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The North Fork Toutle River valley, west of Mt. St. Helens, obscured in the clouds.

Earlier this month, my two dear friends Norman and Rodel invited me to spend the day with them. The plan was to drive up to Mt. St. Helens. That day the partly cloudy sky was slowly clearing as we made the trip, and we had fingers crossed for a mountain view when we got there. Sadly, the clouds remained clustered around the peak of Mt. St. Helens. We had a great day together, and the views were gorgeous (as you can see above), but we never did get to see the mountain.

Their idea stayed in my head. Sunday morning I had to run an errand, and as I was driving I looked from a hilltop near my home and saw crystal clear in front of me: Mt. Rainier, 80 miles distant as the crow flies, indicating that the air was very clear. I immediately looked East and saw Mt. St. Helens (38 miles) bold and clear, rising on the horizon. I made a decision right there to head back to the volcano, on this brilliantly sunny day.

I stopped first at the Visitor’s Center, because there is a 3/4 mile trail that’s supposed to be lovely, and has a view of Mt. St. Helens. I asked an employee where to find the trail, and she asked which trail, and before I knew it she had convinced me to skip the one at the visitor’s center and to instead drive another hour down the road to the Hummocks Trailhead.

Hoffstadt Creek Bridge is 370 feet (113 m) high and 600 feet (183 m) long.

On the way I stopped for a bridge overlook. There are four similar bridges that span deep mountain canyons on the way to the mountain, with fascinating and eye-catching architecture. I like the look of the curved bridges better, but this straight one gives you an idea of what they look like.

Do not adjust your set, this is a perfectly focused photograph of Noble Firs.

Something that always baffles me is the eye-crossing effect of looking at the forests of Noble Fir planted by the Weyerhaeuser Company. These trees are the same age and look like exact duplicates of themselves for acres upon acres. Your eyes get confused trying to make sense of what you’re seeing. A Ranger I met at the Johnston Ridge Observatory a couple years ago called them Lego Trees, and that’s apt.

The road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed for winter. But the road is open as far as the Hummocks Trailhead. It’s a clear trailhead with ample parking. On this sunny weekend day, half the spaces were filled. It makes me happy that so many people want to get outside and do things in November. During the winter I’m more inclined to curl up with my laptop and a blanket. Maybe I’m projecting, but I am so proud of myself when I do something ambitious in winter weather, that I am proud of all those other people too!

Sign at the beginning of the trail.

With the sun low in the sky, I faced directly into it. That was annoying, but it also made exaggerated shadows that added interest to the scene.

I arrived at 2:45 pm and moved quickly down the trail, aware that sunset is 4:30. It felt comfortably warm at about 52 degrees, but as soon as the sun set it would drop quickly to freezing. I did not want to be caught out wandering the valley after sunset.

The trail was well-worn and easy to follow, and lovely. It travels through the famous Mt. St. Helens hummocks. These hummocks are big chunks of the former peak of the mountain that were blown off the top and side during the eruption in 1980. The whole valley surrounding Mt. St. Helens is filled with these mini-mountains, and scientists have tracked each one back to where its original location once was on the long-lost pointed peak. Why on earth they would do that is beyond me, but bully for them for completing such a daunting task.

Trail wends over and through hummocks, west of Mt. St. Helens.

For the layperson, what may be most relevant about these hummocks is that they are remnants of a volcanic blast, they form today a most interesting landscape, and that there is a trail allowing us to get a nice close look at them and even to walk on top of them.

There were also stunning views of Mt. St. Helens from multiple locations.

These hummocks are still eroding, because of the Toutle River there. This leaves the face exposed and bare, instead of grass- or tree-covered.

Hummock hills are noticeable to the left, with the volcano on the horizon. You can see here that the blast in 1980 was not directly up, but to the side. In this photo, the left side is missing, leaving a U-shaped volcanic cone.

With the valley filled with hundreds of tiny mountains, it follows that a bunch of new tiny lakes were formed.

Portions of the trail are forested. Here the trail follows a creek.

