Friday, June 30, 2006

Mount Saint Helens

After running through the Columbia River Gorge I decided to stop for the evening in the small town of Woodland, WA to position myself for a ride I've been waiting to complete for a long, long time - Mount Saint Helens. The past two times I've been in the area the park has been closed and the only time I've been able to enter the park was at night during the Butt-Lite III. Riding to Windy Ridge at night was interesting, to say the least. This time would be different.

As a 13 year old punk kid back in 1980 I was awestruck by the events that happened on May 18th. Volcanoes were something that I just didn't think about in North America. In my immature and naive mind, volcanoes only existed on little islands in the south Pacific or in ancient Greece and Italy. Mount Saint Helens changed all that. I learned about the ring of fire; the earth's tectonic plates; fault lines; how the tectonic plates constantly slide into and over one another; and perhaps most importantly, I gained a modicum of perspective and appreciation for the geologic timescale.

Firsthand reports weren't hard to come by either. My Dad's side of the family (most of them anyway) inhabit the Pacific Northwest and, obviously, all the major networks reported on the goings on in the region. One of my aunts sent a couple jars of ash to us in Texas. I think I still have one of them somewhere. I remember watching the news with my Father and seeing the debris flows and how the ash cloud was traveling around the globe. We could actually discern a bit of ash in the atmosphere in Texas. Nothing like the northwest, of course, but it was cool to see. All the years since I've been waiting to get back and see the area with my own eyes.

Leaving Woodland along WA-503 (aka Lewis River Road), the ride out past Cougar and into the park is twisty and fun along lakes Merwin, Yale and Swift. It is actually one of the best rides I've experienced in Washington. Granted, I haven't ridden all of Washington's roads, but the combination of WA-503, FR-90, FR-25 and FR-99 is one that will be difficult to beat on many levels. The road surfaces are nice, the road is twisty and hilly in all the right places, the smells are truly northwest and the views of the area are magnificent. The first glimpse of the south side of Mount Saint Helens comes quickly along WA-503. I had to make a U-turn for these.

And the views just kept getting better and better and as I wound my way from the south side of the mountain to the northeast side.

After turning on FR-99 toward Windy Ridge you're still outside of the blast zone. Surprisingly, the area between zones is abrupt and almost instantaneous. One moment you're riding through the pre-blast old growth forest and the next you're in the middle of a forest of bones where trees were either torn from the ground or sheared or snapped in half like toothpicks.

Over the years life has taken hold in what was once total devastation. A true testament to the resilience and perseverance of life. It starts slowly, but nature began rejuvenating immediately after the explosion.

Windy Ridge is perhaps the best place to witness the devastation in the immediate blast zone as it's situated on the northeast side of the mountain. A short hike up to the top of the hill overlooking Windy Ridge provides an excellent view into the lava dome and a view of the what's left of the north side of the slope that fell off the mountain as the earthquake opened up the mountain and allowed the blast to occur.

The first three pics above show the north side of the mountain - or what's left of it - and the next two pics show how the north side of the mountain fell and flowed into the Spirit lake area. What's left of Spirit lake is a bit of water and an enourmous amount of forest bones floating in the water. The vast pools of bones are an amazing site and testament to the power of the initial explosion as well as the length of time it will take for this region to fully recover to its old glory. We all will be long gone when this area is an old growth forest again.

I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to tour this portion of Mount Saint Helens. It's an amazing ride and journey into the awesome power of mother nature. And as smoke and steam periodically rise from the lava dome, we're all reminded that the geological evolution of this area continues right before eyes.

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