Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day Trips/Mount St. Helens

I'm hanging out in Olympia for a bit, at least until Washington State bureaucracy sends me the title and plates to the Sube. In the meantime, I'm taking little day-trips. I biked around downtown Olympia. I found the Diesel Cafe of the West Coast and set up a private betting pool as to whether the next album on their stereo would be Bon Iver or Grizzly Bear. And today I drove down to Mount St. Helens.

So I have a thing about natural disasters. I find them completely terrifying and fascinating. I'm bummed I missed the East-Coast earthquake. Rainier looming over the cities of Puget Sound makes me slightly uneasy. And when I was a little kid, St. Helens gave me nightmares like nobody's business. Seeing it in person was pretty intense.

I find it hard not to imagine a barfing sound when viewing it from this angle.
The blast conveniently removed all the trees for a great view.

The area affected by the eruption is still clearly visible. Stumps and fallen trees spot the hillsides. The valley floor is piled with mounds of gray ash and pumice, with streams carving sharp gullies through soft, unsettled sediment.

The blast zone near the visitor center.
Also obvious is continuous activity inside the mountain. At the center of the lopsided crater is a still-growing lava dome. The snow around it looks sooty, like city snow. And even while you watch, some sort of dust or smoke periodically rises from the crater; it's hard to tell whether it's vented volcanic gas or dust raised by tiny rock slides as the mountain shifts. Either way, there's something moving in there.

The maw of the monster
But probably the most interesting part was a funky old complex of buildings a few miles from the mountain. Signs on the road pointed, intriguingly, to "Buried A Frame" and "Bigfoot Territory." It turned out to be a privately run gift/curio/general store.

The walls, inside and out, were covered with evocative photos taken by the owner, telling the history of his family before, during, and after the eruption. The A-frame in question was just a few days from being complete when the mountain blew, dumping several feet of lahar (mud flows from melted glaciers and volcanic ash) over the new home, the property, and the surrounding land. The A-frame is still there as a monument; you can look down into the living room and see the depth of the volcanic sediment you stand on. The owner, working behind the counter, said it was very eerie; where they were located, in a valley to the south, they neither heard the explosion nor experienced the ash cloud, and the flood didn't reach them until several hours after the main event. There are also photos of him, his family, and their favorite spots before and after; fishing holes, stores, homes, first pristine and then covered with gray muck. He also sold soda, ice cream, and T-shirts reading "Mount St. Helens: The Biggest Ash-Hole in the West." Displayed in a cabinet were a number of plaster casts purported to be sasquatch footprints. Oh, and this:

Hand-blown, natch.
Pretty good for a day off. Perhaps later this week I'll brave a hike on Rainier, Helen's as-yet unexploded sibling.

St. Helens and another Cascade volcano, Mt. Adams, in the distance


  1. Were there multiple hand blown glass octopi for sale or was it just a display item? Because I don't really associate volcanoes with sea monsters...

  2. ^For sale. Unfortunately, rather delicate (and expensive) to carry around while traveling.