Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

After a short drive from Eugene, Oregon into Washington, we drove the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway into Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. It turned out to be a really scenic drive, and gave us one of the most amusing road signs I’ve seen: “Now entering Mt St Helens blast zone”. I’m guessing that was more of a historical reference rather than a warning for future eruptions 😀 But, from one of the visitor centers you could overlook the valley that became covered in up to 300 feet of mud and ash after the eruption and see the scars on the mountain sides:

Elk view point

The amount of sediment that was carried down the valley flowed into the Columbia River reduced it’s depth from 40 feet to 14 feet overnight and required 6 months of dredging to clear and allow shipping to resume as normal. It also destroyed the old road up to Mount St Helens – the new highway climbs along the side of the valley to reduce damage that would be caused by future eruptions. The eruption in 1980 also created three new lakes after streams were damed by fallen debris and sediment, including Castle Lake (that’s also Mount St Helens itself covered in cloud):

Castle Lake

Another lake down in the valley bottom that was also created by the eruption was Coldwater Lake. Although thick with sediment soon after the eruption, it took only 3 years for the lake to clear itself to it’s current condition, and some nice little walks around the edges were very pleasant:

Coldwater Lake

On the way up to the end of the road just before the Johnston Ridge Observatory we came across one of the better views of Mount St Helens, even if it did seem like it’s permanently covered in cloud! Half a mile up the road at the observatory you didn’t quite get a sense of the devastation as many of the trees had been removed.

Mount St Helens

This was a really nice surprise of a park, as neither of us really expected all that much from it. The drive up to the end of observatory had three cool visitor centers along the way and each viewpoint had a number of information boards explaining the events of the 1980 eruption and the damage it caused along the way. This is yet another place we’ll end up coming back to!

So, tomorrow is our last day in the lower 48, and we’re driving through Mount Rainer National Park before staying in Seattle overnight. A 6a.m flight gets us into Anchorage by 8.30a.m, so the trick is then convincing our hotel to hold our bags until we can check in later in the afternoon whilst we head to the animal shelter…


Senior Content Development for Microsoft writing about Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). Model train nerd. Occasionally I play video games.

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