07/20/2012 - 07/21/2012
So a lot of things have happened since my last entry. I ended up moving to Portland last August and I've been settling in here and making it a home. Whether this is temporary or permanent I'm not sure, but I'm taking advantage of my new location in the Pacific Northwest to explore the area. Just this weekend I did my first big trip in the region. I went up to explore Mount St Helens and it was amazing.
On the first day we headed towards Johnston Ridge Observatory. It is "the thing" to do in the park. It's named after David Johnston, a scientist who died during the 1980 eruption. He was stationed near the mountain to keep an eye on it because of its recent activity. When it blew he got on the radio and broadcast "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" That was the last anyone ever heard of him.
The observatory is located directly in the blast zone. When it started to become active again in 2004 it had to be evacuated a few times. One particular bout of activity caused a 50 minute long tremor that forced hundreds of people to evacuate the area. Now that the mountain is quiet again, it makes an excellent place to catch some spectacular views.
If you aren't bogged down in fog, that is...
But at least we got to see some of the changing landscape through the fog.
I was also able to get some up close and personal shots of the rebirth in the blast zone. The first thing that came back to the area was Lupine, a purple flower that has a habit of blossoming in extremely harsh conditions. When Lupine gave the soil nutrients other flowers began to bloom. What resulted was a vast destroyed landscape covered in flowers.
The power in that blast was pretty epic.
When it became obvious that the fog wasn't going to lift we headed back down the mountain to our motel.
The next day we started bright and early and headed up towards Windy Ridge, the observation point on the other side of the mountain. It's not directly in the landslide area like Johnston Ridge Observatory is, but it's a few miles closer and I just had to see it. On the way up we were greeted with some amazing scenery that made me realize just how lucky I am to be living in the Pacific Northwest. This region is truly stunning.
The road to Windy Ridge was even more dramatic that Johnston Ridge. The mountain was still shrouded in fog, but the landscape around us was devastated beyond anything I had been expecting. I'd heard that there were downed trees, but I thought that the few I'd seen at Johnston Ridge were it. But this? This was insane. The closer we got to the mountain the more intense the devastation became. It looked like hill after hill just covered in little toothpicks. But those toothpicks are giant trees. Just imagine the FORCE behind the blast that caused that.
Further from the blast zone, trees aren't so much 'toppled' as 'burned where they stood and left for dead.'
When we finally got up to Windy Ridge we were greeted with yet another fog shrouded view of the mountain, but the sight of the landslide area here was much more visible and obvious. The man leading a lecture at the ridge said that people who say that it "blew it's top" are wrong because it really blew sideways. I like to say it "sh*t it's pants." It just sort of spilled out over the forest beside it and made a huge mess of the valley.
As we were leaving the sky started to clear. I got a few more shots of the mountain as we left, but we were too far away to return at that point so we just kept going. We had to have the car back by 8pm and there were still a few other things I wanted to see.
On the way back to Portland we stopped at the "Ape Cave." It's apparently the larges lava tube in North America. You can do the entire thing, which is only recommended for experienced hikers, or the "lower cave," which is sort of an easy afternoon family thing. We did the lower cave. I'm proud of myself for getting so far because it wasn't exactly a pleasant environment. It was cold and wet and slimy and rocky...
We took the long way home so I could see what this famous "gorge" is that everyone in Portland complains about when the weather gets cold. Turns out... it's a gorge! It was quite beautiful and I'd love to go back when I'm not exhausted like I was this time. I did, however, get to see Multnomah Falls. It is right off the freeway so we didn't really have to hike any further than the parking lot.
This trip was excellent. I hope I get to explore this region more.