I recall the volcanic eruption from my childhood, and the aerial images of barren moonscape left in all directions for miles. Thus it is delightful for me to stand in a forest, beside a creek, and know that this has all formed since that devastating day. The size of the trees may not seem impressive at first, considering that it has been 38 years. But it’s not that the trees were cut and the forests were free to begin re-forming the next day. Today’s forests had to recover from this:

Photograph two days after the May 1980 eruption. Photo by Jack Smith / AP

My path was through fields, streams, and forests. There were ducks on the ponds. It’s a healthy land and in a quick glance does not reveal that the old forest floor is buried beneath many feet of volcanic ash, and all this beauty before me sprung out from that poor beginning. Nature keeps me in awe.

Information sign at the shores of Coldwater Lake.

I completed the Hummocks Trail loop with plenty of sunshine left, so I went to explore nearby Coldwater Lake.

The trail at Coldwater Lake is wheelchair accessible, a trail feature I often notice. I think possibly I’m making a list in my mind of trails I will still be able to visit when my future self needs a wheelchair. Hiking a nature trail is one of my greatest joys in life, and I’m reassured that if my legs ever stop working, I’ll still be able to hit some trails.

The sun was very low and that made all my photos warm with light despite the quickening chill in the waning day.

Massive logs from the volcanic blowdown in 1980 remain for us to ponder.

The paved trail turns into wide boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs.

A family plays at the waterside in the reflection of Mt. St. Helens.

The boardwalk spans over the lake.

Some kayakers were returning to shore after a foray into the lake.

On my way home I stopped at the Castle Lake Overlook and spotted not only the snowy tip top of Mt. Adams, but also Mt. Rainier! The moon became visible, and an excited little boy yelled “Daddy! The sun is rising and the moon is rising AT THE SAME TIME!” He may not have had the semantics right, but his Daddy understood exactly what he was saying.

Moon over the tip of Mt. Adams (can you see it above the lake?) and Mt. St. Helens.

The view from the overlook. Again, the tip of Mt. Adams peeks into view.

Golden sunlight strikes the remaining leaves, as well as the snowy mountain.

On my way home along Washington Highway 504, I spotted a good view of Mt. Adams and pulled over to get this better shot for you.

 

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

In December I hiked to Mirror Lake and Tom Dick and Harry Mountain for the first time. Though the whole region was sunny that day, there was a little microclimate engulfing our local volcano, Mt. Hood. Snow actually fell during the hike. At the summit of the mountain, I was told that it is typically one of the best views around. Instead of vistas, I entertained myself with close-range snow and fog shots as the weak sunlight made half-hearted attempts to break through and did not succeed. You can read that blog post here if you like.

I went back last week. And this time I found what I had been promised: incredible views!

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn't show up.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn’t show up.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

First I had to get there. While the trail was clear in December, this time it was snow-covered from beginning to end. The popularity of this particular trail helped me, since I was able to follow tracks all the way to the summit. My timing was excellent because of the old snow and the weather. I wore only my regular hiking boots that I’ve been wearing for a decade, but the snow was frozen enough that I was able to walk along the top of it.  The day was warm enough that the top inch of snow was soft, so I got some traction, and most of the time I wasn’t in danger of sliding down the mountain on the frozen snow. (did you notice how I used the word ‘most?’)

I walked all around the lovely Mirror Lake. I was glad I decided to hit the lake first and catch some sun. By the time I left the mountain, it was deep in shadow due to our short winter days.

Only a few inches deep at the trailhead, the snow on the trail above the lake was at least two feet deep, possibly three feet deep as it reached Tom Dick and Harry mountain. Others before me had used snow shoes, and I saw ski tracks beside the trail as well.

As I neared the summit, the trail was hard to find because wind had swept away most of the tracks. But I could see the rocks at the top, dry in the sunshine and calling me up. The snow was not as hard there, possibly because of the warmth of the day. My boots punched through and I sank above my knees every third step. Hiking in snow is a fabulous workout! I highly recommend it. You work your legs and your butt, you gulp in that fresh mountain air, your pay-off is an amazing view, and your cool down is to head back down the trail again.

After a last gasping (like I said: it’s a workout) push through the snow, I made it to the top!

