Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mount Saint Helen


We left Portland on Monday, and made the short drive to Brazel’s RV in Centralia, Washington . . . another new state for our map!

Brazel's RV










We had a few minor issues to have looked at on the RV before our extended warranty expires at the end of the month, and Tom had seen some good reviews for Brazel’s RV Performance.  They have a small RV Park right next to their shop, which makes it really convenient to get work done there – we get to stay for free, and much of the time they can even work on the rig right in the campsite.

When we arrived on Monday, the technician got right to work assessing the items on our list, and the next day the Service Manager started making calls to the warranty company and searching for parts.

While he was tracking down answers, we packed a picnic lunch and went to Mount Saint Helen for the afternoon.

Reforested area near Mt. St. Helen

As we approached from the west, we could see the mountaintop in the distance, and the lush green forest in the foreground.  Many of the forest surrounding Mount Saint Helen are owned by Weyerhaeuser Forest Products, and the company lost thousands of acres of trees, buildings, equipment and roads in the massive eruption in 1980.

Our first stop was at the Forest Learning Center on Weyerhaeuser property, where there is an overlook of the valley around the Toutle River and the new bridge crossing the river.

new bridge

Mudslide Area











I was just in grade school at the time of the 1980 eruption, and I remember hearing about it, but way over on the other side of the country I never realized just how devastating it was.  This entire valley was wiped out by a giant landslide triggered by the eruption.

In the picture above, you can see where the Weyerhaeuser property has undergone significant reforestation (due to replanting that started in 1981), and the National Park was allowed to regenerate naturally, and it is happening at a significantly slower rate.

We continued along Highway 504, and eventually entered the National Park.


Mt. St. Helen










Our next stop was the Coldwater Lake Recreation Area, where we had our lunch and took a walk alongside the lake.

A new lake

Coldwater Lake










This new lake was formed when muddy, debris-filled water was released from the higher elevation Spirit Lake, in order to prevent massive flooding.  This lake started out with muddy water, but after only 3 years, the naturally-growing algae had cleaned it up, and left the crystal-clear water that we saw.

Coldwater Lake

There are still piles of ash and rock scattered around the lake.

Piles of ash remain still










From Coldwater Lake, we continued up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  Along the way, we stopped at an overlook where we could clearly see the devastation created by the initial blast.

Destruction near the volcano

Struggling new life


The area to the northwest of the volcano was completely destroyed, and almost nothing has regrown in the area.

There are a few signs of life, though . . .








We arrived at the Johnston Observatory just as a Ranger Program was beginning.  We was talking about the crater inside the mountain, and how the lava dome has continued to grow with each minor eruption that has taken place since 1980.

Lava Dome and glaciers

The snow-covered area in the center is the lava dome – it has grown to 1300 feet above the crater floor since 1980.

The peak of Mt. St. Helen is now crescent-shaped, and this opening in the rim is where the top of the mountain blew off in the lateral eruption in 1980.  The blast was a direct hit on the ridge that is now referred to as Johnston Ridge – where some geologists and volcano watchers were located (thinking they were safely far enough away) when the eruption happened.  This area was completely devastated, and still appears desolate.

Direct Hit from the blast










The picture below tells a pretty clear story.

Mt. St. Helen

The mountaintop blew off to the left, destroying thousands of acres of forest in its path.  The resulting landslide of mud, trees and chunks of the mountain then followed the Toutle River through the mountains and burying the valley under feet of debris and ash.

In the Visitor Center, we watched a movie that recreated the scene on May 18, 1980, and then walked through the displays, reading about the people caught in the explosion and mudslide – some that miraculously survived, and others that didn’t.

Mount Saint Helen really is an amazing and beautiful location, but at the same time the story of nature’s power, and the destruction that resulted was very sobering.  I’m glad we added it to our list of sights to see.



  1. Mt. Saint Helen was one of our favorite stops since we are way old enough to remember it;o)) It certainly does make you realize how powerful Mother Nature truly can be. We had friends who lived Idaho Falls, 700 miles to the east and they had their cars and property covered with ASH!!!

  2. Like Bill and Nancy we remember the Eruption in a sense of horror and praying for those effected. Visiting an area that has experienced severe loss of life always leaves us with that somber feeling. Like the saying goes "Don't mess with Mother Nature".
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  3. That park looks very interesting. I will make it a "must stop" when we're in the area later this year. Thanks for sharing. Becki


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