September 2012: Labor Day Weekend, (Pt. 1)

We flew Lindsay out for a long Labor Day weekend to give her a taste of the Pacific Northwest.  It’s our hope (and hers as well) that she can land a job out this way and escape from Alabama.  While funding for state governments is hard everywhere, it’s all relative, and generally a whole lot better out here than back there.  And we want the grandkids to go to decent public schools.

So Lindsay flew out and we picked her up late Thursday in Portland, Oregon (where Seth and Crystal live).  We grabbed a quick meal with Seth and Crystal, and then headed north to the RV park where we’re living just south of Olympia.  

After a good sleep, we did a quick tour of Olympia the next morning, and then headed back south to Portland via Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, which we wanted to see, and Lindsay said was on her bucket list (Who knew?)

(Forgive the geology lesson that follows if you already know, but I thought a little background would be helpful here.)

Volcanos form on the fault lines of tectonic plates.  Massive pressure caused by the grinding of the plates causes heat that turns the the rock to magma.

Washington, Oregon, and Northern California (collectively known as the Pacific Rim) are but a segment of a line of volcanos that stretch from Indonesia to Japan to Alaska and on down the western coasts of North and South America.

In the Pacific Rim states, Mt Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Whitney come to mind.  I’m sure there are more that don’t.

Mt. St. Helens last blew on May 18, 1980.  In a matter of moments, St. Helen’s summit of  9,677 ft. was reduced by 1,300 feet.  During the 9 hour eruption, more than 500-million cubic yards of molten rock were blasted from the mountain, creating an ash cloud that rose 12 miles in the air.  The dense eruption cloud, 500 degrees Fahrenheit and heavy with debris, hugged the ground and rolled northward, northwest, and northeast, climbing over four major ridges and valleys.  

It leveled 230 square miles of prime old growth forest and killed almost everything in its path and above ground. Despite two months of warning (the dome was growing rapidly and there were earthquakes and steam vent releases) 57 people were killed (mostly people who believed they were well out of any blast zone).  In addition, an estimated 1.5 million animals were killed, including an estimated 1,500 elk.

Despite early concerns about whether the environment would, or could, recover, within weeks of the explosion fireweed, thistle, and blackberry had reappeared, thanks to burrowing animals that had survived the blast and the buried seeds they brought to the surface.

In the months following the eruption, tens of thousands of visitors were drawn to the mountain to see first-hand the evidence of the awesome power of the blast.  To protect the public and the environment, Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was created in 1982, and is managed by the US Forest Service.  The area within the National Monument is being allowed to recover without artificial re-planting, while the secondary blast zone area outside the monument has been replanted by Big Timber.

Okay, enough of the lesson.  

There is no road that completely circumnavigates the mountain, so you have to choose either the north or south approach.  We elected to approach the mountain from the north side, where the 2,000 ft. cavity that is its crater is best viewed.  

Here are some of the pictures I took last Friday. 

Remember – you can double click on any photo to see it full size.

This one is from about 25 miles away:



Here’s a family shot of Callie and Lindsay at a viewpoint along the way:



These are some of the mountains to the north of St. Helens that were devastated by the blast:



Here’s a nice shot from about 10 miles out that shows the lava flow:


This is as close as we got, taken at the Johnson Ridge station:



Close up of a tree leveled by the blast (note the rocks embedded in its roots).



This is a shot of an area that is rejuvenating within the boundaries of the National Monument.  Double click on the photo to see the fallen trees across the mountain.





These last few photos are of trees (blue spruce, I think) that have been planted by the timber industry in the secondary blast zone outside the National Monument.  I found the symmetry intriguing.  The uniformity of the trees is a contrast to the old growth forest that was lost to the eruption – old-growth forest is uneven in height, with some very tall trees and lots of smaller ones struggling toward the sunlight.







Part 2 of LAbor Day Weekend to follow…


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