For many Washingtonians, May 18, 1980, is a day that will forever echo across their memories. It was on that morning, at 8:32, that an earthquake caused the north face of Mount St. Helens to collapse, releasing a plume of gas and ash 80,000 feet into the air and spilling lava all over the area.
But in the days and years since, something fascinating has occurred: New life has begun sprouting from the ashes.
At the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a 16,000-square-foot glass-and-concrete structure just 5.5 miles from the crater, visitors can witness the destruction and rebirth of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument up close. Outdoors, they can tour the devastation first-hand, along trails that lead into the ash-covered landscape. Inside, learn the science behind the eruption, with samples of rock from lava flows, timelapse images that show how the snowy dome has rebuilt itself, and exhibits on how scientists gauge the active volcano’s current mood.
Of course there’s a movie as well, but heed this bit of advice: Make sure you stay for the credits. While the film and observatory provide a fascinating look at nature’s wrath, the image of rebirth that awaits at this natural wonder is enough to inspire still more investigation.
The observatory, located inside the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, closes during the winter months, so be sure to check their website before traveling.
—John Patrick Pullen