Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mt. St. Helens

Friday, we left Kelso, drove north 10 miles on I-5 to Castle Rock, and turned east toward the Mt. St Helens National Volcanic Monument.

We started off under clouds that dribbled from time to time and climbed into and through the clouds.  As we broke out of them, we found ourselves looking straight at the mountain, brilliantly illuminated.  We started by going out to Johnston Observatory - the combination reseach center and visitors center at the end of road from the west.  The visitors center is very well done - our tax dollars were spent effectively.  We could see all the details of the site of the eruption, where the side of the mountain was blown out and where a new volcanic cone is growing.  We also could see the new Spirit Lake, 150' or more above the location of the one Joan and her family knew.
The New Spirit Lake

Joan and her family have had a connection with Mt. St. Helens almost since they moved to Tacoma from Kansas.  The Episcopal Church did summer camps for kids and families at Harry Truman's lodge on Spirit Lake, and they have fond memories of both the lake and the mountain - and of the crusty Harry Truman who among other things ran the camp store.

My connection with the mountain is more tenuous.  In 1980, the guys in IBM's Palo Alto Scientific Center used a bunch of then-new image enhancement technology to produce a satellite-sourced digital image of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, showing the plume extending into eastern Washington.  Our friends in Pullman told us of the ash that covered the entire area. 

Joan, her Mom, and the kids saw much of the downstream devastation in 1981.  Over the years, we've watched the rebirth of the ecology, going closer and closer to the mountain as the roads were opened and Visitor Centers completed.  Some of the trees on Weyerhauser land that we had seen as freshly planted in the early '80s are nearing maturity.

As we turned back toward I-5, we stopped at the lookout by a visitor center seven miles west of Johnston Observatory.  That center was closed in 2007 after Johnston Observatory opened.  The National Volcanic Monument is a laboratory for the study of the environmental dynamics following an eruption.  No interventions are allowed, so everything that has happened is natural. 
View across the National Volcanic Monument from Weyerhauser's Center

In contrast, the environment of the Weyerhauser forests is being closely managed.  After the trees knocked over or killed were harvested, about 40,000 acres of trees were planted.  Weyerhauser has a visitors center on its property, looking up at Mt. St. Helens and educating/propagandizing for the lumber industry.  The center is worth the 45 minutes that we spent there.
Weyerhauser's post-1980 Tree Farm

The county built a small visitors center on the road to the mountain - in the early time after the eruption it was as far up the road one could drive.  It is particularly interesting for its Spirit Lake memorabilia.
 View from the County Center

The master plan had us going to Astoria and Ft. Clatsop (where Lewis and Clark wintered), but we didn't leave Mt. St. Helens until late afternoon.  So going back to Oregon wasn't in the cards and we headed cross-country to Hoquiam on Gray's Harbor in southwestern Washington.  Along the way, we had one stretch of road where we had to compete for road space with several hundred Seattle-to-Portland bicyclists.  As we got near the coast, the contrast with the mountain was dramatic as we were in a cool drizzle.  The forecast for Saturday wasn't a positive one, but after all we were going to be touring rain forests.