Mount St. Helens & Silver Lake

Having planned our summer road trip during winter we found ourselves in June – just a few weeks prior to leaving – having to make adjustments to shift our trip forward a few days. We called around, adjusted reservations, and were lucky enough to find a place on short notice just a few hours outside of Seattle.

On Friday July 1st we rolled our R-Pod into Silver Cove Resort to a warm, partly shaded campsite along the canals connecting to Silver Lake. We found the resort friendly, clean, and they gave us a great spot with a few trees from which we could hang our hammock in the late afternoon sun.

Saturday we headed into Castle Rock to find a pharmacy for Tawny. She’s had perhaps one of the worst colds ever and hadn’t been able to shake it. Castle Rock is a tiny little town with a disproportionate number of antique and second-hand stores. We made the rounds and found ourselves a dozen new vinyls as well as some other gems and trinkets.

From Castle Rock we headed back up Spirit Lake Highway, past our campsite, and on towards Mt. St. Helens. It’s been just over 36 years since the volcano erupted on May 18th, 1980. I remember it well. I was about 10 years old and on a field trip on North Vancouver Island with my mother who was pursuing a Masters Degree in marine biology at the time. We were out collecting varied specimens of Chlorophyta, Phaeophyceae Ochrophyta, and Rhodophyte (or green, brown, and red algae. We were more than 600 miles away that day and at about 8:35 AM we heard a huge explosion. Some thought it may be military exercises nearby. Somebody else joked about it being Mt St. Helens since it had been in the news so much lately and it was just a matter of time. Nobody took it seriously, but somebody – perhaps my mother – said, “Take note of the time, it just may be St. Helens!” Indeed, it was. After returning home to Anacortes we learned that my father and sister said our dogs had gone crazy at the explosion (250 miles away) and that they hadn’t head the explosion. Apparently the sound wave traveled up and over major metropolitan areas such as Seattle. Days later we got a phone call from my grandmother in Tulsa, Oklahoma telling us their cars were dusted in ash from the explosion. That awesome power left a lasting impression on my 10 year old psyche. One I’ve never forgotten.

Even so, I’d never been to Mt. St. Helens and yet today I find myself unscripted and unplanned within a 45 minute drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (so named after volcanologist David Johnston, who was at the researching the mountain when it erupted).  Memorized there are his last words “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”. It must have been a spectacular way to go. Unfortunately, he remains were never found.

The devastation of the area is still evident and stark, but softened by a colorful blanket of new life flourishing in the form mountain lupine, paintbrushes, lupines, and mountain daisies.

We arrived just in time to listen to a forest service ranger give a synopsis of the events of May, 18th, 1980. The power and devastation of this mountain was awe-inspiring. Many observed in silence while trying to wrap their heads around the statistics the ranger rattled off; “Spirit Lake was swept away like a squeegee up the side of the mountain, and then dropped back to its current location 200 feet higher and twice the size than it was before”, or “They measured the mountain in the days before the eruption using state of the art equipment and over the course of 60 days it grew at a rate of 5 feet a day, one day adding over 17 feet!; they initially thought the equipment was faulty.”, or “The mountain lost nearly 1,200 feet in altitude that day i.”

We hiked a nearby trail, took in the panoramas, watched a short movie, and read the placards at the interpretive center before heading back down the valley to Silver Lake and our campsite. We built a fire and grilled our dinner over the open coals before finally making the last glow of the day, and the last glow of the coals toast our marshmallows, into to tortured dreams of impending lahars (rhymes w/s’mores).

Categories: Camping, Great American Roadtrip, Oregon, Washington | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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