Friday, May 29, 2009

Mount St. Helens

The northernmost destination in our West Coast trip was Mount St. Helens. We happened to visit on the 29th anniversary of the eruption. Entry fees were waived for the occasion. Along the winding highway leading from I-5 into the park, there are several visitor centers, as well as numerous vista points offering views of the ravaged mountain from afar. The main observation point, Johnson Visitor's Center (named after David Johnson, who died in the eruption) offers an impressive unimpeded view of the volcano's cratered northern side, as well as the lava dome that is gradually building in the opening, constantly emitting a plume of smoke. Even the view of the incredible vista of destruction (still largely a gray wasteland) does not make it any easier to grasp the dimensions of the eruption, the accompanying avalanche of lava and debris, and the blast that was the equivalent of 21,000 atom bombs. It killed 57 people, destroying 15 miles of road and 230 square miles of forest. Much of the land will still not support plant life because of layers of infertile ash, and where trees have come back or been replanted, they look strangely uniform in size. It is an unforgettable monument to nature's power.

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