Thursday, May 28, 2009


We learned new things about our neighbors, the Cascade Mountains. Traci was excited to hear the mountain range was well populated with active volcanoes. The one of most recent memory being Mt. St Helens, last erupting in 2005 or 2006 it continues to reform a lava dome in the center of the crater left from the blast in 1980. The largest recorded landslide fell from the northwest corner of the mountain, releasing ash and pyroclastic flows. The heat melted the snow and ice creating mud flows which tore through the surrounding forests. The landscape was scoured and reformed. The contents of the mountain splashed into a nearby lake with enough force to splash water out forming two new lakes. The event must have been impressive.

We travelled to the Mt. St Helens National Volcanic Monument. The interpretive center at Johnston Ridge shows a dramatic movie explaining all of the events surrounding the eruption in 1980 and previous eruptions. The area has many great viewpoints to take pictures of the dozing giant. This time of year the snow still covered several access roads and the top of the mountain giving it a dressed up appearance, cutting a white silhouette across the bright blue sky. The film and interpretive centers gave us enough information to stand before the mountain and imagine the facade slowly caving away, the ash shooting in the air, the force of the blast ripping apart mature trees at their bases, heat from the liquid rock pouring out of the side of the mountain instantly turning any groundwater to steam, then the violent mudflows washing the sides of the surrounding hills clean leaving trees lying in rows and piles like discarded toothpicks. Standing on the ridge I watched the clouds move across the top of the mountain and wondered if that was steam I saw coming from the lava dome.

Shane was smitten. The movies, pictures and signs fueled his curiosity. He seemed fixated on the power of the blast and it's affect on the surrounding environs. We had read a chapter book prior to making this trip describing how it might have felt to have been close to the mountain when it decided to change its appearance. The book had successfully planted the seeds of curiosity which fueled his fascination. He made a proclamation, from then on he would become a geologist studying volcanoes.

We slept in a motel near the volcano so we could explore more the next day. We decided to go to Ape Cave, a lava tube. This was a structure formed some thousands of years ago when lava burned a permanent tube through the ground. The person who discovered the cave by nearly driving his tractor into the entrance was part of a local conservation and outdoor group called the Apes. They took several people on tours of the caves after they discovered them always keeping a sensitive on their impact in an attempt to preserve the caves in their natural state.

The cave was round with the walls, ceiling and floors textured with cracks, bumps and smooth sections I could imagine were from lava rolling through the tube. We took the easier section until Traci and Sophia had had enough. Traci said she kept waiting for the ground to rumble and everything to start warming up. It never happened.

We did happen across two wonderfully nice adventurers who hailed from Chicago, although they were currently settled one in Washington, D.C, and the other in Portland, Oregon. The fellow adventurers had wandered up the more difficult section of the lava tube so Shane and I followed. We walked only a short distance before learning why this section had been labelled difficult. A large rock pile stood in the path and covered most of the distance as far as we could tell. So we climbed the rock pile. The challenge of the rock pile wasn't in the fact that most of the rocks wiggled a little nor that they were precariously stacked but that the whole event was happening in the cave and we were at the mercy of our limited flashlight beams. I watched Shane quite literally bounce from one rock to another as he gently ignored my paternal cautions against injury. He was comfortable just climbing right up. The flashlight beam threw shadows creating the illusions of holes and gaps in places where rocks were and left out the visibility of some other rocks.

We left the lava tubes to go to a lava fields in another section of the park. Here lava had settled in an area over 200 years before, friezing molds from trees falling in its path and burning up from the heat. The tree molds left tunnels large enough to crawl through. We took our turns inching through the tunnels, Shane had to go twice. A boardwalk had been built above the lava fields to protect the area from constant foot traffic. I could see where the ground was rippled as the lava had settled and cooled after oozing across the forest floor.

We stopped at Burgerville for lunch then headed home. Burgerville is a local fast food restaurant with a commitment to serving locally grown foods. To Traci and I's delight they were featuring fried asparagus from the Yakima valley.

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