Saturday, August 27, 2016

Day 3, Friday, August 26, 2016 - Mt. St. Helens & Seattle

After breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we got the shuttle to the airport and then picked up our car, a Toyota Camry, from Dollar car rental.

The temperature was comfortable when we left but was predicted to be record heat. It was 93 degrees much of our route although a bit cooler at higher elevations.

Mt. St. Helens is on the way to Seattle and I had always been interested in visiting it so we decided to check it out on the way up. Using Google Maps for directions was a bit confusing as it said that it was 3 hours to Mt. St. Helens and 1.5 hours to the Mt. St. Helens visitor center, with very different directions. We decided on the visitor center.

The visitor center is just off I-5 and is run by the state. There was an interesting video about the eruption in the theater and exhibits on the events leading up to the eruption on May 18, 1980. The devastation that it caused is hard to imagine, with many square miles of forest destroyed, lakes and rivers filled. So much debris washed into the Columbia River that the draft was reduced by 20' and ships were stuck because there wasn't enough clearance for them to get through. Many miles of highway disappeared under the rubble. One place we stopped the original road was buried under 45' of rock and mud.

All trees from here destroyed, 15 miles from volcano, 

It took over an hour to get there from the visitor center and we were hungry by 3pm. Fortunately there was a food truck in the parking lot where we got overpriced but filling "Volcano Dogs".

A new road of about 40 miles was constructed in the 1980s going up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. This is an interesting drive, much of it following the Toutle River which was filled by the eruption. The Observatory is a National Monument and we should have been able to get in with our Senior Pass but we forgot to bring it. The admission for the 4 of us would have been $32 but I was able to buy a new Senior Pass for only $10 - one of the best deals from the federal government.

There was a short walk up to an overlook which gave a 360 degree view of the countryside. It is interesting to see the different terrains. Much of the land was/is privately owned by Wyerhouser and was replanted with 14 million trees in the 1980s - this is now bright green and covered with trees that are now 50-60' high. After the eruption, they tried to salvage as many trees as possible, bringing out 600 truckloads of logs a day - hard to imagine. The federal forest service land was allowed to recover on its own which has more sporadic tree growth with a variety of species. Much of the land closer to the volcano looks like a moonscape with only scrubby grass and wildflowers growing. The red, purple and yellow wildflowers growing along the path were beautiful. The naturalist at the overlook had a telescope through which we could see a herd of elk grazing below. She said that a glacier has been growing in the volcano and now had 600' of ice - the cone gets 60-70' of snow each winter! There is a "bulge" in the center of the volcano that has grown 1200' since the eruption in 1980. There are a number of active vents with steam and ash coming out of them.

There was also an interesting video of the biological recovery after the eruption, with some small animals surviving underground and poking up in areas where there was only a few inches of ash. In only a few weeks, native purple lupines sprouted and there were images of solid purple fields of flowers.

We left a little after 5pm, catching I-5 for the trip up to Seattle. At one point, the arrival time increased by over an hour due to an accident but Google was able to re-route us, saving considerable time. We arrived at our AirBNB a little after 8 in a pleasant residential neighborhood. It is perfect for us, with a master bedroom, a living room with bunk-beds and a small kitchenette. It has a great rooftop deck with spectacular views of the Seattle waterfront on one side and the Olympic mountains on the other side.

Sunset from our deck

Checking the TripAdvisor app, we found a Thai restaurant just across the street. Some of the reviews weren't that great but we thought the food was exceptional. After dinner, we came back and relaxed on the deck, enjoying the views of the downtown lights reflected in the harbor.

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