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

I expected to see Mt. Hood, and there it was, right in front of me and gloriously snow-covered. The bright blue of that much snow is a sight that always stirs me. Reminiscent of the first blue glaciers I ever saw, the summer when I was 16 and went to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Soldotna, Alaska. Despite the fact that I’ve learned to expect that kind of blue, it is still a wonderful sight.

What I did not expect to see was a whole string of volcanoes. Mt. Jefferson to the south, and Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams. And since this day was spectacular for miles and miles, I could clearly see Mt. Rainier from all the way up in Seattle! That is a view of FIVE volcanoes from one spot. I think it’s my record.

I had no one to share my enthusiasm with, since it was a Wednesday afternoon and the trail was empty. But I had cell reception on top of Tom Dick and Harry, so I sent a few selfies to Tara and to my friends at work.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

Here's the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

Here’s the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. It looks different this time, with all the sunshine!

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. Different this time, with all the sunshine!

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy azure hills.

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy indigo hills.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

Entrance into the underground lava tube.

Entrance into the underground lava tube.

Highway 503 is a secondary approach to Mt. St. Helens, leaving the Interstate and heading south of the mountain and around the other side, so that one can view it from the East, rather than the north, as shown in my earlier posts. The stops along the way reveal some fascinating aspects of the volcano one can’t learn from the other, more popular highway.

I first explored Ape Cave, an apt name in this pocket of Bigfoot country. The name of the cave is related to the Sasquatch legend in a surprising way. There are multiple stories, so forgive me that I only include one version: In 1924 some Boy Scouts were goofing around in the area, screeching and acting like primates, picking up lightweight pumice rocks and hurling them into a canyon. They did not know that there was a cabin below. From out of that cabin burst astonished miners, squinting up at the ridge and believing they were under attack by apes, which is the story they reported when they got to town. This led people to speculate that the tall tales of ape men had finally been proven legitimate. Years later, a local youth group named themselves the St. Helens Apes after that legend. In 1951, when the youth group were among the first humans to explore a newly discovered cave, they dubbed it the Ape Cape, and the name stuck.

At the entrance to the Ape Cave, you can see the arched roof formed 1900 years ago. The rubble formed when parts of the roof caved in.

At the entrance to the Ape Cave, you can see the arched roof formed 2000 years ago. The rubble piled up when parts of the roof caved in.

Lava tubes are a special kind of cave, formed in a volcanic eruption. I explored one in Bend, Oregon in 2011. Only once in Mt. St. Helens’ history did she erupt with molten lava. This kind of eruption is rare in the Cascade Range because of our geology. Magma rising to the surface here has a high silica content, which results in the magma taking on a more solid form, trapping gases and resulting in an explosive eruption. Less silica allows a fluid eruption of molten lava, called basalt.

2000 years ago, Mt. St. Helens erupted with fluid lava. As it flowed in enormous, thick rivers, the outside of the river cooled and hardened while the inside remained hot and continued to flow. The lava melted the rock it was flowing across, carrying it away and deepening the channel. When the eruption finally stopped, the remaining liquid river flowed out the end of the tube, emptying it, and leaving a lava shell that eventually was covered by dirt and forest.

Ape Cave is 13,042 feet (2 1/2 miles) long, and I did not have time to explore much of it. I’ll come back another day.

Evidence of the changing season.

Evidence of the changing season.

Next I visited A Trail of Two Forests. On a Thursday morning in gorgeous weather there was not another soul and I had the trail entirely to myself. Sometimes that’s one of the best things about living in the West: hardly any people.

The trail is entirely on boardwalk, and makes a short loop through the forests. The two forests mentioned here are the one that exists today, and the one that disappeared in the lava flow that created Ape Cave. Hollow shells where trees used to be are well-preserved here. It takes hardly any imagination to visualize what was there when the lava struck, since the lava shells tell the story.

One hole from a tree that had been standing, and stretched from the top left toward the bottom right is the partial shell left from a tree that had been lying down when the lava hit.

One large hole from a tree that had been standing, a small standing tree on the right, and stretched from the top left toward the bottom center is the partial shell left from a tree that had been lying down when the lava hit.

