Day Nine - Our GPS Says We're in Kansas...

Trip Start Jun 05, 2008
Trip End Jun 24, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Washington
Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day Nine - Our GPS Says We're in Kansas, Curse Those Clouds, and Other Hazards of the Road
Today's blogger and photog: Kory
We logged about 225 miles on the car today, and several more on foot.
We left the Portland-Vancouver area this morning and headed back north to Mt. St. Helens. The first visitor's center for the Mt. St. Helens park is located only a few miles from the interstate. It consists of an exhibit area that tells the story of Mt. St. Helen's 1980 eruption on a frame by frame basis: first, everything seems normal in early spring, then there's an earthquake in the volcano area, then a crater forms, then a bulge forms and grows almost 5 feet a day on the north side of the mountain. In the meantime, scientists, media and site-seekers are all converging on the area, while officials try to keep everyone safe. A limited number of local residents are allowed in to retrieve their belongings one day before the mountain blows. When it does blow, miles and miles of mountain and forest are obliterated in a matter of minutes. Fifty-seven perish.
We also watched a film which conveyed much of this same information. While I remember the Mt. St. Helen's blast - and how the ash affected the skies in Tennessee (and around the world, for that matter) - I didn't remember most of the powerful images. I didn't remember that over a 1,000 feet of the mountain blew off - 10 MILES into the sky and also into the valley below. I didn't remember than an entire lake disappeared and two new ones were formed. I didn't remember that ships got stuck in the Columbia River because the mud and sludge that flowed into the river made its depth decrease from 40 feet to only 15 feet in places. I didn't remember the scientist Johnston's last message: "Vancouver, Vancouver. This is it." Had he chosen to stay, thinking he would live to witness geological history? Or had he chosen to stay, knowing he was likely to become part of history? (This is something that may be documented - I sure did wonder today.)
From the first visitor's center, it's over 40 miles to the Johnston Observatory, which is only 5 miles from the volcano. There are other viewing points and another visitor's center along the way. Unfortunately, today was partly cloudy, and the part that was cloudy was where we were at the time. So we went as far as the Forest Learning Center, which is a nice museum and viewpoint that focuses on how the forest is now growing back. Weyerhauser owns much of the forest around Mt. St. Helens and, as one of the staff today told us, helped reseed the forest - over 14 million trees on something like 68,000 acres, I think is what he said. Seeded by hand. The floor of the old river bed is ash, and he pointed across the valley and up the mountain a bit to show us how the old highway is over there, buried under 20-30 feet of ash and mud (and now trees growing on top of that). The man also told us that where we were standing would've been about 600 degrees and 200 mph winds - and we were about 20 miles from the mountain.
Although the forest is definitely back, you can look in between the trees and see where old trees were broken off. Because the mountain was in the clouds - and there is only one road in and one road out - we turned around at that point. I understand that today there is still limited vegetation within about 10 miles of the mountain, because the ash doesn't sustain much plant growth.
Back at the interstate, we were still 120 miles or so to our next destination, Bellevue, WA, which is a suburb east of Seattle. And it was Friday afternoon in Washington. The interstate traffic from the Mt. St. Helens area all the way through Olympia, Tacoma and into Seattle was VERY heavy and sometimes stop and go. Mike has been doing all the driving and has been doing great, but he consistently brakes about 2 seconds after I would. So I rode to Seattle with my right foot pressed to the floorboard, which was very exhausting. We originally hoped to go to a Mariner's game tonight, but by the time we got to Bellevue, we didn't have the energy or enthusiasm for getting back on the interstate to go to Safeco Field. 
More about the clouds: not only did they keep us from seeing Mt. St. Helens, we also have yet to see Mt. Ranier. A 14,000 foot peak that we've been in the neighborhood of several times now, and we still haven't seen it. I'm going to be pretty disappointed if we don't get a peek of it (pun intended) before we leave.
As today's headline says, I couldn't get our GPS to work from the hotel and cracked up when I realized it said we were in Kansas. "We're not in Kansas anymore," Matthew quipped. We decided we could walk and find something to eat, but the closest buildings (among them, several tall, glassy buildings) were more offices and stores and apartments than eateries. We ended up walking all the way to a mall, thinking there would be a food court. It turned out there wasn't, although there were several restaurants spread out within the mall. So as we were walking even further, trying to find something we would all like, we walked by a Cinnabon place. "You can leave me here," I said, joking. "Me, too," Kelsey said, and then Matthew nodded, and then Mike looked in the case at those big iced creations and said, "Why not?" So, we're not on the Cheerios tour anymore - we're on the Cinnabon for supper tour! Cheerios would be cheaper, of course, but a big old cinnamon roll and MILK (which we don't get enough of on the road, it seems) - yum, yum. Matthew and Kelsey both "unwound" their rolls a little at a time to eat them, and Matthew said his was "unraveled into awesomeness." Kelsey's my prose writer, he's my poet.
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