Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, located in southwestern Washington, preserves the area in and around the volcano which last erupted on May 18, 1980 in an incredible display of geology, blowing off the top 350 meter (1000 or so feet) of the summit of the mountain and much of the north face. Mud and lava flows devastated the surrounding area. Since the eruption, scientists have benefited from this living laboratory and have been able to study firsthand the extent of the destruction as well as the resiliency of the landscape to return. A visit to Mt St Helens awes the individual with how precarious and vulnerable life is to nature’s fury. The area around the base of the mountain still shows the scars. The dead trees of the forests are a testament to the power of the eruption. Yet, despite the carnage, the visitor can see signs that life is returning to the area. There are a number of observation areas and several Visitor Centers. Be aware that highway access is limited to secondary roads so travel times should be calculated conservatively.
Probably the best place to stay in order to visit the monument is the delightful city of Portland, Oregon, located at the junction of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, in the northwestern part of the state. It enjoys a picturesque setting near the base of Mount Hood, a snow-capped volcanic peak, just to the east. Portland became a Mecca for “hippies” and other alternative-living Americans, back in the 1960’s, and has retained an avant-garde lifestyle since then. One sees evidence of this heritage in the Portland Saturday Market (under the Burnside Bridge) and in the dress of some of the locals.
In the western part of the city is Washington Park, which has several notable attractions. Here, the visitor will find the International Rose Test Gardens, which display row after row of beautiful roses, in various colors and varieties. Also in the vicinity, higher up on the hill, are the Japanese Gardens, an oasis of solitude and contemplation.
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is located east of Portland, Oregon, on the border between Oregon and Washington. The Historic Columbia River Highway offers access to the area’s attractions. Perhaps the most dramatic of these is Multnomah Falls, the highest waterfall in Oregon, and one of the highest in the United States, at 310 meters (620 feet). An interpretive center at the base of the falls provides information and displays regarding the entire area. There is a trail which allows access to the falls and a bridge which traverses the gorge created by the falls, about halfway up. This unusual situation provides some interesting photo opportunities.
The view from Washington Park’s Rose Garden of Portland’s skyline, with Mount Hood in the distance, is spectacular.