What's left when lava hits a forest.

What’s left when lava hits a forest.

Looking into a shell created when lava cooled around a tree, and then the tree burned away.

Looking into a shell created when lava cooled around a tree, and then the tree burned away.

Molten lava oozed into the forest, surrounding huge logs and eventually cooling and hardening. In the meantime, the wood caught on fire and burned up. What’s left is big circular gaps in the forest floor marking the diameter of the trees that once were, and long tree-sized tunnels along the ground. There is a place where a couple of downed trees were beside standing trees, so the hollow tubes all connect. From the boardwalk you can climb down a ladder into one tree hole, and then climb into a horizontal tunnel, following the path where a tree once lay. Halfway through, you turn a corner into a hole left by a second tree lying down, and at the end, climb back out through the hole from another standing tree. (It also makes one a bit in awe of the size of trees…)

Humongous tree hole beside the trail

Large tree hole beside the trail. It’s more impressive in real life.

This is where one can climb down into the tunnels left by trees.

This is where one can climb down into the tunnels left by trees.

I found this video that has some great shots of the places I saw.

I continued on to St. Helens herself. As the Jeep climbed out of the river valleys and up into the ridgelines, the wind rose around me. My destination was Windy Ridge, but I had assumed the name referenced the natural buffeting one gets in exposed places. The wind during my drive seemed unusually high, particularly since I was still far from Windy Ridge.

Wind lifts volcanic ash from the crater.

Wind lifts volcanic ash from the crater.

It’s a beautiful drive and not as geared for tourists as Highway 504. No visitor centers and fewer informational signs at viewpoints. In fact, when I arrived at Windy Ridge, there was not even a visitor center there, though there was a park Ranger giving talks. He stood in a small outdoor amphitheater with a plexiglass wall that provided some protection from the wind while allowing us to see the crater of Mt. St. Helens while he talked. He confirmed that it was an unusually windy day.

We could see clouds of ash lifting from the crater and drifting off to the West. One woman asked the Ranger if it was steam, fearing the volcano was active on that very day. We were in no danger, but it was a fascinating sight to see. The valley I had photographed the day before was murky with airborne particles and I was grateful to be on the East side in all that wind.

The wind! It was tremendous! I didn’t feel safe near the edge of the bluff, and could hardly remain upright as I walked across the parking lot. I decided not to climb Windy Ridge for a better view of the mountain, and risk getting blown into the next county.

Our view behind the Ranger as he talked.

Our view behind the Ranger as he talked.

Spirit Lake in the foreground, and the ashy skies behind it.

Spirit Lake in the foreground, and the ashy skies behind it.

The Ranger’s talk that day was about the wildlife making a foothold in the valley before us. He didn’t bother using his posterboard media and rather we in the audience took turns chasing them down when the wind carried them away. In 34 years, much of the area’s natural wildlife has returned to the land and also to the lakes. He talked about how it began with small critters at first, who flourished and made an appealing smorgasbord for larger critters, who hunted them. Mice came, and other larger mammals, followed by coyotes. I had heard them the previous evening while I sat and waited for the clouds to clear from the mountain peak. Barks and cries of a dozen voices rose from the valley, their haunting songs thrilling me.

A chipmunk nibbles something tasty.

A chipmunk nibbles something tasty.

He also talked about the fish in Spirit Lake, planted without permission by anonymous citizens. Somebody had hiked down the steep, ashy, gravelly slope carrying buckets of fish, one assumes. The lake was packed full of tasty things for fish to eat, so when the trout arrived they did what fish tend to do, and they ate to nearly bursting. The trout grew too much and were sickly, but gigantic. But the species survived. Today the ecosystem of Spirit Lake is balancing out, and the fish are healthier and smaller, but the Ranger says they are still much larger than typical trout ever get. He said no one has ever been spotted trying to fish the lake inside the National Monument, so the purpose of going to so much trouble to stock it remains unknown.

Spirit Lake today

Spirit Lake today

I was so interested in how the air was clear over me, but thick with dust over the ash-filled valley.

