This happened four years before I was born, and 5 before Jason was. We never really talked about it in my house because my dad was overseas with the Marines, and my mom was back east in Virginia when it happened. I always forget what an amazingly horrifying sight that explosion was.
Unfortunately, the day we chose to explore the mountain was a foggy one. The mountain was not in the mood to come out and play, and hid behind a giant fog cloud.
Despite the fog, we learned a lot about the 1980 eruption and how the forest has changed since then. It had been 21 years since my last trip to the mountain, and even the drive up for me was different. There were more trees, more vegetation and less clear views of the mud flows that took out the mountain.
As far as the logistics of visiting the park goes, it's a bit different than other National Monuments I've been to. There are 3 official visitors centers that are still open after a round of budget cuts shut several down.
The Forest Learning Center is by far the best of them all. It's located 33 miles up highway and gives you the most information about the eruption, and how the forest has recovered since then. Weyerhauser Paper donated the money to build the center, so be prepared for the back half of the exhibit that is basically an advertisement for the company. But the first half of the center is incredibly well-done and equally informative.
The center also hosts a 3/4 mile trail to a "view point." Back in the day, when the center was first built the view point would have given you a different look at the mudflow and landslides that took out the area. Now, it's overgrown by trees. I would skip this walk, unless you're looking to stretch your legs after a long trip in the car.
There are also a few lookout points where you can see the blossoming elk population on the mountain. That's definitely worth a look.
From the Forest Learning Center it's another 20 miles to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. From there you can take a look into the Saint Helens crater, and see Spirit Lake. We didn't get to see either of those, because of the cloudy day... but we plan to go back up for a trip to the Observatory so Jason gets a chance to see it. The Johnston Ridge Observatory has some great informational movies and Forest Service talks to take part in. It does cost $8 a person to get in.
Another "visitor's center" to note is this one we found just a few miles up the highway. It's a little cheesy gift shop with A LOT of big foot stuff. The one thing that is cool about it, though-- is that they preserved one of the homes that was buried by ash. There's also a refrigerator that is still buried-- although the landscape looks a bit different...
It was pretty cool to get a different view of the eruption its effects on the community.
All in all, it was a great trip! We will have to go back again sometime this summer, just to re-visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory to actually see the mountain :) We are planning a trip to the Ape Caves this summer, which is on the other side of the mountain... we may just have to head up the mountain.
Hope you're all having a great week! Do you have any fun trips this summer?