A day after we’d driven to the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, we headed back to Seattle via ferry, and then south via tour. We would spend the day exploring Mount St Helens with Evergreen Escapes. We were looking forward to spending the day learning more about the history of this volcano.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Mount St Helens. Even though my parents were both nearby when it erupted, which I’d heard about as a kid, I couldn’t remember anything they had told me in my youth. A tour would be a good way to focus on the history and geology.
Our tour guide, Marty, was excellent. He told us more about the mountain on the drive, answered our questions and gave us all a much better understanding of what occurred. Without him, we would have been left to figure it all out at the visitor center, which we actually enjoy a lot. The day started with a long drive from Seattle. A stop at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge allowed for a quick breakfast provided by the tour, and a look out into the Nisqually river delta. Small parks and refuges like this are often forgotten by tourists in favor of the larger national parks and monuments. They are great resources of information about the landscape and habitats, and a good place to stretch the legs. Along the road, our group engaged in some blackberry and apple picking, before heading on our way to Mount St. Helens.
Learning More at the Visitor Center
Our tour guide, Marty, was excellent. He told us more about the mountain on the drive, answered our questions and gave us all a much better understanding of what occurred. Without him, we would have been left to figure it all out at the visitor center, which we actually enjoy a lot.
We did stop at the visitor center. When we’re on our own, we always wander through the exhibits and watch the movies. We then head to the next location, trying to remember everything we just learned. On the tour, Marty pointed out and went into detail on certain events, and was later able to point out these things as we drove past them.
Driving to Johnston Ridge
Driving to Johnston Ridge, there is a sharp contrast between the land managed by the US Forest Service, and the land owned by Weyerhaeuser Co. Following the blast, Weyerhaeuser was able to salvage many of the downed trees in the area. The company replanted 18 million seedlings over the following years. These trees look computer generated, a copy and paste job on the surrounding hills.
On monument land, a different story of healing is taking place. No replanting has taken, instead letting the landscape behave as it would without humans. Trees and plants returned on their own, and the difference is vast. One side of the mountain, which was protected from the blast, is lush in its own natural state. The other shows the slow regrowth of time. The Weyerhaeuser land is covered with trees, but unnatural.
This tour did not just remind us of the loss that the surrounded area experiences. The story of Mount St. Helens is one of rebirth, regrowth, resiliency, and constant change. It’s a reminder that everything can change quickly. It’s a lesson to the future. The Mount St. Helens explosion gave scientists more information about volcanic process and ecological recovery. This learning opportunity continues to this day.
Finally, a View of the Volcano… Almost
A nice catered lunch was provided on the tour . In the afternoon, we drove along the winding road toward Johnston Ridge Observatory. We were finally able to view the lava dome and glacier from five miles away. Well, if the top half of the volcano wasn’t covered by the clouds, we would have been able to view them. We waited through ranger talks, movies, and a short hike, and the clouds didn’t lift. From five miles away, we could barely see inside the crater.
Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful. Instead of focusing on the crater, our eyes turned to the surrounding landscape. The landscape that had been devastated when the volcano erupted on May 18th, 1980. The hummocks and the silty river. The thousands of acres that were once forest, leveled in the eruption. With that, we were on our way back to Seattle, with more knowledge about the volcano, but a strong desire to return.
What We Would Like to do Next Time We Visit Mount St. Helens
While the short interpretive hikes offered on the tour gave us a better understanding of the history and geology of the volcano, we are hikers. For the perfect day, we would add in at least one, maybe two hikes. With more days, we could explore all sides of the park. We would hike past hummocks in the west and crawl through Ape Cave in the south.
We also didn’t realize it was possible to climb to the top ledge of the volcano. It’s difficult to get a permit (only 100 people are allowed above 4,800 feet daily) and it’s a strenuous hike. With more time to plan, we would try to get permits through MSHI or Purmit.
We seem to have a bit of an obsession with visiting volcanic areas. There are just so many to explore. For more adventure inspiration, visit Lassen, Crater Lake, or Lava Beds.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary tour by Evergreen Escapes. Our experience was entirely our own, and as always, our opinions are entirely our own.