I was so interested in how the air was clear over me, but thick with dust over the ash-filled valley.

You've been wondering, "What's that silver stuff in the lake?" Here's a good look. That is a mat of decomposing trees that were blown into the lake 34 years ago.

You’ve been wondering, “What’s that silver stuff in the lake?” Here’s a good look. That is a mat of decomposing trees that were blown into the lake 34 years ago.

I made the return journey slowly, taking time to gaze out at Mt. Adams (the closest volcano), Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier from different spots along the highway. I walked a trail to tiny Meta Lake, recovering from the eruption beautifully. Beside the trail were huckleberry bushes loaded with fat, ripe berries, and I ate a bunch of them. To someone who grew up eating huckleberries, nothing can compare. There must be no bears here, or perhaps the berry bushes are loaded everywhere and the bears don’t need to come too close to humans to get food.

Another great thing about this trip was how close it is to home, and that’s where I headed next. I chose the trip for that reason, since my Great Aunt had passed away and I needed to be with family for the remainder of my vacation time. Nice to know that if I ever have a yearning to see some of America’s incredible sights, Mt. St. Helens is less than two hours away.

Mt. Adams

Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

Meta Lake. Remnants of the destroyed forest are still visible while the new one regenerates, purely on Mother Nature's timeline.

Meta Lake. Remnants of the destroyed forest are still visible while the new one regenerates, purely on Mother Nature’s timeline.

Huckleberry deliciousness.

Huckleberry deliciousness.

Sunset on icefields on the west slopes.

Sunset on icefields on the west slopes.

I must have been in the camera groove when I went to Mt. St. Helens. I am merely trying to sort and organize my photos to upload them to flickr, but I keep impressing myself. Some of these are stunning. I cheat, because I was standing in gorgeous scenery. But still… wow.

Evening sun turns the silvery spikes of dead trees into copper.

Evening sun turns the silvery spikes of dead trees into copper. And do my eyes deceive me, or is that blue sky through an arch? You can click for a larger image.

This one makes me think of candy. No Photoshop here, just pure atmospheric luck.

This one makes me think of candy. No Photoshop here, just pure atmospheric luck.

This was so much more astonishing in person, but it's still nice here. The North Fork Toutle River sparkles as it flows West to the sea.

This was so much more astonishing in person, but it’s still nice here. The North Fork Toutle River sparkles as it flows West to the sea. All the particulate is…yes… volcanic dust kicked up in the wind.

Ash kicked into the air as high winds tornado into the crater.

Ash kicked into the air as high winds tornado into the crater.

I want to paint this with oils - all that blue shadow. These are the hummocks in the valley below the observatory.

I want to paint this with oils – all that blue shadow. These are the hummocks in the valley below the observatory.

Awww... ok, I threw this one in for cuteness.

Awww… ok, I threw this one in for cuteness.

Pow! What color!

Pow! What color!

I am about the world's biggest huckleberry fan. Imagine my delight when I found bushes just loaded with ripe berries beside a trail.

I am about the world’s biggest huckleberry fan. Imagine my delight when I found bushes just loaded with ripe berries beside a trail.

The contrast was just irresistible.

The contrast was just irresistible.

I am on the East side of St. Helens, and the wind is Easterly. So the air is clear over the forest, but in the places where the volcanic dust is still on the surface, the particles are raised high in the air. You can see the cloud moving off to the West.

I am on the East side of St. Helens, and the wind is Easterly. So the air is clear over the forest, but in the places where the volcanic dust is still on the surface, the particles are raised high in the air. You can see the cloud moving off to the West.

In case you want to see any more, here’s my flickr link.

…and a shout out to anyone who can tell me why sometimes my images are displayed in sharp focus and sometimes they look blurry, or grainy low quality, when displayed in WordPress. Is it just my computer that does this? Is it the template that I’m using?

Mt. St. Helens in the setting sun, from Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mt. St. Helens in the setting sun, from Johnston Ridge Observatory

Gary, this one’s for you.

When I was 10 years old, Mt. St. Helens erupted. Down south, in Steamboat, Oregon, fine powder fell for a couple days, noticeable only to those looking for it. We could drag a finger over the hood of a car and see a trail in the dust.

