Aug 19, 2014

Mount St. Helens

We drove up to Johnston Ridge Observatory to get a look at Mt. St. Helens. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting more than to marvel from a distance at the giant crater left from the eruption. But by the end of the day, I left completely fascinated with this remarkable place.

National Volcanic Monument - it's a thing. And the sign is ash-colored, not brown! You can see Hodor parked in the back.

The parking lot was full of people tail-gating the volcano with bbq and kite flying. We followed suit with beer and sandwiches. Bowie holds down the fort. 

 Here's a view from the observatory. The clouds were hanging over the top most of the day, so we weren't able to get a full look at it. Although, I suppose there's not much to see above the cloud-line anyways? That part of the mountain is gone. You can see right into the crater though.

We are about 5 miles away! I looks huge, of course, but even being there, it's still hard to perceive just how gigantic it is. The crater itself is a mile wide.

The Volcano and The Ed

Here's a closer shot of the landscape below. You can see the Toutle River re-establishing it's route through the pyroclastic material which was deposited by the volcanic lahars.

 Equipment for monitoring volcanic activity, set among the ruins of the forest.

The entire area was forested before the eruption. Young trees are growing back among the old white tree stumps, and there are wildflowers everywhere.

“The Eruption of Life” is the park motto, and it is a great contrast to the “moral of the story” that we've found throughout our national park tour. That bluntly being “Everything Dies.”

57 people were killed. The death toll would have been much higher though, were it not for David Johnston (he was a scientist who died in the eruption, the observatory is named for him) and the USGS convincing authorities to close the area to the public, despite heavy local pressure to re-open it. (It's usually a good idea to listen to those scientists..) There are moving stories and accounts of the eruption in the Johnston Ridge Observatory interpretation center. I think the USFS struck a perfect balance in their presentation between the life and death that this volcano has brought. 

But life finds a way. These prairie lupine flowers were the first signs of life to return to the barren area.

The eruption of Mt. St. Helens took everyone by surprise, in that the damage was so much further-reaching than expected. It was a lateral explosion, meaning that all of it's fury was consolidated in one general direction. This was the first time in recorded history that such a phenomenon was witnessed by anyone who lived to tell. 

Because of this, we've learned a lot about volcanic activity that was previously a mystery, along with the explosion of life that grew back from the ashes. It's a brand new landscape, and we get to see exactly how the geology is forming and the wildlife is progressing. (hint: a lot faster than anyone predicted!) The park newspaper encourages you to come back throughout your life to witness and compare the changes you see.

Fancy new facilities! Love that USFS seal.

Research area! The entire place is a giant science lab. We hiked around the hummocks and got to see this brand new landscape close up. 

I love the park interpretive centers, but after that, you've got to get out IN it to find yourself a deeper understanding than a textbook can give you. Open the pic below in a new tab to read about similar hummocky landscapes around the world..and how we now know much more about them thanks to Mt. St. Helens.

We were standing on the red part - it was once part of the mountain!

New life grows among the rubble.

New ponds a little lakes have filled up among the hummocks. This is my favorite picture, you can see right into the crater.

We've been seeing these beautiful foxglove wildflowers all over the PNC, finally got a nice shot of one

There's so much more of this park I wish we could have seen, namely the Ape Caves. They're not technically caves, but lava tubes over two miles long! You can hike through them, but we were on the wrong side of the park for that.

On our way back down the mountains, we made a stop at the buried A-frame roadside attraction - the picture doesn't show very well how deep it was actually buried. The new, higher ground from the volcanic lahar flow has since washed out from in the front of the house, but that line you see on the door is the new ground level around the rest of the house.

There's also this fellow, along with a friendly kitschy-tacky gift shop, which is not even close to the kitschy-tacky you find at the roadside attractions back east! It's kind of hilarious to realize how gaudy things are, east of the Mississippi.

Check out this crazy time-lapse of the lava dome growth from 2004-2008. (In the previous blog post, video didn't want to embed here for whatever reason) The lava squeezes out like play-dough!

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