On our way south to Oregon, we planned one day to visit Mt. St. Helens. The weather report looked promising; we figured we’d get lucky – or not. The day dawned foggy and overcast but, with help from The Weather Channel, we kept our optimism, expecting the skies to clear around noon.
Like Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, the Johnston Ridge Observatory (for observing the volcano, not the heavens) has a webcam (click here for the current view), and we checked conditions every 30 minutes from the time we got up. The first several views showed nothing but a dense cloud. Then, around 10:30, Odel yelled “it’s clearing"! We grabbed sweatshirts and sandwiches, and off we went.
Our campsite at the Elks Lodge in Kelso (click here to read our review and see photos) was about 60 miles from the observatory at Johnston Ridge, the closest interpretive center to the volcanic crater. After we exited I-5, our first stop was in the little town of Toutle, where Barbara and Ron – known to us through her blog – were camped with about 20 other rigs, a group of WINs (Wandering Individuals Network) in a field next to the Toutle school.
We know other members of this interesting RV club (which, since we are not single, we are not eligible to join), but hadn’t met Barbara and Ron. She left a comment inviting us to stop by on our blog, and a visit fit right into our plans for the day. We caught them at home, and spent an hour chatting about mutual friends, our backgrounds, and the WINs RV club. Barbara and Ron, I hope we will run into each other again some time.
Then we were on our way east once again. This is our third visit to Mt. St. Helens, our second to Johnston Ridge. We planned to drive right on up to the top so we would be able to explore the Boundary Trail more fully, but were distracted by Coldwater Lake – and the picnic area there. My stomach was growling! After eating our lunch at a sunny (!) picnic table, we took a short lakeside hike, dozens of photos, then we were back on the road.
The clouds continued to clear, and we caught glimpses of both Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens as the road snaked its way up Johnston Ridge. Soon we pulled into the big parking lot at the end of the road and made our way to the observatory. An entrance fee is required for all visitors, whether simply viewing, visiting the observatory, or hiking: $8 for people between ages 15 and 65. With Odel’s Golden Age Pass, we both slipped in for free. Ya’ gotta’ love it! :)
The narrow thread you can see here is the Boundary Trail.
Nice benches along the way!
Every 30 minutes, Johnston Ridge Observatory plays one of my favorite “shows”, a narrated sequence of photos and computer graphics explaining the huge landslide, volcanic explosion, and pyroclastic flows that reshaped the landscape here on May 18, 1980. We’ve seen it once, so decided to head out on a hike, then relax in the theatre afterwards.
The Boundary Trail, stretching to the east towards Windy Ridge, follows the top of Johnston Ridge, with the story of the explosion and subsequent mud flows writ large in the landscape – the crater in front, the sediment below, and blasted tree trunks, both downed and standing, on slopes to the north. Wildflowers – primarily lupine and Indian Paintbrush – bloomed in trailside gardens.
We had enough energy left for a couple of miles out and back, arriving back at the observatory a few minutes before the doors to the theatre opened. And this is what EVERYONE remembers best about the presentation: when it has ended, with a picture of the blasted crater of Mt. St. Helens, the screen recedes into the ceiling, and the floor-to-ceiling draperies behind the screen part to reveal the exact same view of the crater, huge, up close and personal (this photo shows about 1/6 of the panoramic window). Stunning!