Mt. St. Helen/Washington

Tuesday, 18 July 2006, Mt Rainier National Park, WA
The Big Fir Campground and RV Park is found east of the Interstate 5, about 14 miles north of Vancouver. Being several miles from the highway, and situated in the midst of farmland, meant that it was very quiet compared with any place we'd spent the night recently, except for maybe the Toll Bridge Park near Parkdale. The sites are all nestled amongst the tallest fir trees I've seen, and lots of green undergrowth, which made it very shady and quite dark in the mornings - good for sleeping late!
On Saturday we drove into Vancouver to check mail again and then drove around the town a bit. We didn't find it very inspiring, although its historic area did have some quite nicely renovated wooden houses on tree-lined streets, but they were all used as offices for lawyers and other similar businesses. The other suburbs we drove through seemed to be fairly depressed looking. We decided to drive across the river and visit Portland again. It really is a very uplifting place to be. This time we went to the Pearl District, which is the north-eastern section of the city. It was originally a warehouse district but has been turned into a fairly trendy area with inner city apartments, art galleries and designer shops. There are also plenty of coffee shops with outdoor seating. We even happened upon a Bastille Day celebration in one of the squares. But the architecture was really the most interesting thing, particularly the converted warehouses and also new buildings designed to fit with the existing flavour of the area. It was all very impressive.
We had decided to have dinner before driving back to the campground, but had difficulty finding something in the area - mostly the garlic problem, as usual. I then remembered that the woman at the visitors centre had marked a street on the map she gave me the week before and told me that it had lots of eating places. So we drove out to NW 23rd St, which was a few blocks west of the Pearl District. We did indeed find a lot of restaurants and eventually chose Pizzicato Pizza, which offered all sorts 'gourmet' pizzas, and they had no problem making them for us without garlic. Juergen pronounced it the best pizza he had eaten in a long while!
On Sunday we set off again, this time toward the famous, or maybe infamous, Mt St Helens. Unlike most Americans my age, and maybe even younger, I can't really remember where I was when the top blew off this mountain, but I do recall it happening. It was May 18, 1980, after a number of small earthquakes giving warning since March that year. As we approached, we travelled through lush forest and the glimpses we caught of the mountain were of a snow-capped mountain with a rather rounded top, where one would normally expect a peak! We passed along the south and then the east of the mountain and then entered into the Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument from the north-east. The road we drove had very high drop-offs on the downhill side - we were ascending a mountain! It was also in rather bad repair, sometimes with very large cracks appearing, which looked as though that part of the road was about to break off and disappear down the side of the mountain. There was evidence that this had already occurred in a number of places and the road had been moved over, by cutting further into the mountainside. This was, understandably, quite nerve-wracking at times, although the forest hid the enormity of the drop most of the time.
When we were within 7 or 8 miles of the Windy Ridge Viewpoint, the forest disappeared. It happened quite suddenly - we came around a bend travelling through thick green and were facing a forest of large barren tree trunks towering into the sky, and further in the distance all tree trunks were scattered over the mountain sides like matchsticks. We were suddenly brought face to face with the absolute devastation that a volcanic eruption can cause. But in amongst it all the signs of rebirth and regeneration are obvious. The regrowth trees are only a few metres high at most but they are green and healthy, and the wildflowers are beautiful and a real symbol of hope. The drive along this section of rather unstable narrow road was particularly stressful, as the long drop-off was blatantly visible, although one couldn't help but be over-awed by the magnitude of the destruction.
Windy Ridge overlooks Spirit Lake, which is now some 200 feet higher than before the eruption. It seems the force of the eruption pushed the water up the side of valley and mud to a depth of 200 feet rushed in to take its place. Then the water came back down on top of it. Amazing! The Lake has a huge floating log mat, which is part of the forest that surrounded the lake before the blast. The actual blast blew out the side of the mountain laterally, and it is this crater that you can see from Windy Ridge. There is a 428 step climb from the car park to the top of the ridge, and from here you can also see the growing lava dome in the crater. Since September 2004, when the volcano seemed to re-awaken after some 20 years of relative quiet, this dome is being created by lava pushing up from below. There are small plumes of smoke appearing from time to time from the top of the dome and the surrounding snow is covered in ash. Watching it from a distance makes it all too clear that this is still a very active volcano!

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