First Time at Mount St. Helens

The week started out really great with my discovery on Monday of this little fairy village one of the girl campers made.  The intricacy was amazing and it was really large, so we all left it as is and just admired how pretty it was.  A future camper may tear it down, but we all were impressed enough that no one wanted to touch it.  Thought I would share a few pictures here since it was so cute.

The whole village which was done in a large square bordered by a rock “wall”.


Loved the detail


And she even made a tiny swing!

Tuesday we went and saw Dunkirk for Lee’s birthday and on Wednesday Lee’s friend from high school, Kate, came to visit.  Lee and Kate were really close, but she moved to Portland shortly after our first daughter was born and he hadn’t seen her in 27 years.  He was really excited about spending time with her again and finally our schedules matched so she and her husband Harth (yes that’s spelled correctly) came out to visit.

Kate and Harth

Normally I like to cook for guests, but Kate and Harth are both on special diets so it seemed safest to just let them bring their own food.  Kate had salmon, Lee and I had whitefish, and Harth had some vegetarian tacos.  Really cool couple and hearing about the Portland area from folks who have lived here so long was very interesting. The conversation just flowed and Lee and Kate “rediscovered” each other and I really enjoyed getting to know her better as well. Finally it was time for them to leave, because she had to work in the morning and hopefully we can come see them at their house soon.  They are in the middle of a bathroom renovation which has dragged on a little longer than expected, but we hope we can see their place in September.

I always loved Kate’s smile…that’s one thing about people that rarely changes.


After the visit we started our long weekend and it was one of the best best we have had since being here.  No major bathroom incidences (hooray!!!) and we actually closed the gate a few minutes early Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Unprecedented!  We don’t know if it was because sunset is coming sooner, the sheriff’s boat that was patrolling the reservoir (not a common occurrence), Lee’s birthday karma, or sheer dumb luck, but we were happy to enjoy it. Oh and I made a record $29.10 recycling.  Score!  It seems unfair to not go into more detail when things are going well, but there isn’t a lot to say and I want to move on to Jim and Diana’s visit.

Jim and Diana are volunteer interpretative hosting near Bend, Oregon and they brought their rig to the campground to see us.  They arrived around 3pm on Monday and were settled in and down at our campsite by around 4:30pm.  Jim has a pretty serious gluten allergy, so we had spent some time discussing menu options and finally settled on shish-ke-bob marinated in Wishbone Salad Dressing.  As I was going through my recipe book trying to figure out what to make them, I was shocked by how many basic seasonings have gluten in them.  Lipton’s onion soup, gravy mix, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, some tomato pastes and tomato sauces, and even Good Season’s Dry Italian seasoning mix are not gluten free.  And as I learned later, some items that don’t have gluten in them themselves can’t be trusted because other items that do have gluten are manufactured on the same line.  Take ice cream for example.  Unless the label specifically says gluten-free it can’t be trusted because ice creams like cookies and cream do have gluten, and they are all manufactured on the same lines.  Really surprising how tough it was and gave me a new appreciation for people who struggle with this. Thankfully they really liked the shish-ke-bob and since Diana brought brownies and apple crisp for Lee’s birthday I didn’t have to worry about a gluten free dessert!

My pile of shish-ke-bob. I learned a new technique by the way. Let the mushrooms sit in water that is boiling hot for 1 minute before putting on the grill. They stay deliciously moist that way!


Diana bringing Lee apple crisp


Look whose happy!


Well Lee is


We even broke out these special little ceramic plates Lee’s parents sent to us. The ant on the plate is actually painted on which cracks Lee up.

Lee had also bought Jim Blue Latitudes, which is a book about Captain Cook’s adventures for his birthday that we just missed and I gave Diana a package that Rick had left for her.  I haven’t mentioned it until this point because it was a surprise but Rick beaded a friendship bracelet for both Diana and I when he was here in Oregon.  Fantastic job and they are his first ever bracelets, so Rick now the cat is out of the bag and you are going to have to do them for all of your RVer friends 🙂

My bracelet


Diana’s bracelet


The next morning we knew it was going to be hot so we tried to get an early start.  Jim and Diana had been to Mount St. Helen’s in the 90’s but a whole new section has opened up since then so it was a new experience for them as well.  One of the best parts of the park is it is absolutely free until you get to the very end and then it costs $8 to get in, or is free with the American the Beautiful Pass.  At first I’ll admit I wasn’t that impressed.  Initial views are of half a mountain that’s not very pretty and it wasn’t really awe inspiring.  But we stopped at the Forest Learning Center (which is free and I highly recommend) which had a 5 minute video that included actual footage from the event in 1980 and I realized we were facing the non-explosion side.  I left with a whole  different perspective and when we finally got to the side where the mountain had exploded it was genuinely amazing.  Let me just show you.

