Today is the 20th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. I was 7 when it erupted. I remember going to the pet store to get a kitten for my sister, and she picked out a grey and white kitten. We saw the mountain on the way home, and it had a huge cloud of grey smoke over it. It had erupted. We named the kitten Smokey because of her coloring and the mountain.

In the days that followed, an ash cloud floated over much of the Northwest. Many people wore masks over their mouth and nose while working outside. We found a fine covering of ash all over our deck and picnic table the day after. My mother saved some in a ziploc bag, which she still has.

The wildlife and plants are slowly returning to the region. A large visitor's center was built at the site, and helicopter tours of the area are popular.

MOUNT ST. HELENS, ERUPTION OF, to date the most deadly volcano attack ever to occur on U.S. soil. Fifty-seven victims perished and hundreds more were rendered homeless by a blast which rocked the area around Skamania County, Washington during the morning of May 18, 1980. At fault in the devastation was Mount St. Helens, a particularly volatile member of the Cascade Range with a long history of violent subduction.

News of the calamity touched off a nationwide ecoterrorism panic, which quickly blossomed into full-scale hysteria with the discovery of a USGS report estimating the number of so-called sleeper volcanoes in the country at 170 or more, and calling the next potentially lethal eruption a matter of when, not if. President Jimmy Carter was forced to declare publicly that his administration was not soft on the environment, but he could not reverse the damage the scandal had caused to his re-election prospects. His opponent Ronald Reagan, having campaigned from the start on a strongly anti-environment platform, easily routed the unfortunate Carter in the general election that November.

Encyclopedia Blipvertica.

It is now over thirty years since Mount St. Helens had its cataclysmic eruption. I grew up in the Portland area, and since I was born in 1979, the site of an abruptly flat mountain on the northern horizon has been something I grew up with. Sometimes I reflect on what someone who had been in a coma for thirty-five years would think upon awakening and seeing a large piece of mountain missing: it is perhaps more jarring of a sight than local residents consider it to be.

But Mount St. Helens, after its major eruption, has been mostly quiet, although the crater of the volcano still tremors, shakes, releases smoke and ash and builds up the small dome inside that will one day become the new peak of the mountain. When people in Oregon and Washington think of natural disasters, they think of a subduction earthquake, or an eruption on Mount Rainier triggering a lahar, and Mount St. Helens occasional bouts of coughing are seen as mostly a curiosity.

But what a curiosity it is! Because a half-exploded volcano is quite a sight, in the past thirty years, Mount St. Helens, now officially a national monument, has turned into something of a cottage industry. Everyone from serious students of biology and geology to casual gawkers who want to see a big exploded thing want to come and see what has happened on the mountain after the eruption.

There are a number of ways to approach the monument. The fastest way is to go east off of Interstate 5 at the small towns of Woodland or Castle Rock, and to follow the highways that curl around the flanks of the mountain. It is also possible to come up from State Highway 14 in the South, a longer (but very scenic) route. Mount St. Helens is in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and there are also a host of state parks around the mountain, so even before reaching the mountain itself, there are many places to stop and view the mountain. The accommodations range from places with amenities and gift shops to more wilderness-style camping. To protect the still-recovering ecosystem, much of the area in the immediate blast zone of the volcano has restricted usage. Climbing the mountain all the way up to the rim of the crater is allowed, and is a common enough activity. However, anyone wishing to descend into the crater should probably find a graduate program in geology, since such activities are prohibited to the general public.

A chance to see the aftermath of a volcanic eruption is obviously a fairly unique opportunity. And one that I, as an actual resident of the area, have managed to mostly avoid doing for the past three decades. Don't make my mistake!

The official homepage of the Mount St. Helens National Monument.
The official map, showing the different routes and camp sites around the mountain.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.