Scenic USA - Washington

Mount St. Helens

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Mount St. Helens - Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington

Photo by Jim Stiles
Jim Stiles Photography

   America's Cascade Range, following the coastline from the Canadian border into northern California, dominates the skyline for hundreds and hundreds of miles. These beautiful snow-capped peaks and soft looking tree-lined slopes, a large part of the area's appeal, have a subtle way of concealing their true nature.
   On May 18, 1980, a massive eruption of Mount St. Helens scattered enormous amounts of rock and ice into Spirit Lake and down the Toutle River. A cloud, containing 520 million tons of ash, was sent 80,000 feet skyward, causing complete darkness in Spokane 250 miles away. Blasting out a U-shaped crater, a huge avalanche buried 14 miles of the Toutle River Valley with a 150 foot thick layer of debris and flattened 23 square miles of forestland. Lost in the eruption: 27 bridges, nearly 200 homes, countless numbers of wildlife and 57 human lives.
   Since the blast, scientists have spent a great amount of time studying the Mount Saint Helens eruption, greatly improving their capability to predict future eruptions. With scientific study in mind, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument was established in 1982, closely monitoring volcanic activity which continued until 1986. Today the parkland remains in a transition period between its initial management by the forest service and future status a national park.
   One of the more popular destinations in the Cascades, the Mount St. Helens yearly visitor count totals more than 500,000. From the west side, Route 504 guides visitors up to Coldwater Lake and Johnston Ridge Observatory. Here, park guests may view the heart of the blast zone and see how quickly the area has begun to reclaim it natural appearance. Forest Road 99 leads into the eastern blast zone, passing above Spirit Lake and ending with a dramatic view at Windy Point.

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