Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ten Days on the Road

Well, not really. We've been parked in an RV park just off I-84 in Fairview, Oregon for the last week as we visit with Rick, Sandy and, of course, little Chelsea Rose.

Chelsea Rose with a BIG smile. (photo from Rick & Sandy's Tinybeans page)

Grandpa, Chelsea Rose, Grandma & Penny and Harbor

After five days of visiting, (and watching Chelsea eat sleep and poop--a lot) Terry and I decided to revisit Mt. St. Helens. The volcano blew in the spring of 1980 when Terry was still home with our first born, Jessica. We then visited the northeast side of the mountain back in 1993 when Jess was 13 and Rick was 10. This time, Terry and I approached from the southwest and took the long ride along the Toutle River drainage on highway 504.

We could see Mount St. Helens from our campground back in Fairview (south side of the Columbia River), but then we could also see Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. The campground is approximately 50-60 miles away from Mt. St. Helens--as the crow flies. Driving took a wee bit longer. First west (I-84) then north by northwest (I-205 and I-5) then east on Washington 504--a very twisting, winding east.

For much of the time, but especially while on 504, you can see the mountain with its snowy flanks. What you can't see is the land laid bare by the lateral explosion that took place 30 years ago.

Our first stop was at the visitors' center on 504 which is still some 48-49 miles from the observation center at the end of the road.

At this point you are still many miles away and well outside the "Blast Zone."  Up on the ridge, you would have experienced the ash fall but little else. Down in the valley of the Toutle, however, it would have been a far different story! The landslide on the north face of Mount St. Helens send huge amounts of earth down into the valleys below burying the rivers, creeks and lakes. The hot ash and gases melted the snow and ice that lay on the mountain side sending cascades of water downhill. When the buried water and the runoff joined together there was a wall of water tens of feet high filled with ash, rock, logs, homes and anything else that got in its way.

From the visitors' center we drove closer to the mountain passing several view points along the way bit stopping only when we got to the end of the road: Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Still 5-6 miles away from the volcano, you are definitely in the Zone now! The land before you was first covered in rubble and debris from the land slide that crashed into the ridge before being turned westward, then coated thickly with ash and other pyroclastic materials from the explosion. The ridge itself was scoured and sandblasted.

Nothing was left standing for some 7 to 17 miles after the blast, A lot depended upon your exact location. Some valleys funneled the destruction others, laying perpendicular to the direction of the blast, offered limited protection.

On our way back down highway 504, we stopped at the Forest Learning Center built and sponsored by Weyerhaeuser, the largest landowner in the area affected by the 1980 blast. It's a very interesting place with displays on forestry practices and some that contrast the natural approach for succession being used in the National Monument to the assisted reforestation that Weyerhauser is using. Weyerhauser foresters planted 18 million fir seedlings (mostly Noble Fir, Douglas Fir and Lodgepole Pine) in the three years after the eruption. (Other landowners--including the National Forest Service--planted trees on their own properties outside the Monument. The Forest service alone planted 10 million seedlings on 14,000 acres.)

So much time was spent in discussing the destruction that took place I wanted to stand up and remind everyone that this was instead a natural process of rebirth for the land. Yes, old, mature forests were leveled, but like the fires that sweep through the forest, there will be new and different life forms for a time. What Weyerhaueser has done is speed the process up and skipped over steps that may take decades so as to provide a return on their (and by "their" I mean their stockholders') investment while producing usable forest products within a reasonable amount of time.


Well, we've one more day in Portland and one more short visit with family, before we head out on the road again tomorrow. First stop will be in the Coeur d'Alene area and then several days at Glacier National Park.


threecollie said...

I am sure I will never see this, so thanks. I remember the eruption well. It was pretty scary.

Rev. Paul said...

What a wonderful trip, so far! I look forward to the day when we can do the same thing.