Today I drove from Vancouver, Washington to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, overlooking Mount St. Helens.
It was overcast, so the chance of seeing the mountain in all its glory was slim, but the opportunity to visit the blast zone and take some amazing photos was still there.
The drive up was great. It was Sunday morning, so the traffic was light. Still, It took two hours to reach the mountain.
The highway that leads all the way to Johnston Ridge is excellent. It approaches Mount St. Helen’s from the west. It includes many spectacular viewpoints and a few serious bridges that span rivers and canyons. There is a lot to look at on the way up the mountain.
The sun was shining when I arrived, and the valley below the mountain could be seen. It was beautiful. However the top one-third of the mountain was mostly obscured by clouds.
Every now and then a hole in the clouds would give a peek at a portion of the summit. As another visitor pointed out, it was like looking through a puzzle piece.
The summit features an interpretive centre with viewing windows, plus outdoor patios with benches, both for viewing the mountain or for interpretive talks given by the National Parks Staff.
Also at the summit, there is a great little walking trail that takes you up higher and away from the building, to even more spectacular viewpoints. The trail loops back to the parking lot, or at one point you can tackle other hiking trails that will lead you to Spirit Lake or even Windy Ridge, where I was two days before.
There were many sights to see other than the mountain. In the valley far, far below elk could be spotted. As well, wildflowers shared the landscape with gnarled stumps and snapped-off tree trunks that remain in the same state as they did following the eruption in 1980.
On the walking trail you will also see a memorial monument that shows the names of all the people that perished in the disaster. The monument is placed so that it faces Mount St. Helens.
After being on the summit for three hours, I decided that I had seen enough and headed down the mountain. It was wonderful to see so much, and to witness how nature is reclaiming this beautiful spot on our earth. It was definitely worth the trip.