Over Mt. St. Helens, Wa., August 25, 2012

September 20th, 2012 | Posted by Steve in National Monuments | Parks | Washington

I left Fairbanks, Alaska on a 1:30 am flight from Fairbanks to Seattle.  The flight was about 3 ½ hours and I got very little sleep.

Almost everywhere I go requires 2 flight legs.  Sometimes there is an hour or less between flights.  The key is getting off the jet, finding your next flight on the monitor, and getting to it quickly.

I had about 50 minutes between my flights.  I got off the plane and found a monitor.  I discovered to my great surprise that my gate and plane were the same I just been on with a different flight number and a different crew.  I spent 20 minutes in the book & magazine store nearby then got right back on.

For the leg home I had a first class upgrade sitting on the right side of the jet as you face forward.  It was a window seat so I kept my camera ready at my feet.  I have flown from Seattle/Tacoma home many times before, but almost always on the left side.

Once you are in the air the left gives you a very good view of Mt. Ranier.  Over California it gives equally good views of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevadas.  This time, however, was the first I’ve been on a window on the right so I didn’t know what to expect.

The sun had already come up when we took off.  Not long after we reached a good altitude I got these views of Mt. St. Helens.  The light seemed very blue with some haze.  I’ve tried to color correct these photos.  This is probably a little closer to the true color, especially the greens.  Hopefully you’ll get an idea of the area.

My last ground visit to Mt. St. Helens was 20 years ago.  The devastation was amazing then.  From the air it is no less so now over 32 years after the explosion.  The mud and debris flows seem so barren of vegetation from this distance that I guess most if not all the trees in the photos survived the eruptive events.

I remember the events pretty well.  For months before the explosion the volcanic activity went in and out of the national news.  It blew up Sunday morning May 18, 1980.  I was in Chicago for a stamp show and my plane home was delayed a few hours by the eruption.  The January, 1981 issue of National Geographic featured photos of the explosion that were jaw dropping.

Mt. St. Helens was the largest volcanic explosion within the Continental U.S. during historic times.  It ejected about 2/3 of a cubic mile of ash & rock.  The summit elevation of the mountain lost 1,314 feet leaving a crater about a mile wide.  The rush of volcanic debris into nearby Spirit Lake raised the water level by about 200 feet.  Logs felled by the force of the explosion still float on parts of the lake today.  These floating logs are easily seen in satellite photos.

In the summer of 1990 we took a family vacation in the Northwest and visited the crater.  At that time the road ended at Windy Ridge, a well named place.  I think the road goes a couple of miles closer to the mountain now.

We visited again 2 years later on our way to Vancouver, BC.  On that trip we hiked to an overlook above the north side of Spirit Lake which gave a good view of the mountain, the crater, and the lake.  When we got back to the car a beat up Volvo wheezed to a stop near us and couldn’t get restarted.  Two fellows visiting from Europe got out.  In English almost as beat up as their Volvo they told us they had borrowed the car from a friend in Seattle, but didn’t think to fill it with gas.  We were easily 20 miles from the nearest gas station.  They stayed with the car and we rode out to notify the Visitor Center.  I hope they made it home OK.

St. Helens, despite its destruction was only a small explosion.  Pinatubo in the Philippines was about 3 ½ times larger than Mt. St. Helens when it exploded in 1991. Novarupta on the Katmai Peninsula in Alaska was larger still when it exploded in 1912 expelling about 3.5 cubic miles of material.  Krakatoa in 1883 blew out about 5 cubic miles of rock and ash.  Tambora in 1815 was the largest volcanic explosion in historic times.  It blew out about 38 cubic miles of material.

Some of these explosions have had well documented world wide effects including tsunamis, thousands of deaths, and a lowering of the average world wide temperature.  The summer of 1816 had crop failures and snow falls in parts of New England and France because of the lingering effects of Tambora.

Going back into pre historic times far larger explosions dot the planet.  A few have been in the United States.  Two that come to my mind are Long Valley adjacent to Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra Nevada of California, and Yellowstone, Wyoming.  Their existing calderas are among the largest holes still on the face of the planet.  A fictional explosion of Yellowstone is central to the disaster movie 2012.

After I got the shots of St. Helens (above) I finally relaxed & fell asleep until it was almost time to land in Orange County.

My next post will probably be photos of an Indy style race car and a very well maintained 40+ year old American LaFrance fire engine.  After that I will be in El Paso for most of October.  While in El Paso I hope to get more photos of White Sands and some of Hueco Tanks State Park.

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