Initial views from the Learning Center


One thing that was unsettling was even from that distance we could clearly see steam coming from the mountain and Lee captured some shots with the long lens


Free visitors center which had a better gift shop than the monument itself.  We actually came back so Lee could get a T-Shirt there.


This is a popular place for elk viewing but we didn’t see any except for this guy


One thing I didn’t understand was much of the damage was done by the boiling mudslide. 57 people died in the aftermath, mainly because the scientists didn’t expect the eruption to take out the entire side and the landslide, winds, and steam took out 157,000 acres of land.


My absolute favorite part is they decide to handle what was left in two ways. The larger portion they replanted and closer to the mountain they left to naturally recover and they are studying the effects.


The planted forests in the area had this weird blurry look. That’s not an out of focus picture but rather the way it looked to the naked eye. We weren’t sure if that effect was because it was planted or some other factor but all of us noticed it.


I found this breakdown interesting because we are surrounded by forests up here and it shows what percentage is owned (and consequently managed) by which agency. We run into this up where we are working as different agencies cover the many areas close to us.


After checking out the learning center, Diana found us a shaded place to have lunch which was great because it was starting to get VERY hot.

We drove a little farther in and there was a beautiful turnout where we could see the hole in the mountain and take pictures.  This stop had places large enough for RV’s to park and was totally free.  Since it was a popular spot I asked a family from Portland to take a group picture for us and Diana asked about what they remembered from the day.  Their daughter was our age and in high school when it happened and the father talked about sitting on his porch and being able to see the 15 mile high plume of steam and ash.  They also talked about how unsettling followup eruptions were and how they remembered 4 major ones that occurred after the initial blast.  It was very interesting hearing their perspective and I was so glad Diana asked them about it.

Me and Lee


Jim and Diana


Lee, me, Diana, and Jim

The views were good from here but still not as close as we would like, so we drove all the way down to a new visitors center that is positioned dead center to the crater.  This is the only part that requires payment and it is $8 as I mentioned, but worth it, and of course free if you have an America the Beautiful pass, which we both did. I recommend walking up to the viewpoint first and taking some pictures and then going into the visitors center and seeing the movie.

Lee, Diana, and Jim on the huge viewing balcony.  This area is full sun though so definitely bring a hat. They also have numerous ranger talks out on the balcony.


My favorite part was the crater itself and you can see the glaciers that have formed. We saw numerous craters and glaciers like this in Alaska and it never occurred to me each one had erupted at some point which resulted in the bowls up there.


This was my favorite picture, because I can “see” the moving lava that formed this  dome.  It continued to change in size after the eruption.  Absolutely fascinating and I couldn’t take my eyes away from it.


This is the before and after picture which shows the day before and the day after the eruption. That really brought it home.  And although no video exists of the events a series of still photographs were taken by an amateur photographer which later were turned into a video morph by geologists.




This shows an overview of the areas that were planted (to the far right) and the ones that were left alone to recover naturally. Nature has done a nice job of bringing portion of it back.


This picture shows a lake which was created by the blast blocking the river.


And Spirit Lake which was a popular resort area and was changed from the blast as well.


This shot shows a pretty good view of where the lava flowed.


And the close up which doesn’t really show how deep this trench was.


The visitors center was built into the hillside and the roof was natural terrain which was pretty neat.


The movie was excellent and at 16 minutes one of the best of these types I have ever seen.


At the end the curtains raised.


And we got a view of the mountain which would have been more dramatic if we hadn’t seen it when we were walking up, but still pretty cool idea.


The lava flow.


And this tree showed how the wind blast tore the bark from one side, but the lee side still had bark.

