Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Today our goal was to drive the 50 miles to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Johnston Ridge Visitor's Center, and then back, seeing whatever we wish to see and visit in between.  The forecast was for temps up to 80 degrees, with possible storms in the late afternoon.

But before we left, the fur kids wanted to check out the neighborhood.
They were both watching the lone guy camping next to us break camp with his Airstream Trailer and head out.  Skruffy (above) is doing better, she did not bark at him at all, and hardly let out a growl.  Bubba (below) only looks out for a few minutes at most, gets board and goes back to his man cave, or lays out on the tile floor.

We left around 10:30 and headed up the road, just about the same time the guy in the Airstream was pulling out.  We stopped first at the State Visitor's Center which is just a couple miles down the road.   They gave us a map, a newspaper looking brochure, and they had a live cam of the mountain, which at that time did not have a cloud in sight, but that would not last long.  So we drove the rest of the way without stopping at any pullouts or information centers until we got to the National Monument Visitor's Center.
 We got there just in time.  Within the hour, the mountain top was covered in clouds.  The Johnson Ridge Visitor's Center is North-West of the mountain.  When St. Helens blew, it blew nearly due north.  As you can see by the lack of trees and vegetation between the mountain and this spot, anyone who was on or near this spot on the morning of May 18, 1980 would not have survived.  
The two above pictures (which was provided on one of the many display boards at the visitor's center) shows the mountain the day before the eruption, and four months later.  As you can see, a large chunk of the mountain is just gone! 

We saw two movies at the visitor's center, both were real good.  They both showed the explosion, but one showed much of the effects of the eruption on the area, while the other showed the affects on animal and plant life.  On that morning in May, it started with a 5.1 earthquake which started the most massive land slide ever recorded on film.  The said that the debris was racing down the mountain at 150 miles per hour.  This was followed very quickly by the eruption, which blew out at over 300 miles per hour, overtaking the land slide/avalanche. In the end, Fifty-seven people died, 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed.  The ash cloud grew to 80,000 feet in only 15 minutes.  The cloud reached the east coast in 3 days.  Most of the ash fell within 300 miles of the mountain, but finer ash circled the earth in 15 days.

It is an amazing show of the power of the almighty.  When we see the volcanic mountains that we have over the past few months, and to see films and pictures of this explosion, and to know that compared to the ancient volcanoes that we saw the remnants of around Mt. Lassen, and Crater Lake, well this was nothing compared to those ones.  It makes you wonder.
And inside the crater today, there is a mound which has grown over the past 30 years.  The latest volcanic activity was from 2004-2008.  This sleeping giant will not sleep long...it is only time before it comes to life again.  But it has taught us much, and I feel that when the time comes that danger is upon us, access will be restricted.  History has shown that Mt. St. Helens has blown up many times in the past 3,000 years.  I doubt it was blow up as aggressively as it did in 1980 until the mound above fills in much of the crater again.

Just north of St. Helens lies Spirit Lake.  When the mountain blew, trees between the mountain and the lake filled the lake up.  The blast moved the water in the lake up the ridge to the north of it, and when the water moved back down, it took more downed trees with it.  It took many, many years for the lake to recover, but today, it looks like a pretty good lake, although I am sure it is still full of a bunch of junk resulting from the eruption.

The direct affect of the blast can be seen for miles.  The melted snow caused the water to run down the Toutle River in a uncontrollable rage, taking downed trees towards bridges, roads, houses 50 miles away.  Below you can still the the scar looking from the west to the mountain, which is now covered in clouds.
Below you can see Castle Lake, which was formed after the explosion.  There were many small lakes formed due to debris filling in areas where the rivers once easily flowed.
And in this picture you can see the remnants of down trees over 30 years later.  These trees were probably blow over by the blast and not from the avalanche.

The bridge below is nearly 15 miles away from the blast, right at the edge of the blast zone.  It is on property leased to Weyerhaeuser. 

Weyerhaeuser replanted trees in the blast zone, outside of the National Monument Area, to the tune of $9 million to replace the 68,000 acres of timber they lost due to the eruption.  They hope to harvest this "crop" around 2026, although they have done some thinning in some areas already.  One can easily see the area where the trees were planted, and where the Federal Government just let nature do its thing.  Weyerhaeuser believes, and I think they are accurate on this, that because they got new trees planted so quickly, that the larger wildlife returned to the area quicker, and due to that, the area which was not planted flourished much quicker than had the entire area just been left to recover on its own. 

In the movie we learned that the large animals ingest seeds within the plant life they eat, and then travel into the desolate area and, well, let the digested seeds out through their droppings.  Hence, new life comes from animal poop..or as Marcia says, Skata...which is Greek for poop.  (I told her I would get that word into the blog today!)

Below you can see the effects of the dead trees due to the heat of the blast.  Lumber was salvaged, then replanted.  There were many signs showing the replanting of trees in 1983-1986 along the highway.  These trees are thriving today.

Weyerhaeuser lost way more than trees on that day in May, 1980, as this board shows below.

Now for a thought or two...

I remember the 1980 explosion, and immediately the folklore about Harry Randall Truman hit the news.  Harry was the owner and caretaker of Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake, which was located at the south end of the lake, close to the mountain.  He refused to leave the lake area despite the danger, and died a very quick death the morning of May 18th.  He was 83 1/2 years old.  I saw nothing about Harry anywhere at the Visitor's Center.  What a shame, in my opinion.


In one of the movies, the one about the wildlife and vegetation, they made a few remarks which must make environmentalist cringe.  They went so far to say that the area within the blast zone (shown above) is "better off today than it was before the eruption in 1980."  That there is more "life" today than before all the trees got blown away, before the lake was polluted with burned and damaged trees, and the ground was smothered in layers of ash.  So my thought is this....how can "clear-cutting" trees be so harmful to the environment?  How can drilling a few holes in a relatively small area in Alaska be so harmful to the environment?  How can emissions from electricity plants, from car exhaust, etc., be so harmful to the environment when this volcano put out so much pollution into the air, way more in one explosion than all of the cars in this nation put out in an entire year?  Now I am not one who wants to man to careless...but at the same time, the resources were put on this earth for us to use.  There is loving the environment, and I feel that I am one who fits that category, but there is also going overboard in saying that the environment rules man....which is going way too far.

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