Mt. St. Helens Road Trip, or, Anna Visits the Splody Mountain

With userinforavyngyngvar visiting us over this past week, one of the things we wanted to do was drive down to see Mt. St. Helens. userinfosolarbird and I have after all lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1991–and we’d never once actually seen this famous volcano. Plus, since this was Yngvar’s second visit, I wanted to give him a shot at seeing something cool a little farther afield than the immediate Seattle area. Ergo, I took Thursday off with the plan to allocate that to going to see the splody mountain.

As plans went it was a good one. It did however go significantly agley, as it were, when I chose poorly in selecting our actual destination at the mountain. Silly me–I thought that something calling itself the mountain headquarters would be, oh I dunno, near the mountain. But it turned out to be on the south side, way past where we needed to be. So Dara wound up having to do quite a bit of extra driving, and we wound up reaching where we needed to be–the Johnston Ridge Observatory–after the facility had closed.

Fortunately though we were still able to park in the parking lot and walk around quite a bit, which gave us ample opportunity to see not only the mountain, but much of the surrounding terrain. Here’s what we saw, including a couple of pics from my iPhone!

Even 29 years after the eruption, much of the area right around the peak still looks like empty moonscape. There’s not much foliage at all yet, save for a thin film of green around the base. Further out from there you get more scrub and bushes, as well as a lot of skeletonized trunks of trees, some fallen, some still upright. Seeing those was rather spooky and surreal, and really rather made me think of the aftermath of a nuclear explosion–which really wasn’t entirely off.

Shattered Trees at Mt. St. Helens
Shattered Trees at Mt. St. Helens

Then further out still there were big areas full of a bunch of strangely young, strangely similar trees, as if someone had tried to restore the area by filling it with clones of the same plant or something. It looked like a giant Christmas tree lot.

At the ridge we were able to follow a winding trail up to an observation point even though the building was closed, and that was neat. It was quite cool just to see what kinds of life had come back to the ridge; there were a whole bunch of large insects, but also wildflowers of various types, and one really rather brave chipmunk. I was pleased to see the chipmunk there. Yay, mammals back on the mountain. ^_^

And of course there was the mountain itself. It’s very easy as a modern-day American to use the word “awesome” lightly, but it’s really appropriate in this case, and in the sense of “awe-inspiring” rather than just “neat”. I intellectually knew that the eruption had been powerful, of course. But actually seeing the mountain, with its huge gaping hole in the side, drove home for me what kind of titanic forces must have been at work. I still can barely bend my brain around it.

Mt. St. Helens 9/10/09
Mt. St. Helens 9/10/09

And it will probably surprise none of you that my writer brain was thinking, “So how big was the demon that broke out of the mountain to cause that, then?”

Props must be given to the nice ladies at the headquarters who were very helpful in pointing us to where we needed to go, and also to the nice clerk in the nearby store who tried to help us out as well. And I should mention the tiny gas station/shop where we stopped on the way down off the mountain, mostly notable for an older Asian couple running it and two cranky yappydogs in the back who didn’t like it when we took turns looking for the loo.

It is probably a measure of how attached I have become to my iPhone that I played with it all the way down to the mountain and all the way back. Some of this was going through my GBS Favorites playlist for Yngvar’s benefit, but some was also using the Google Maps app to track our location by GPS, which proved helpful a time or two. On the mountain proper, though, there was no Internet to be had and not much phone service either–and even the GPS kept kicking out, unable to keep track of where we were.

And yeah okay fine, I am enough of an Internet geek that I was all YAY when we made it back to I-5 and suddenly my phone was talking to the world again.

I’m very sheepish that I screwed up our ability to visit the actual observatory building, since I’m sure there must have been all sorts of fascinating data about the mountain to learn in there. But still, getting to see the mountain itself was worth it. All in all, a satisfying trip!