Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, Oregon, United States, Washington, Work Travel Life

PNW Teaser – Part 1: Portland and Mount Saint Helens

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…)

We are ON AN AIRPLANE! I had forgotten how the airport and airplanes work, ha! And meet Janice, my awesome adventure buddy who handles my rambling about volcanoes quite well! She recently took a geology course so we nerded out over rocks hardcore. Like REALLY nerded out. Everyone needs a friend they can do that with!
Conditions were very hazy and smoky as we descended over the Columbia River Gorge
Hello volcano! Mount Saint Helens?! Not sure if it is really Mount Rainier?! If I had sat on the other side of the plane, I would’ve had a very close and personal look at Mount Hood, but alas, I still got a volcano viewing!

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!).

Surviving public transit in Portland. There was only one brawl in the train car that spilled out into the street…
Pho 503 was hands down the BEST pho I’ve ever had!
Stacy Allison, the first American woman to summit Mount Everest, and I! She carried a pink plastic flamingo to the summit, so now I’m inspired to take the Adventure Dinos all over with me (except on this trip… because I’m horrible and forgot them!).
Finally Mount Saint Helens says hi to me from my hotel room!!!
Our “compact” rental car
We grabbed lunch at Elephant Delicatessen before leaving Portland.

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!

We both decided this was the scariest thing ever… someone took our jokes about Thelma and Louise and our red sports car a little too far, ha!
Janice: “Wait, is Hooters still a thing?!”
Hello, Washington!
There’s a whole generation of us who finds this situation terrifying thanks to a little movie called Final Destination…

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.

Oooo, I see you, Mount Saint Helens!

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!

VOLCANO!!! One missing its top, but yeah, a volcano!!!

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!

Oooo, that’s a big, high bridge!
Livin’ on the edge… of the Blast Zone!
We found foliage that we just don’t have in Wyoming! Also, I apparently cannot pronounce “foliage” right, which led to a lot of laughs and English lessons.
Ferns, all the ferns!
Meet Lief, our “Tree Star” who joined us on our entire road trip, seeing the sights from the dashboard.
Driving across the very long, very high bridge

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?

View from the Forest Learning Center.
A closer look while at Forest Learning Center
How about an even closer view?!
The replanted forest has a really odd texture to me. They look like those fake tree cell phone towers, or something?! In one area all the tops were cut off which led to us pondering a lot about “why are the trees beheaded?!”

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.

Probably the most excited I’ve been for an entrance sign apart from Yellowstone! (Geez, they’re both volcanoes, too…) Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument is administered by the US Forest Service, not National Park Service.
Because there is never enough photos of Mount Saint Helens, here’s the view from the viewpoint at the entrance sign!
Hazy telephotos are the best when geology is invovled!
Just look at that ash!

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.”

These are not bad roads to cruise along in a Challenger!
A sign showing the before and after…

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…

Absolutely. Freaking. Breathtaking.
Someone remarked on my instagram post of this photo that I looked so happy. They were right! I cannot wait to stand upon that summit, hopefully one day very soon!
A closer view of the cone that is slowly rebuilding (the mountain will eventually be original height again if it doesn’t blow itself apart before then) and the glacier
A closer look
The wildflowers definitely very beautiful! Remember, this is all natural recovery, no one planted these flowers!
Looking back at the observatory trail from the Eruption Trail, a small paved loop that is worth the time to explore!
Another closeup, because I can’t get enough of them. Moments where I wish I was a volcanologist and not a biological sciences person! I wanted to be numerous things growing up… meteorologist, Ebola researcher, orthopedic surgeon… I really wish I just focused on all the rocks I collected!
Educational signs explain the different impacts the eruption had on the surrounding area. This one talks about the 500mph pyroclastic blast that obliterated the trees.
Janice and I were both excited about that streak of rock that seems like might have iron in it due to its red color
A snippet from another educational sign that I thought had a few poignant points… “Once again nature’s subtle rhythms prevail… until the next time” and “Nothing is permanent except the power of change.”
It’s been a few seconds without a volcano photo, sorry about that!
57 people were known to have died in the eruption, and this is their memorial.
There are longer hikes that can be done in this area, but there are no public trails that lead into the crater, which is restricted to the public. The south side of the mountain has the climbing routes.
Before the eruption there was forest all the way to the base of the mountain , with a treeline of about 4,400 feet in elevation.
Turning around to view the surrounding blast zone
Nature always finds a way.

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.

One last look as we backtracked towards I-5

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!

Those who have read my blog from 2018 will know why I was probably a little too excited to see these “marshmallows” (in mint flavor) in this field!
I managed to snag glimpses of Mount Rainier as we headed north. Definitely a bucket list mountaineering adventure I want to accomplish someday!
We ended the day with more pho, since we do not have good pho in Cheyenne. I ordered the large at Fresh Pho, and it was indeed large!

Stay tuned for Part 2!


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