Hey, remember airplanes and traveling for work? Well, I suppose some people never gave up those items, but the last time I was on an airplane I was leaving a meeting at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta where I watched them initiate emergency operations for that new coronavirus circulating… it was January 2020. We all know how the timeline of events crumbled in the months after that.
So here we finally had it, a work trip to Portland, Oregon for a conference! My coworker, Janice, decided she wanted to stay longer on personal time to explore, and I’m not sure how it all came about, but I invited myself along, haha! I had planned a HUGE road trip to Oregon that I was hoping to do in fall 2021, but then I realized the pandemic situation would still be too up in the air and I wanted more time to plan, so it was tabled for another adventure closer to home in Yellowstone instead. So why not take this teaser opportunity?! (All work and no play makes Heidi a dull girl…)
Overall, the conference was great and being able to network and see my peers in person was amazing. Stacy Allison was the keynote speaker – the first American woman to summit Mount Everest – so naturally I was all about that! The hotel desk guy told me I would be able to see Mount Saint Helens from my hotel room, so every morning I jumped out of bed to immediately yank the curtains open hoping for a little less smoke and haze to let the mountain come out. Janice and I took the chance to eat some yummy pho and other Portland offerings before we raced out of town on Thursday afternoon to begin our vacation (and “race” it was as we were upgraded from a compact car to a Dodge Challenger for our rental!).
I told Janice I didn’t care what we did as long as we could agree on going to Mount Saint Helens, my second favorite volcano in the world (yes, because I’m the type of person who has favorite volcanoes… Eyjafjallajökull is my favorite in case you were wondering. Yellowstone is number three. Contact me for the complete top ten :P). I have been wanting to climb it for quite awhile now, but with no way to secure a last minute climbing permit, I figured just seeing my muse from Johnston Ridge would be good enough… for now! Janice was on board, though I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m clinically insane by now as I had been blabbering on about volcanoes since first spotting Mount Hood and Mount Rainier from the plane!
North, to the volcano we shall go!
At Castle Rock we exited I-5 onto Highway 504, or Spirit Lake Highway, that would take us all the way to the Johnston Ridge Observatory in the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument.
So about this volcano (going to nerd out for a second)… Mount Saint Helens is an active stratovolcano, last erupting in 2008 but of course is most famously known for its massive eruption on May 18, 1980. The 1980 eruption remains the most devastating volcanic eruption in the United States, and even took 1300 feet off the top of the mountain and left a massive crater. It is part of the Cascade volcanoes, which is a part of the Ring of Fire. Geologically, it is a young volcano, being only 40,000 years old or so. Even better, it has a glacier, the Crater Glacier, that formed after the 1980 eruption (glaciers are also one of my favorite things!). Scientists believe that future eruptions will be more destructive than the 1980 one, too. The area was protected in 1982 as a national volcanic monument and no restoration or replanting was allowed within the monument, providing scientists the opportunity to study how regrowth and recovery would occur on its own. (The areas around the monument are reforested since much of the land is owned by a logging company.)
Okay, science lesson over! The first issue I ever read of National Geographic when I was a child was about the eruption, and I’ve always just loved learning about it. As my interest in geology has grown in the past few years, I’ve just become more in awe of what I call “earth pimples” haha!
We took a second to stop right before the Hoffstadt Creek Bridge. There are a few interpretive signs explaining how the bridge was built and how this area lies on the edge of the Blast Zone. I must admit, we were more amused by all the green foliage and massive maple leafs than anything! In Wyoming we don’t have a lot of trees (and what trees there are, are either dying from pine beetles or wildfires…), and definitely no lush ferns, so I always kind of get claustrophobic when I’m in areas with so many trees!
We continued on, stopping at the Forest Learning Center to take in the views and to check out the gift shop. The exhibition was closed, but otherwise there is a great viewpoint and some hiking trails that can be explored. For those who collect passport stamps, there is a stamp at the gift shop register you can acquire! It is not an official NPS stamp, but does that matter, really?
Next stop was the official sign for the monument. My newest thing to collect, aside from magnets and passport stamps, is selfies at entrance signs… so you know, had to get this one! Typically the Adventure Dinos join in the photo, but that was a huge packing oversight and they were sitting at home, missing all the fun.
Now it was time for the big show as we wound our way up to Johnston Ridge Observatory… Per the USGS webpage… “The Johnston Ridge Observatory is open seasonally and is located on Johnston Ridge in the center of the 1980 blast zone approximately 8 km (5 mi) north of the Mount St. Helens summit. The Ridge was named in honor of David Johnston, the USGS volcanologist who was on duty at the USGS Coldwater II observation point during the May 18, 1980 eruption. He was one of 57 people who lost their lives in the eruption. The Observatory building houses seismic, deformation, and other monitoring equipment that relays data to the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory for analysis.”
Y’all. I can’t even put into words what it was like to view Mount Saint Helens from Johnston Ridge. If you want to feel small, come here. Hands down one of the most powerful, incredible places I have ever stood in my life. First off, its really hard to grasp just how much of the mountain is gone and trying to wrap my head around that still just leaves me in awe. The power and force of nature… we humans think we’re the masters, and we’re not… it’s Mama Earth. There’s only been a couple of places I’ve been that have really left me without proper words to describe the experience of being there, and this is one of them!
I’ll let the next bazillion photos tell the story…
Mount Saint Helens was a hard place to leave, but alas, I couldn’t just take up residence there (or could I? *ponders intensely*). It sealed my desire to climb the mountain, and I think for 2022 I will hopefully obtained a climbing permit and be able to stand on the summit.
Now it was onward to Lacey, where we would spend the night before continuing around around the Olympic Peninsula the next day. From a volcano to lush rainforests and rocky ocean shores… here we come!
Stay tuned for Part 2!