Saturday, 11 September 2010

An End Too Soon

Good evening friends!  Actually, for the vast majority of you it will be good morning as I'm sure you won't get this until tomorrow.

I'm in my hotel room right now, just putting the finishing touches on my last day in Portland.  Tomorrow I'm up bright and early to catch my flight to Vancouver, and from there Victoria to begin the next phase of my vacation. More on that later; first let's go over the events of today.

Actually, today was quite singular in focus.  Debbie picked me up this morning and we got on the road to head towards Mt. St. Helens.  This is not a light undertaking from Vancouver if you want to do it correctly, even though the mountain is visible from the city on a clear day.  It can be reached, I believe, in fairly short order if you approach from the South, but it's the North side of the mountain that offers the best views.  It was the northern face of the mountain that so spectacularly exploded on May 18th, 1980, and so you must approach from the North if you wish to get a sense of the devastation that was unleashed that day.  I was quite keen to see this for myself, largely because it's something that I recognize despite being almost completely unfamiliar with this area, and also because it's a major geological event that occurred within my lifetime.

So it was that we set out to drive around Mt. St. Helens and approach the mountain from the North.  This was no small amount of driving for Debbie, and I have to express my deepest gratitude for her going to those great lengths just to satisfy my curiosity.

The drive itself was phenomenal, at least from the perspective of a passenger.  Keep in mind that I'm just awestruck by all the scenery around here, so I also find a drive to the mall pretty awesome.  Still, this was above and beyond.  Debbie commented at one point that she was shocked at the lack of traffic on the road up to the mountain, and I replied that I was shocked that it wasn't absolutely swarming with motorcyclists because I, for one, was itching to be on a bike.  It was miles and miles of long, sweeping curves through pristine forest, punctuated at times with sudden breaks in the trees that revealed a skyline of towering peaks.  Just my cup of tea.  How I'm going to talk myself into getting on that plane tomorrow morning is beyond me...

I present, for the inspection of the court, exhibit A:

The best views of the mountain were from the Johnston Ridge Observatory which is named after David Johnston, the volcanologist who called in the eruption, and lost his life in the ensuing blast.  (Side note: I highly recommend looking up Mr. Johnston on Wikipedia, fascinating read.)  Unfortunately, as you can see from the picture above, we were facing some pretty significant cloud cover today, so the full arc of the massive crater was obscured, but you can still get a great look at the devestation spreading out from the mountain, with light patches of green only just beginning to creep back up its slopes over 30 years later.

The Observatory had a great film playing that described the series of separate events that made up the destruction caused by the eruption, and lots of before and after pictures that really highlight just how much of that magnificent mountain is currently missing.  The surrounding countryside really tells the tale.  Whole peaks, miles from the epicenter, are still almost completely devoid of life.

Most amazingly, there are still section of the surrounding countryside that are littered with toppled, burned remnants of once mighty trees.

Any sight of the nearby river still shows the remnants of the massive mud flows that swept down its banks.

Still, many of the slopes are rich and green since it wasn't long after the eruption that massive reforestation projects were underway.  It does give a peculiar look to some of the hills though, as there are huge swaths of forest that are all composed of one type of tree, all of which are almost exactly the same size.  I didn't get a pictures of any of the really obvious hills, but you can see a bit of what I'm talking about here:

Also, a really awesome bridge in the foreground.  Enjoy!

Apparently most of the surrounding countryside was already composed of Weyerhaeuser tree farms, so the reforestation with huge fields of Noble Fir was not an aestetic choice, but rather a business decision.  One sign I saw indicated that this will be the first year since the eruption that they will be able to start bringing down some of the originally planted trees and begin to recoup some of their massive losses.

It was a really fantastic journey, and I'm really grateful that Debbie did all that driving for my amusement.

By the time we got back to sunny Vancouver (actually still really cloudy) it was time for dinner, so the trip really did take the whole day.  I'm left with the feeling that I've only just begun to scratch the surface of the magnificent natural beauty of this place and I really hope to return as soon as possible.  It's also incredibly difficult to say goodbye to a great friend when you have no idea when you'll get to meet again.  So it's with a heavy heart that begin my preparations to bid farewell to Portland.  Still, further adventure awaits me just around the corner, and a new voyage begins tomorrow.  Until then, be well my friends.


DEENNA said...
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Debbie said...

Glad you had a wonderful time. It made me appreciate again the things we take for granted on a daily basis living in the Pacific NW. I wouldn't want to live anyplace else. =) SOOOO much to see it was so hard to decide where to take you. You'll just have to come back soon.

Jabbles said...

It is a really beautiful area. I don`t know if you thought of this, but that was the second time you have visited a volcano eruption site that occured within your lifetime, maybe try visiting all of them?
Hope the rest of this voyage goes well for you.