"Beauty and Devastation" Top 5 Page for this destination Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument by goingsolo

A land changed forever

The rivers ran thick with liquid earth and mighty forests were brought to their knees. And the air was filled with the roar of a thousand battles, the dust of a thousand armies.
Day turned to night. And in the blink of an eye, Mt. St. Helens, the brilliant southern jewel of the Cascade crown, self destructed in a pyroclastic spasm of rage and fury. She stands now in lopsided disfigurement- a curiosity, a burned out, blasted facsimile of her former self. Yet if one looks carefully enough there is still a haunting echo of a previous beauty- regal boned beneath scarred skin. Or is it a distant reflection of something more disquieting? Is it the realization that having endured her cruel fate, deep inside St. Helens an angry fire burns still?

-David Hoole, Washington the Beautiful

On the morning of May 18, 1980, one of the Cascades long dormant peaks, then 9,000 foot high, Mount Saint Helens, erupted and hurtled volcanic ash 230 feet over forest, homes and Spirit Lake. It was the largest landslide in recorded history and removed the entire north face of the mountain. Following the 9 hour event, nearly 150 square miles of forest was destroyed, Sprit Lake was gone forever and 57 lives were lost. Many of those were miles away from the mountain, in areas considered safe.

The mountain had been threatening eruption for months. Since March of that year, a smaller earthquake and a growing bulge in the mountain were tell tale signs that the event was coming. Due to safety concerns, an area known as the Red Zone was mapped out and people were prohibited from entering. Many residents lived in that area, including Harry Truman (not the former President), who refused to leave and ended up on the list of casualties. Due to the number of logging roads and the difficulty in enforcing the ban on entering, people did, in fact, enter the Red Zone. Many tourists also flocked to the area, staying the the supposed "safe" zones, eager to see the mountain blow her top.

The devastation was overwhelming and the landscape changed forever. Several years later, the area was turned into a National Monument.

Regrowth and redemption

Mount Saint Helens is as much a testament to the resilience of nature as it is a memorial to what was lost. Many lakes were covered in snowpack at the time of the eruption and emerged preserved. Much of the forest has been replanted and animals have returned to the area.

Yet, Mount Saint Helens will never be the same. The area is now a National Monument and no new homes have been built here. Spirit Lake remains a lifeless shell and the devastation in the area nearest the north side of the mountain appears permanent.

An unexpected visit

My visit to Mount Sait Helens was completely unplanned. I was supposed to be summiting Mount Hood that day, but Mother Nature derailed those plans with an unseasonably strong snowstorm. So I headed to the monument instead. Under gray skies and fog, the area appeared eerie, almost a somber reflection of the cataclysmic events that took place two and a half decades prior. I didn't get to peer into the crater or view the mountains in the distance. The weather was so bad that I didn't get to see Mount Saint Helens itself. But I did take a picture to add to my collection of mountains I've visited but couldn't see due to bad weather conditions.

The whole experience was strangely ironic. Prevented from reaching my destination by the forces of nature, I proceeded to a place where nature's wrath had far more disasterous consequences.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:A unique opportunity to witness devastation and miraculous regrowth
  • Cons:A remote and volatile area which remains unstable
  • In a nutshell:A place that's still beautiful with much opportunity to learn
  • Last visit to Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument: May 2006
  • Intro Updated May 31, 2006
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Reviews (13)

Comments (7)

  • amandajayne81's Profile Photo
    Oct 27, 2009 at 11:39 PM

    Thanks for the info-it was helpful in planning a trip for this time next year...if only I knew what the weather would be like ;-)

  • ferdnbean's Profile Photo
    Nov 4, 2006 at 8:51 PM

    Another great page that takes me back to my visit there. It looked like God had strewn toothpicks all over the place pattern of the dead forest in the blast zone). Be well my friend. I still owe you a cheesteak! Fondly Ferd

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Jun 25, 2006 at 5:00 AM

    Very interesting information of what has happened here since the big eruption. It looks like you made the best of a bad weather day! I was on the other side of the world in Papua New Guinea when it blew, but still remember it vividly!

  • catalysta's Profile Photo
    Jun 17, 2006 at 10:38 AM

    Excellent intro, but VT seems to be experiencing some problems this morning, so the tip pages will have to wait. (Did I tell you I used to live there? Wowsa!)...W

  • jadedmuse's Profile Photo
    Jun 5, 2006 at 6:37 PM

    Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center expert, you. Great intro page on this area, btw.

  • Jun 2, 2006 at 1:56 PM

    Our public TV station recently broadcasted the last days before the eruption in 1980. Very impressive. So I immediately got interested by your page. Nice!

  • girladventure's Profile Photo
    May 30, 2006 at 4:17 PM

    Can't wait to see the rest!


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