Thanks Chris and Miriam for sharing a travel log from the second half of
your trip! Its always fun to hear a little about the varous post-meeting
adventures we take...
After the meeting I took some time to explore the mountains. Most
remarkable was my visit to Mt St Helens. Wow! The word that kept repeating
inside my head was: awesome.
Based on (wildly innaccurate) weather reports, I burned rubber out of
Seattle to take advantage of what was projected to be the only clear day
left to my trip. Although it was a long ride, I decided to drive directly
to the NE entrance to the park and visit Windy Ridge overlook. I have read
(most correctly) that this was by far the more dramatic first glimpse of
the mountain. My drive-time would leave me with less than 2 hours of light
after a full afternoon of driving, but I hoped that the vantage would make
for a great sunset. I wasn't disappointed.
Driving in from the NE does not allow for a gradual acclimation to the
devastation (and the wicked beauty) of this region (unlike the main SE/SW
entances/visitor centers). Instead after a long drive through the lush
mountain forests that are typical for the cascades, one rounds a switchback
and is suddenly within the scorch zone of the blast. This zone is comprised
of thousands and thousands of standing trees that have lost most of thier
limbs and all of their foliage- standing as far as the eye can see.
Although passing across this landscape is enough to raise the hair on the
back of your neck, the truely haunting sight is when you notice the tiny
toothpick-like silhouettes of other barren trees standing way off on every
distant ridge. At this point one cannot yet see the peak that was
responsible for this condition- which really underscores just how powerful
a force this place bares silent witness to.
After driving a bit farther in around another switchback or two, one can
begin to see more and more of the blast area- which is defined by thousands
of tree trunks that are all lying flat and and pointing in the same
direction: away from the beautiful glacial peak that has come into view in
the distance. Across the panarama, this effect is enhanced by the built-in
perspective of a series of lines that eminate from a single point-source.
Remember that this is not a flat landscape. These felled trees follow the
contours of various ridges and valleys, and the visual effect is one vast,
moving texture. That is, until you connect the huge logs that immediately
surround you with the distant landscape they are part of. The late
afternoon light only served to add relief to this dramatic scene. Many of
the trees piled together within the valleys that surrounded each ridge. And
scores of them floated on the surface of newly formed (and newly moved!)
lakes that dotted the area.
Finally the road leads you out to Windy Ridge, which sits only a few
unobstructed miles from the crater- and 2/3 as high. Mt St Helens blew out
sideways and the result is a horseshoe shaped crater that sits facing NW.
From the NE, the setting sun's glow was being reflected out from the
interior of the crater and seemed to underscore the power of the now
The rest of the mountain still retains the rugged beauty of it's three
nearby sisters (including the iconic Mt Rainier.) Large glaciers still
cover its slopes and the ice's blue color combined with the volcanic ash's
soft gray hue to produce a mix of deep and deeper purples and cool blues in
the evening light . The edges of the glaciers seemed to have a dark border
that reminded me of how two areas of watercolor glazes might overlap (the
artist never sleeps). In all, the moutain and surrounding vista appeared to
me to be one large three dimesional watercolor painting. Hmmmmm. I wonder
whether a full size easle could pass as carry-on luggage.....
Finally completing this illusion was the additional texture of the host of
new, young trees that are growing everywhere. For those of you who are
unaware, this blast site is now teeming with life. Except for a deep river
of ash the runs SW from the crater, all of the landscape described above
houses signs of renewed life in every form. Most striking was the odd
result of such a large number of similarly aged/sized fir trees. For some
reason, this results in a strange vibrating pattern across the terrain.
Imagine a huge vibrating moire pattern, if you will.
After a dramatic sunset that I will not soon forget, I drove out in the
deepening dusk. By the time I reached the scorch zone, night had decended.
But the afterglow of Parrish Blue still hung in the sky, serving to
backlight the jagged silhouettes that lined the way. As I drove on, I was
certain that no picture I had taken that day could possibly hope to
represent what I had seen. And I was equally sure that any words I chose to
describe my trip would fall just as short....
Principal Scientific Assistant
Dept Vertebrate Paleontology
American Museum of Natural History
79th Street & CPW
NY NY 10024
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