July 20, 2012

A Visit to Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens is an active volcano in Washington state. In 1980 there was a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that caused the largest landslide in recorded history, which caused the eruption. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens is now known as the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the US history. The mountain used to be shaped in the normal triangular fashion, but the landslide and eruption broke the peak, and caused the mountain to cave in on itself, leaving a massive crater site on the north face of the mountain. The landslide that flowed from the mountain also completely changed the landscape of the valley below. It wiped away old growth forests and left behind charred and barren fields and newly formed low points, that later became new ponds and lakes.

The changing face of Mt. St. Helens
Mt. St. Helens today
When Sky was in elementary school he did a report on volcanoes, and a someone brought him a 32mm film canister full of volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helens. Since then, a visit to the volcano has been on his list of top things to do in the US. We found a great opportunity to do so during our time in Portland. We made a day trip out of it yesterday, and it was easy to do so since we could leave our trailer unhitched at the RV park. Also, dogs are not allowed at the monument, so we had to leave Chloe and Sammy at home.

The drive from Portland to the mountain wasn't bad at all; about 40 miles on interstate 5 and then another 50 miles on highway 504 and you're there. The latter portion of highway 504 was very scenic. We drove through very thick groves of trees, some of them portions of the replanted forest acres that belong to Weyerhaeuser. As we reached higher elevation, the highway went along ridges, and we were above the clouds!

Driving up to Mt. St. Helens
Above the clouds on hwy 504!
We picked the Johnston Ridge Observatory as our visiting point for Mt. St. Helens. From the observation platform you get amazing views of the volcano and the valley below it. We watched a 20 minute movie on the history of Mt. St. Helens, ate a quick picnic and then headed out for a hike. We hiked the 8 mile round trip hike from the observatory to Harry's Ridge overlook.

Most of the hike provides awesome views of Mt. St. Helens. A short stretch of the Boundary Trail, about 1.5 miles from the observatory, bisects a previous landslide site, and the trail is only a foot wide with a very steep drop off.

Hiking the Boundary Trail
Steep drop offs on the Boundary Trail
The last mile of the trail, on the Harry's Ridge Trail portion, offers awesome views of Spirit Lake (the newly formed lake after the eruption), and Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood in the distance. The overlook at Harry's Ridge has volcano monitoring equipment pointed at Mt. St. Helens, as the mountain is constantly being monitored now for any volcanic activity.

Views from Harry's Ridge
On top of Harry's Ridge
While hiking we thought of an awesome money making idea. What if...next year for the Fourth of July... we hired the 2012 San Diego pyrotechnic crew, and put on an awesome show? (Check out the link if that doesn't make any sense) Maybe we could stage it behind the mountain, and charge $500 a ticket for viewing admission at the observatory?

Mt. St. Helens
To see more pictures of Mt. St. Helens, click here.

Happy Volcanic Hiking!


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