Mount Saint Helens is famous for its historical eruption on May 18, 1980. I traveled up to Castle Rock, WA this summer where you can see Mount Saint Helens in the background. I have always wanted to go there. If you go to fairs or bazaars in the Washington State area you can see crafts of all sorts made with the ash from the eruption. Being so close to Mount Saint Helens I decided to go even though I was alone. By the way, I hate to drive. Love to travel, hate to drive. I was up at Castle Rock on a volunteer assignment to help with a building group. I was tired and wanted to travel home, but being so close to Mount Saint Helens I felt like I would kick myself later for not doing it. So I went. I traveled along Spirit Lake Hwy, or Hwy 504, and stopped at the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center. I paid 5 dollars and enjoyed my trip through history. There were many different highlights of the center but what I enjoyed was the fact that they focused on the history of the area. The Native Americans, fur trappers, explorers, etc. This is one of my favorite accounts they had:
Eruptions of the Pacific Northwest volcanoes were well known to the Indians. Chief Bighead of the Spokane Indians witnessed an eruption of Mount Baker as a child in the late 1790’s. He told a medicine man that he was sleeping when suddenly awakened by his mother. She called to him that the world was falling to pieces. He heard a loud noise from thunder overhead and people crying in terror. Something very thick was falling, which they thought was snow. It proved to be ashes, which fell to a depth of 6 inches and increased their fears by causing them to think it was the end of the world.
The medicine man arose and told them not to be afraid. The world was not falling to pieces. “Soon.” He said, “There will come from the rising sun a different kind of men from any you have yet seen who will bring with them a book, and will teach you everything, and after that the world will fall to pieces.”
The visitor center had a movie that was 13 minutes long. I enjoyed watching it as it prepped me with knowledge of the 1980 explosion. I also learned where the origin of the word volcano came from, the Roman god Vulcan who was the god of fire and metal working. After the movie you can walk back to the exhibit and see the huge picture of Mount Saint Helens erupting. It’s quite an eye catcher, as it reaches all the way to the ceiling. It is beautiful, but after seeing all the destruction that happened it reminds you of how powerful the eruption was.
Before I left I got a map. This map proved to be very important. I was wanting to travel back home and was looking for a through way. The road I was currently on was only one way so I would have to back track. I asked the people at the counter why that was and it was explained that this brought me to the crater viewpoint and that no other roads would bring that view. That of course is the important view. So I quite happily traveled up the road to see the famous crater.
The drive was a beautiful one. It’s interesting to drive along the valley that the mudflow went down, carving itself a deep path of destruction that’s still very visible. The view was so breathtaking I stopped a few times and took pictures. There was various wildflowers to see as well, even in late August. Including my favorite flowers-Indian paintbrush, also called prairie fire.Or the official name is castilleja.
You’ll even see Big Foot.
Stop at the gift shop there and make sure to walk over to the falling apart A frame house. I was going to skip it but thought better of it. There is a sign telling the story of the A frame house. It was very interesting and here is part of it:
Construction on the “A” frame was started in 1978. May 18, 1980, the home was about three days from being completed. All that remained to be finished was putting in the chimney for the wood stove and some fixtures upstairs. These were to be done the week of the eruption.
The owners of the “A” frame and the gold house had left Maple Flats on May 17, 1980, not because of the volcanic action, but for other reasons. Many of the people, who lived in the twelve homes directly across the road, were home and they were given two hours to take what they could from their homes. They could not return after this period of time because it was not known how soon the area would be inundated by the mud flower that would later take their homes and fill up the “A” frame.
The “A” frame was buried by the mud flow at about 5:00 PM-almost 8 1/2 hours after the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. Approximately 200 tons of silt, mud, water, and ash filled up the structure. The flow had the consistency of wet cement and weighed two to three times that of water. The temperature of the flow was over 100 degrees as it passed Maple flats headed for the Cowlitz River and later into the Columbia River.
The mud flow did not head down the North Fork of the Toutle River until about 1:30 P.M-five hours after the eruption. Two miles down the valley the mudflow reached speeds of 70 miles per hour. As it spread out and later passed through this area, it was moving about 20 miles per hour.
When you look at the A frame house you can see how it was inundated with mud.
At the end of the drive you end up at Johnston Ridge Observatory. They focused mainly on the explosion of 1980 and they had some fun exhibits. One you could jump on and see how your weight was shown as seismic activity. I learned this interesting tidbit: The blast did not break the sound barrier, but people in nearby communities didn’t hear a thing. Sound waves were directed upward and debris in the cloud muffled the blast, creating a “zone of silence” within 50 miles of the volcano. However, people as far as 575 miles away heard it.
They also showed a trees growth rings and it showed how an eruption in 1479 was twice the volume of 1980’s event! How can they tell that? Events such as droughts, massive rain fall, fire, insect plagues, thinning, air pollution can all leave their marks on a tree’s annual growth rings. During 1479 and after for a few years the rings on the tree are really, really, really small.
The best part, I don’t even know if I want to spoil this, is when you go into the theater. You watch the movie (there are three different ones) and at the end the curtain rises to show a full view of Mount Saint Helens. It was so awesome! The view of Mount Saint Helens and its crater is just magnificent!
Was it worth the trip? YES! Go, and go on a beautiful sunny day!