A plastic juice bottle filled with volcanic ash.

A plastic juice bottle filled with volcanic ash.

The sideways blast in the north slope of the mountain, coupled with prevailing West winds, blew much of the ash over to Idaho from Washington. I spent that summer with my mom in Sandpoint, Idaho, and I recall the drive up there because of seeing the devastating heaps of white-grey ash from the car windows during the trip. In the worst places, June 1980 still had many people wearing masks and shoveling the stuff with snow shovels. Like snow does in the winter, the weight of the ash had damaged roofs. Unlike snow, it would not melt away, and had to be removed by hand. I watched teams shoveling ash a foot deep off bridges, off business roofs in small towns, even plowing it with trucks.

Later in June, my family went on a picnic along a north Idaho river. The river held large smooth rocks that had collected ash in irregular bowls shaped into their surface from erosion. After I finished my juice, I rinsed the plastic bottle out in the water, and set it in the sun to dry. Then, I walked barefoot through the water from rock to rock, collecting the fine powder by brushing it with my fingers into the plastic juice container. I still have that container today; one of the very few mementos of my childhood that survived the many moves across more than a dozen states in my life.

I brought my very old plastic juice container to Mt. St. Helens with me last week. I had been determined to go to the mountain since I was 10 years old. Can you believe it took me 34 years to pull it off? One thing I will say about myself: Like the tortoise, I may be slow, but I do reach my goals in the end. (…says the woman who finally made it to University in her 30s…)

Hills of Noble Fir as seen from Highway 504 on the way to Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Hills of Noble Fir as seen from Highway 504 on the way to Johnston Ridge Observatory. A ranger called them “Lego trees,” cautioning us not to look at them too long or we’d go cross-eyed. The effect on your vision when you are right in front of them is pretty crazy.

Bare ridges betray a traumatic history.

Bare ridges betray a traumatic history.

It’s an easy drive on a good road from I-5, and I was within the National Volcanic Monument in an hour, passing thickly forested hills, the homogeneous stands of Noble Fir making it obvious that the trees had been planted by the land owner there, Weyerhauser Company. There were a few vista stops, but each time I stopped, the only thing I could see was a curious, moonlike valley, and clouds obscuring anything with elevation. That was frustrating, because much of the sky was cloudless blue, and only the highest peaks around St. Helens were obscured.

It wasn’t until I was in the immediate vicinity of the Johnston Ridge Observatory when I could tell this had been a place of devastation. Things today are lovely – truly lovely. However, not all the pieces in of the scene felt right. Humongous decaying logs laid about, on bare land with tiny trees just getting a foothold among kinnickinnick and lupine. The surrounding ridges were also mostly bare, with the silver remnants of tall trees. The wide valley had no forests, no brushy stands of willow, and the streams cut deep, sharp channels through what looked like very soft and crumbly soil. It does not look like any other place in the Pacific Northwest.

Closer to the mountain, more evidence of the volcanic eruption can be seen.

Closer to the mountain, more evidence of the volcanic eruption can be seen.

Remnants of towering trees still lie where the mountain's blast shoved them down, 34 years ago.

Remnants of towering trees still lie where the mountain’s blast shoved them down, 34 years ago.

Spirit Lake (seen in the distance) became famous after this eruption.

Spirit Lake (seen in the distance) became famous after this eruption.

As I explained in my previous post, the clouds finally cleared away from the volcano, and I was treated to stunning views of the huge gaping crater. If the mountain had blown it’s top vertically, we at the bottom would have less to see. Since the eruption took off the north slope of the mountain, we are able to look inside at the newly forming glaciers, and the new volcanic peak growing inside the crater. You know what that growing dome means, right? Yes, this remains an active volcano.

The largest post-1980 eruption was in 2004, when steam and ash again billowed forth. For the next four years, lava continued to extrude, filling the crater floor. Seven percent of the volume lost in 1980 has been replaced by subsequent eruptions.

Here I am, waiting for the clouds to clear.

Here I am, waiting for the clouds to clear.

