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Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

In 1980 Mount St Helens erupted in a gaseous explosion that blew out the side of the once towering volcanic dome sending a pyroclastic flow of super heated gas, rocks, and muddy waters down the mountain. The resulting destruction was staggering and is still evident all around the area. We took the opportunity one afternoon after work to drive the 80 miles to the Volcanic National Park and checkout the scenery.

Leaving out of Portland we could catch glimpses of the various volcanic domes including Mount Hood and Mount St Helens. With crystal clear and blue skies we picked the perfect day for our trip and as it turned out the last sunny day during our stay in Portland. Leaving I5 we headed East on WA 504. The highway begins climbing from the Interstate and after about 10 miles enters the valley where the mud flows caused the most damage. The terrain still shows the scars from the eruption. Along the route there are scenic pull-offs with signs explaining the impact of the eruption.

About 15 miles from the base of the mountain there is a scenic turnout that overlooks a long bridge. This area marks the end of the “dead zone” or the area exposed to the super heated gas. There is a distinct line in the trees and along the hills where this zone is pronounced. From that point on up we entered the destruction zone of dead trees and buried logs.

Arriving at the visitor center we took in the views of the mountain, watched an informational video, and snapped pictures. Overall this park is not designed or intended for exploration by average citizens. Instead the mountain is a living science experiment that has taught scientists significant lessons on volcanic eruptions, their impact on the land, and the recovery process of nature. Even as we took pictures scientists were flying around the mountain in a helicopter taking various samples.

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