My favorite part of the movie was when it showed how nature reclaimed the land.  The first mammal to return were the gophers who had survived the blasts under the soil and by coming to the surface brought much needed soil to mix with the ash.  Many plants can’t grow in the ash but lupine’s love the nitrates in ash and they were the first plant to return covering the floor in a vibrant sea of purple.  They then died providing areas that other plants could grow and the ground looks something like this.

Trees that were knocked over and left in place covered some areas of the hillside.


Many were twisted from the winds.


Early adaptors.


Stumps that remained became tiny havens for plant growth.


And eventually the animals returned like this curious rock squirrel.

After watching the movie it was really hot, but we walked up a paved path to get a 360 degree view.  Although we were at 6000 feet, it was still in the 90’s and because of the clear sky the sun was really beating down. The path goes farther along for about a mile, but I wasn’t up for that so we saw the compass at the top and then headed back down the hill to visit Coldwater lake.  The water wasn’t that cold, but there were lots of people there, trying to beat the record breaking temps.


Jim was telling us he wanted to have a compass on the ceiling of the RV so he always knew which direction they were facing and I was saying they must have something like that.  I went out and did a quick search and although people mention they have seen them I couldn’t find one. You’ll have to let me know if you track one down.


Very cool compass.


The lake was beautiful and Jim and Diana were tempted to grab their kayaks (which they carry with them) but since it was getting late we all decided to head back to Estacada and try to find a place to eat along the way.

Because of Jim’s gluten allergy he needs to be careful about local restaurants and usually makes his determination on whether it’s safe by looking at a menu and talking to the staff.  If they don’t get a good feel they just leave, but like us they love local restaurants so they always try. The Fire Mountain Grill caught our eye on the way in and so we decided to stop and give it a try, with the understanding that if Jim felt uncomfortable we would move on to the next place.  Luckily they had gluten-free buns on the menu and it was clear that they understood gluten allergies and could accommodate them.

The restaurant had no air conditioning, so we decided to eat on the porch.


Which had a nice view of the river.


Me, Diana, Jim, and Lee


Jim loved his Bison burger on a gluten free bun and they even had a gluten free lava cake which they both enjoyed. Lee and I split this 5 mountain berry cobbler which had fresh berries in it and was fantastic!

After an early dinner we all headed back and ended up at the campsite around 7:30pm.  It was a long day and a hot one, but really interesting, and the company of course was fantastic.  Jim and Diana headed off the next morning and we spent the day running errands, cleaning house, job searches, and some relaxing to get ready for this week of work.  Temperatures in Estacada have been in triple digits and come close to hit record highs of 105.  Thankfully, unlike many people who live here, we do have air conditioning, and it’s going to see some use as we try to beat the heat.

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9 thoughts on “First Time at Mount St. Helens

  1. Excellent post, Tracy! You really caught the spirit of the monument. You also did a great job of detailing how gluten is intertwined into our food chain and how tough it is for those of us with allergies to it. Those shishkabobs were amazing! 😋

  2. Glad you got to see Mount St Helens while you are in the area. We went the weekend of Memorial Day and were in total awe by the effects of that eruption. Your pictures and the information you shared really make me appreciate the effort you put into your posts and keeping up a blog. I am ready for this heat to take a hike! Stay cool, you two!
    Julie (and Casey)

  3. Pingback: Mount St Helens | exploRVistas

  4. Great post, glad that you had a good time with Jim and Diana 😊
    I will have to get a supply of bracelets made 🤗
    It nice to be back in Wisconsin, but have been super busy 😎

  5. Great recap and pics! Between yours and Jims post I now know we have to head back, as a lot wasn’t open when we were there! Love the different perspectives and points of view! I would totally want to keep that fairie village – I can hear Bill now – NO! Ha! So glad you got to spend time with Jim & Diana! Miss you guys! p.s. The berry cobbler looks amazing!

  6. We were camping in the wilderness on Vancouver Island and heard the eruption but had no idea what it was until we returned to civilization. Once we got home we noticed the ash was everywhere. We tried to visit the mountain in the 80’s but it was foggy and rainy so never made it, so thanks for the tour! Great post!

  7. How cool; I follow exploRVistas too, and read Jim’s post a day or so ago. When I saw yours, I first thought, “What a coincidence” — guess not! lol. Again, love your level of detail and beautiful photos.

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