Northwest Trek – The Fate of a Man and a Mountain

21 Aug

Before the trip began, my brother said over and over that Mount St. Helens was the one thing he definitely wanted to see. It did not matter where else we went as long as we went there. He remembered watching the weeks of television coverage as the volcano built towards a massive eruption. Although I am younger, I also remember the images of the mudslides and ash. After visiting the mountain, I know that television did not portray the impact and destruction.

There is only one road to Mount St Helens, but there are a few places to stop along the way. The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center sits a few miles off the interstate and provides a good introduction into the events of 1980. My nephews did not know much about what happened, but they knew a little more after watching a movie about it. Obviously, the film was about the volcano, but it was also about the people who were affected by it. This included a man who I still remember seeing on television.

Harry Truman was in his 80s and had lived in the shadows of Mt. St. Helens for 50 years. As law enforcement evacuated people who lived in the area, Harry was determined that he was not going anywhere. He became a celebrity as reporters flocked to interview him. He was full of quips and quotes and became the face of the people of the area. Harry disappeared in the eruption. It is assumed that he was buried under the boiling mud that slid off the mountain.

As we walked out of the movie, I made the comment that I would have never stayed around to die in a volcano. However, my nephew had another view. Here was a man who had lived his life, and he did not want to leave his home. By staying near the mountain, he lives on in memory rather than fading from our minds.

I am not sure I agree with that, but it is true that Harry has not been forgotten.

We drove to the end of the road and the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. There sits the Johnston Ridge Observatory, named after a scientist who was also killed in the eruption. It is an impressive building that provides an excellent view of the north side of Mount St. Helens. In other words, it is in the blast zone.

There a televisions in one part of the observatory that show news footage from the time. There are interviews with a lot of people, and there are interviews with Harry saying that he will never leave the mountain. When the televisions go dark, doors open into a theater where we learn about the explosion. The cause. The destruction. The environmental impact. When the movie ends, the screen rises and a huge window appears. Outside sits Mount St. Helens. It is an awesome thing to see.IMG_2917

On the observation deck, park rangers explain the event in detail. The mudslide was the largest in recorded history and traveled at 150 miles per hour. What impressed me the most? The entrance to the Columbia River went from a depth of 40 feet to a depth of 9 feet.

The ash cloud traveled at a speed of 300 miles per hour and circled the globe in two weeks. There is no way to describe the destruction in a blog post, but it was total and absolute. The national park service has preserved the land in its ruined state and is studying the environment as it recovers.

Driving back to the interstate, we stopped at a restaurant called Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House. It was a good meal, but it is not the food that stood out. As we walked out, there was a picture hanging of Harry Truman. He was right when he said that he would never leave the mountain, and my nephew was right when he said that Harry is still remembered. Mount St. Helens and Harry Truman are intertwined.

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6 Responses to “Northwest Trek – The Fate of a Man and a Mountain”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong August 21, 2014 at 03:17 #

    I was living in Israel when Mt. St. Helena blew. When the dust cloud arrived, our sunsets were blood red for a couple of weeks. Six years later, we would get another dust cloud, this time from the Chernobyla nuclear power plant in Ukraine. That was even less fun.

    • Rick August 21, 2014 at 03:28 #

      I would guess that the second cloud was pretty scary.

      • Marilyn Armstrong August 21, 2014 at 03:30 #

        Yes, when my flowers all turned black and came back all twisted and weird and we weren’t supposed to consume any dairy products for weeks? Yeah, pretty scary. But the sunsets were great.

  2. jcalberta August 22, 2014 at 04:42 #

    Looking at a close up of that photo really gives you an idea of the power of that incredible explosion. Us puny humans tend to forget that we merely live on a thin crust that floats on top of an massive unfathomable body of molten magma. It’s a wonder we are here at all.

    • Rick August 22, 2014 at 14:31 #

      The power of the Earth is amazing. Before Mount St. Helens exploded, a lot of people did not believe it would happen. I hope the people who live around Mount Hood and Mount Rainier learn that lesson.

      • Marilyn Armstrong August 22, 2014 at 17:12 #

        We keep relearning the same lesson. Think Pompeii and Herculaneum. They thought Vesuvius was bluffing too.

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