending gases,debris, shock waves, etc out the north side of the mountain. The resulting landslide, mudflow, shock waves, and ash destroyed an area the size of Chicago ,most of the damage done in the first three minutes. 57 people ended up dying. In just a few minutes, Mt. St. Helens went from the 7th tallest mountain in Washington state to the 87th.
You can follow the above link to the national volcanic monument site if you wish. Overall we found the display both compelling and informative. One other tidbit: Mt. Ranier is now labeled as the next most likely mountain to erupt. If that one goes, with its massive size and the huge amount of water contained in its glaciers, the damage will be cataclysmic. You did not know we were such adventurous folk, traveling to dangerous volcanic areas. Scientists believe they have better predictive capabilities now, partially due to Mt. St. Helens.
Johnston Ridge is at a little over 3000 feet in elevation. The lower height produced a more glorious explosion of wildflowers than was present at Mount Ranier. We discussed this with an elderly gentleman from British Columbia who said by the time we return to the Canadian Rockies, those wildflowers should be at their peak. We hope so.
The National Forest Service is doing nothing to re-forest the national volcanic monument area so scientists can learn about natural regrowth. Weyerhauser must own a lot of land in the area. They have signs showing areas they planted and the trees are doing amazingly well.
We finished the day at our lodging in Kelso, WA, a small town along Interstate 5. Monday we head to Tacoma to visit friends from Carlisle.
Ed and Chris July 15 9 am