Mount St. Helens By Irene Butler
Our Seattle and Mt St Helens Photo Gallery
Plumes of steam billowed slowly upward from her gaping mouth, brilliant against the azure sky; a blanket of snow softly draped her neck; her lower body encased in a placid grey obsidian exterior – since September 23, 2004, Mount St. Helens epitomizes a gentle, snoozing giantess, expelling an even stream of exhalation, with an occasional burst of “throat clearing”. “Be prepared with masks and goggles” is the message to the torrent of volcano-watchers flocking to the vantage point off Washington State Highway 504; geologists watch closely pondering not IF but WHEN and HOW ABRUPTLY this behemoth will again awaken.
Our recollection of the May 18, 1980 eruption was renewed at the Mount St. Helens Visitors Centre. Prior to an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, experts observed a 5-foot a day deformation or bulge growing on the north face, but no one anticipated the catastrophic blast that collapsed 1,300 feet of the peak and spewed ash and pumice 15 miles into the air turning day into night across Eastern Washington. The explosion was heard 300 miles away in British Columbia, yet uncannily there was no audible warning within a large radius at the mountain’s base. Two hundred and thirty miles of forests were instantaneously levelled by the force, akin to an expanse of singed match-sticks from aerial photos. The rising inferno of lava melted the years of accumulated layers of ice and snow lying in the crater, resulting in churning, boiling mud and rock travelling hundreds of miles per hour down the northern face and into Spirit Lake, abruptly displacing the waters into a domino-effect raging flood.
Documentary films of the event relayed the sad loss of 57 lives and the unbelievable experiences of survivors who were in the path of this apocalypse. Lumberjacks were blown downhill, the skin on their backs melting in the scorching blast; fly-fishermen looking up to see a wall of muddy water descending upon them, tossing them in the soup of logs, rock and debris until the fervour of the roiling swells diminished.
Mount St. Helens is but one of a chain of volcanoes in the Ring of Fire, comprising over 75% of the world’s active volcanoes. The ring stretches from New Zealand along the eastern edge of Asia, north across the Aleutian islands of Alaska, and the coast of North and South America. In North America the volcanic peaks include Mt. Baker (that we see from the window of our Richmond, B.C. condo), and twelve others along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The tectonic plate theory is widely accepted as cause of the seismic and volcanic activity, whereby immense rafts of the earth’s rigid surface plates slowly slide next to, collide with, or are forced underneath other plates. This process, known as subduction, creates tremendous energy that easily melts rock in the earth’s pliable interior into magma, which passes to the surface as lava. Mount St. Helens lava, called dacite, has a high level of silica rendering it thick and crumbly compared to Hawaiian basalt, which has the composition of syrup.
Before 1980, there was no comparable eruption through recorded time, albeit the legends of Indians living in the area 600 years ago tell of “great fire in the mountain”. The next eruption is not expected to be of the magnitude of May 18, 1980. Though this was a calamitous event in human time, it was but a pimple burst in geographical time. Standing before Mount St. Helens, knowing the best of our technology, three seismographs, are only capable of warning us of stirrings as they occur, reminds us of how miniscule human effort is compared to the mighty force of nature. This simmering mount evinced as a worthy culmination to our wondrous five-month wanderings.
The alchemy of travel is new adventures, new sights, stirred with the mundane necessities of food and accommodation. At this journey’s end, we find ourselves in a natural debriefing process. Mulling over events, it is great fun comparing the best and worst in various categories from a final assessment standpoint; not wanting to be garrulous, I will share just a few:
Best Hotel Experience – The Hi-Tide Resort in Seaside, Oregon was a unanimous decision; cozy, every amenity, with the mighty Pacific right outside our window. Muffins to wake up to and fresh-baked cookies to munch on in the evening were unexpected treats of the Hi-Tide.
Worst Hotel Experience – The frigid motel-room at Panguitch, UT did it for me. The torture chamber bathroom was equipped with a “ring of ice” toilet seat; the electric radiator blasting on high from the other side of the room caused sweat to roll off our brow, yet frustratingly did not reach the privy. Rick voted in the mildew-myriad motel in Brandon, Manitoba as his nightmare; we had to douse our pillows with essential oils and sleep with our heads at the foot of the bed to make it through the night.
The many roofs over our heads were satisfactory 98% of the time. Our first mission upon entering a new state was to procure several of the accommodation coupon books, whereby great hotels and motels were available in most cities for excellent prices. Canada, we need to do the same.
Best Meal – The exceptional buffet at Kah-nee-ta Lodge on the Warm Springs Indian Reserve in Utah was my choice, with an asparagus sauce salmon I could not get enough of and their specialty of fried Indian-Bread slathered with butter and home-make huckleberry jam for desert. Rick went with the delightfully outstanding wild salmon avec white wine and pear sauce at Ainsworth Hotsprings, in the Canadian Kootenays.
Worst Meal – Denny’s, in the past, was a place we could count on for a descent meal; but this is no longer the case. We gave them three chances, all resulting in cold food, forgotten items, and chintzy portions, and shameful service – “Booo Denny’s”.
Eating out is on the top of our “why travel” list. In order for extensive restaurant eating to only be remembered as divine experiences, without “weighty” consequences takes a bit of planning. By following a formula of a low-fat, hearty breakfast of porridge, poached eggs, and whole wheat toast; a mid-afternoon healthy snack, we found we were able to indulge in all manner of decadence at supper, without overly damaging the scales.
Most Fun – The overall atmosphere in Tombstone, AZ tickled my funny-bone. Rick reached his most jovial countenance in Nashville and Memphis, TN with the Grand Ole Opry and Graceland respectively.
Most Impressive Geographical Phenomena – Rick and I were quick to name Bryce Canyon, UT. The sweeping panorama of pink and pale orange hoodoos is one of the most incredible sights we have every seen in our lives. See more about Bryce Canyon on our blog, Rolling Ocean to Desert Sands. (Oct 17, 2004)
Geographical Site Falling Short of Expectations – The Three-Sisters Volcanoes at Petroglyph National Park outside of Albuquerque are just three small hills; as you trek toward the volcanoes, signage recommends you stay on the paths, so you never get near enough to see anything more than three small hills.
Numerous diverse wonders great and small are vividly etched in our memories, both natural and man-made. The freedom to explore, the feeling of safety, and no language barrier are definite positives to travelling on our own North American continent.
For future travel across North America, we have tossed the idea of a motor home back and forth. Personally, I am hyper-enthusiastic about our mode of travel in “Emili” our Toyota Prius. Unencumbered, we can stop and park anywhere, can stay on the outskirts or right downtown in cities as opposed to always having to seek an RV Park. But – there are pros and cons to everything, and some of the deluxe, new motor homes we have seen could possibly convert me. The master-number-cruncher, Rick, has a detailed accounting of our past five month travelling costs, and a well-researched comparison of travelling for the same period of time with a rented or purchased motor home. See Rick’s blog “Tallyho – How It All Added Up” for details.
Thank you for following along on our Can-Am Peregrinations and for all your appreciated comments. Irene & Rick Butler