Let's Go! Mount Saint Helens

Facilities Manager's only wish for his birthday this year was to visit Mount Saint Helens. At only about two hours away, it was an "of course!" kind of wish. I mean since our town Saint Helens (in Oregon, by the way; the mountain is in Washington state) is named after the sometimes great view of this Northwest landmark it felt like a great day out and it was.

For those of you who are not familiar, Mount Saint Helens erupted May 18, 1980. I was a kid and it dominated my world for months. My family visited before it erupted so it is especially emotional to visit this (now) national monument and still active volcano.

As it was FM's birthday I wanted to enjoy the day and be present with him so I left my camera at home. I couldn't help myself, however, once we arrived. I mean look at it! So out came the phone. I apologize for the quality of the photos, but I think it's worth sharing all the same. This is the north side of the mountain with valleys of ash. This photo was taken from the ridge near the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is closed due to the pandemic. 

Life has come back some 41 years later - it actually didn't take long at all for life to return but it's been a long, slow process to see green in this area, especially with the sheer volume of ash spewed out.

Several hikes begin at the observatory parking lot. Most go east toward other ridges or down into the flat valley below. FM has hiked several over the years, including twice over to the Blast Zone. 

This photo shows the path of the melted glacial water as it courses down the mountain to the nearby Toutle River. There aren't many trails out there. There is, however, a large herd of elk and a few Rocky Mountain sheep, not that we saw any. Those are early morning sightings, and you have to be closer than this. We wondered what it may be like to watch the sun rise over Mount Adams.

The closed-up Johnson Ridge Observatory, but the surrounding trails were open and well-attended even for a Thursday mid-day.

The wildflowers were primarily castilleja, penstemon and lupine. Mount Adams is way out there to the left of the closer set of ridges.

This particular stump has a plaque that describes it is broken off from the blast of the eruption. Millions of trees suffered the same fate that day. The once heavily forested mountain became a moonscape overnight. FM says there are still trees flying toward Tacoma from the force of the blast! On that day, FM was living 300 miles away in Idaho and watched as the black cloud of ash came east and fell to the depth of four or five inches that afternoon. For me, I recall seeing ash come down like snow, blanketing our street. We collected it in jars weeks after, I think my now geologist brother still has a couple jars in his collection.

A useful map identifying many surrounding mountains and landmarks visible from this point.

So we have been trying to identify a particular hill for some time that we can sometimes see from near our home. This indicates it could be Goat Mountain or maybe Huckleberry Saddle.

There's the mound in the center horizon line. FM suspects the notched-mountain is Huckleberry Saddle. 

This is looking northeast from the overlook near the observatory. One can backpack in this area, but by permit only, and the number of permits is sharply limited. FM hopes to do that one day.

A monument to the 50-plus folks that lost their lives due to the eruption. A hard reminder that nature can be harsh and deadly. 

The ridge on the upper left of this photo (the first tree from the left is pointing at its peak) is Harry's Ridge, which is a great three-hour, six-mile hike out and back. 

This is likely Castilleja miniata

I am fairly certain this lovely penstemon is Penstemon cardwellii,, a penstemon I grow at home. It's such a treat to see a plant in its native habitat and looking so lovely with no water.

Penstemon serrulatus with attractive purple blue flowers.

Lupinus lepidus, Pacific lupine was everywhere.

I thought this would be easy to identify, however, its name has proven elusive for me. Nonetheless, it's a cutie. These were the primary wildflowers we observed this day, likely earlier in the season there would have been much more in bloom.

FM leading the way. It was noontime and the trail was ready. 

After our quick hike out to a few viewpoints and back we had a picnic lunch and headed for a second small hike to Hummocks trail, a three-mile loop. This area a bit farther from the mountain had much more vegetation and bodies of water.

A bright sunny day for a hike.

Hummocks are really mounds of ash and stone that piled up following the eruption. We wondered what it looked like 20 years ago. Probably less green.

This forested area had an ethereal quality due to the light on these horsetail ferns.

Deeper in towards wet, marshy areas the mimulus was abundant.

There are many ponds and marshy areas. In fact, there was a sign indicating that toads were migrating, small quarter-sized frogs, and to mind where we walked. We didn't end up seeing any but I can see it's perfect habitat.

Memories of a sunny, fabulous day with my FM. Only his birthday would drag me away from our garden.

The crazy couple. We need to learn to use PhotoShop! 

Next week we'll get back to more garden-esque posts. I needed a break from the stresses of the past several weeks. A hike with the husband is a good cure for that. It's good to get out of the house, and vaccines made that possible for us. We are incredibly grateful. And we are lucky to have such wonderful places like Mount Saint Helens nearby to explore and enjoy!

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you. Happy gardening and adventuring!


  1. Interesting to see how the area is recovering. I lived just outside of Vancouver BC and remember the ash falling from the sky and how dark it was during the day. Can't believe it was that long ago. I find getting away from the garden for a bit helps me from fretting about the lack of performance in the garden this year.

    1. Wasn't that an eerie time some 40 years ago? I agree with your sentiment about getting away for a spell. Indeed. It's been challenging.

  2. Thanks for the tour! I'm glad you were enticed to pull out you phone to take snaps. I was startled to reas that the eruption occurred 41 years ago - I wouldn't have thought it was that long ago.

    1. You are so welcome, Kris! I couldn't help myself with the phone photos, I mean after all you don't see that kind of landscape very often. Yes, 41 years. Can you believe it?

  3. Your phone took excellent photos. The perfect way to spend a birthday!

    1. Thank you Grace! I'm pretty impressed with phone picture quality. I agree, perfect way to spend the day. Cheers!

  4. I loved reading about your day and seeing the photos. It is indeed amazing what life returns after the eruption of a volcano. I have visited several volcanoes in other countries and was amazed at the flora there. As to Mount St. Helen's, I have a beautiful ring featuring a Helenite stone, fused volcanic rock dust first created accidentally after the eruption. The flower whose name escapes you looks like Common centaury. Happy Birthday to the Facilities Manager!

    1. It is amazing...no one really knew how long and what would return first, so it's an incredible opportunity for naturalists and biologists and geologists to study this place.

      That's cool about your stone, and thanks for the i.d.! I appreciate it!

  5. The small pink elusive wildflower is Centaurium muehlenbergii - I have it growing in my yard and it's adorable. It just appeared one day.

    1. Thank you for the I.D., Matthew! I love it...and that it just showed up for you. You are charmed, my friend :)

  6. Happy birthday dear FM! We are grateful for you and the work you put in at Chickadee Gardens. What day was the birthday? Loree Bohl’s (of Danger Garden) was 7/20, and mine too, I’m honored to say.
    Love the pic of the crazy couple.

    1. Thank you for your birthday wishes for FM! His is the 8th, so close to you and Loree. How fun to have mutual birthdays! Happy birthday to you!!


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