A park ranger gives a talk on how expectations of what to expect when the eruption happened, didn't quite come to pass.

A park ranger gives a talk on how scientists’ expectations of what would happen during the eruption didn’t quite come to pass. Prior to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, we had very little data on Plinean eruptions, or pyroclastic flows of hot gas and rock that roared down into the valley.

I listened to a great talk from one of the rangers there. He told the story of how exciting it was to be a vulcanologist in the time leading up to the eruption. The best data available at the time was of the Hawaiian lava flows, but they knew this would be different. The size of the resulting violent explosion took people by surprise. Luckily, scientists had convinced authorities to block access to the popular recreation area (despite loud criticism), and prevented many deaths. Sadly, 57 people died in the blast, most due to asphyxiation. The most interesting (to me) of those people was David Johnston, a geologist just crazy about volcanoes, who had observation duty that morning. He radioed headquarters, “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” and then died instantly. The people who heard the broadcast, and knew his voice, said what struck them about his message was that it wasn’t a voice of fear, but of something more like boyish excitement. I’d like to believe that David Johnston died the way he would have most wanted to go.

This is Mt. St. Helens when I arrived at the Observatory.

This is Mt. St. Helens when I arrived at the Observatory.

The ranger at Mt. St. Helens National Monument said, “Well, in answer to your question I’ll tell you about our 6:15 rule.” And he explained that the doors of the Johnston Observatory are closed and locked at 6:00 p.m. In a Murphy’s Law type fashion, the clouds typically clear up around 6:15 p.m. “From what I hear, you have a good chance of seeing the mountain sometime between 6 and 6:30,” he said.

So I waited. I waved goodbye to all the rangers as they left. From the top of an observation hill I watched the parking lot clear out. I found a nice comfortable railing to sit on, beside a trail, with nothing but volcano gorgeousness in front of me… and I waited.

And it paid off.

6:25 p.m. I knew it wouldn't clear by 6:30, but I could tell the clouds were clearing. So I stayed.

6:25 p.m. I knew it wouldn’t clear by 6:30, but I could tell the clouds were clearing. So I stayed.

6:48 p.m.

6:48 p.m.

7:05 p.m.

7:05 p.m.

7:16 p.m. Look at that! What an incredible view. Perfect light, perfect weather. I was rewarded well beyond expectation.

7:16 p.m. Look at that! What an incredible view. Perfect light, perfect weather. I was rewarded well beyond expectation.

image by Jeff Widener, China, 1989

I am astounded to be reminded that the tragedy of Tiananmen Square was twenty years ago. That long?

Mt. St. Helens, Washington, 1980

Ok, Ok, I am finally coming to terms with the fact that the Mt. St. Helens eruption is ancient history, though I can still remember the daily drama of facemasks and shoveling ash off bridges and roofs before they collapsed.

I have even begun to relax a little bit since the reunification of Germany. As I blogged about not too long ago, I am still trying to resolve my thoughts about walls.

Tiananmen was the same year as when the wall came down? Crazy. The pain and dread of young, beautiful, unarmed people standing up to an army is still so present in my consciousness. I can’t believe it is yet another one of those stories that is history.

Astonishing that the Chinese government won’t address it. They refuse to even allow dialogue. Really? Just like people believe there was no Holocaust, some people believe there was no Tiananmen? But, but, but… I still carry the pain of it! It was real! And I’m among The Ugly Americans, which normally causes us to forget. But this we remember…

And that image.

Thank you Jeff Widener for what you were able to give us. I recalled so clearly that there was a lone man standing with his hand up. But when I looked for the image, it is even more compelling: a man holding grocery bags. A symbol worthy of any activist’s respect. You can’t get more grass roots than: “I was on my way home from the market and saw the tanks and, well, something had to be done.” Mr. Widener said about his composition that he thinks it’s best not to know the identity of the man. Without knowing his name, he’s one of us, and that makes him so symbolically powerful.

I asked my partner if he remembers “that image” from the Tiananmen Square massacre? In answer, he raised his arm to stop the tanks in the exact way I remember it. He, too, has remembered the message the way I did. Isn’t that interesting?

One of my many guises

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