May 18, 1980

On May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., a magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered one of the world’s largest recorded landslides, followed by one of the most powerful volcanic blasts in the history of North America: Mount St. Helens.

That morning, twenty-three square miles of the mountain blasted sideways at 650 m.p.h. The temperature reached 660 degrees Fahrenheit as it choked life around it. A flow of rock fragment, hot gases and super-heated steam raced down the mountain at 200 miles per hour, devastating everything in its path. An ash cloud billowed 17 miles into the sky, circling the entire earth.

Fifty-seven people lost their lives.


We had an early start heading north to Mt. Saint Helens area for the day. Our first stop was the visitor center, where they had a really nice exposition of the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in the U.S history. We watched the movie where they narrated the timeline of events and we took a few minutes to read the displays.

The next stop was the sediment dam. But to get there we had to do a short hike. There was nobody else there, so we enjoyed the forest for ourselves.

The May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens generated massive lahars, volcanic mudflows consisting of melted glaciers and snowpack that mix with mud and debris. A particularly large lahar raged down the Toutle River to the Cowlitz River and eventually into the Columbia River, destroying logging camps, seven bridges along the way, and directly causing millions of dollars in lost revenue to the Port of Portland. 

Following the eruption, the U.S. Army Corps Engineers build the 1,888-foot-wide and 184-foot-high sediment dam on the Toutle River to stem the flow of additional sediment from the deforested, erosion-prone blast zone.

We continued our visit with a short stop before the bridge that marks the edge of the blast zone.  Not much to see here.

Continuing our eruption tour, we stopped at the Mt Saint Helens forest learning center.   Located just inside the blast zone, our free forest learning center is full of amenities and exhibits that tell the story of Mount St. Helens and the return of the forest through interactive exhibits, hands-on activities and exciting visual display.

In 1982, Congress let nature take its course and established the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The U.S. Forest Service manages it today for research, recreation, and interpretation.

An eruption column rose 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states.

This was by far the most interesting display where they explain how sound traveled during the explosion. It is very interesting to see that people who were really close to the crater did not hear a thing. Physics!!!

Outside the museum, there is a nice viewpoint where the devastation is still visible. This was the first time we could see the actual Mt. Saint Helens a little far away.

Sarah practicing her scream in case the volcano erupts again.

From there the next stop would be The Johnston Ridge Observatory at the end of Washington State Route 504. This is when we noticed we were actually in the state of Washington and our Oregon trip had become multistate!! Who knew St Helens was not in Oregon? not us!!

Anyways, there are a million other viewpoints along the freeway. Eitan stopped at several until Sarah started to get a little feisty with the passive-aggressive “are you stopping here as well? or do you have enough of the SAME photos?”.  We did stop in a few more because no photo is the same!!!! (guess who is writing this)

We finally arrived at The Johnston Ridge Observatory where exhibits focus on the geologic history of the volcano, eyewitness accounts of the explosion, and the science of monitoring volcanic activity.

After the very well made movie, the curtains open Disney-Style to reveal the majestic Mt St. Helens.

Very interesting piece of wood showing the effects of a volcanic eruption on tree growth.

A few more photos of the beauty of this place.

There is a .5 mile loop hike around the observatory that provided views of the lava dome, crater, pumice plain, and landslide deposit.

Bonus Pic of the Day: Even after 37 years, the damage is still very visible. If you look closely at the photo, you will see the huge amount of dead trees on top of the mountain that still remain as a reminder of the devastating power of mother nature. A pretty eerie scene.

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