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06/12/12 - Mount St. Helens from the Johnston Ridge Observatory

The eruption of Mount St. Helens was front page news way back when, but it is hard to grasp the sheer scale of a mountain exploding from photographs or even video coverage. We drove a fair ways from the interstate through flat lands and hills and forest to the Johnston Ridge Observatory to get a better sense of things.

We saw glimpses of the volcano from along the road, but what impressed us even more was the land between us and the mountain. It was hard not to see that the topography had been recently altered by volcanic floes and ash, and that material had been carved by rivers and was only recently being recolonized by grasses, shrubs and trees. This was not a long settled landscape, but a new one.

We climbed the final hillside to the observatory proper and enjoyed the exhibit, but we were drawn again and again to the view. The building had great glass windows, but we had to go outside with the wind and rain and snow. (Just flurries, but snow nonetheless.) We explored the landscape of burned tree stumps and fallen trunks and gazed in awe at the fresh land in the river valley between us and the volcano. We were never really that close, and the clouds hid the upper reaches for most of our visit, but now and then the winds would blow, cold and hard, and we could see a bit more of the mountain that had blasted and charred the trees on Johnston Ridge and reformed the land.

One of our better views of Mt. St. Helens

The Toutle River and the new land below

More valley

Another glimpse of the mountain

Mountain and valley

Johnston Ridge, today

A story is told here.

A canyon carved in volcanic ash

A herd of elk

The flowers are coming back, but only the hardy ones.

Another view of the mountain and valley

Keywords: flowers, washington state, elk