Detour: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

We woke up early, dressed, picked up our rental car (which we got upgraded to a Prius), and started down I-5 toward Portland. Almost immediately, we noticed how verdant the landscape was, from vines growing from overpasses in downtown Seattle, to moss on cut logs on the back of a lumber truck.

Image: Kathrin Russette

It wasn’t until about an hour into the drive that we really noticed the lack of billboards.

Kathrin had purchased a new DSLR camera for the trip, so she gave it a test run from the passenger seat while we chatted and caught up.

It was too overcast to see Mount Rainier as we continued south, although we did catch a few glimpses of the Olympics off to the northwest. As we approached the turn off toward Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, the temptation, fueled in part by the recommendation of our friend Angela, was too great. We decided to make the side trip up to the monument.

We turned off of I-5 and headed east on Washington 504 up into the Cascades. We spotted some black-tailed deer near the road as we wound through the St. Helens Tree Farm, second, third, (fourth?) growth timber forests.

The north fork of Toutle River, which was deluged with sediment after the eruption in 1980. Image: Kathrin Russette

We turned off the highway to view the Hoffstadt Creek Bridge. The viewpoint lies on the edge of the blast zone, and the original bridge was destroyed in the eruption and subsequent landslides. (The image at the top of this post is of the bridge.)

Image: Kathrin Russette

Image: Kathrin Russette

Thrilled, we drove into the blast zone.

Of course we hadn’t been sure we’d get all the way to where the road ended at Coldwater Lake, beneath the volcano. It was closed further on to Johnston Ridge because it was so early in the season.

But still, we were disappointed when we drove up into a snow squall at 2,000 feet.

Image: Sean M. Santos

We pulled over at a scenic overlook just inside the monument proper. It would have given us a great view of the volcano had we not suddenly found ourselves in a blizzard. We voted unanimously to turn around and head back down.

Image: Kathrin Russette

Image: Kathrin Russette

And back at 1,500 feet, the sun came out. We were glad for our detour because it gave us a taste of what an attempt to visit Rainier would actually have been like. And it gave us a little experience in the mountains, the ecosystem of Olympic that we knew we wouldn’t be able to experience much of.

Image: Kathrin Russette

Soon we were back on I-5 south to Oregon.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

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