On Volcanoes, Part 2

The tag on my souvenir bottle of Mount St. Helens ash reads:

On May 18, 1980, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake triggered an enormous landslide, uncorking a monstrous volcanic eruption which blew 1300 feet off the top and north face of Mount St. Helens. The blast relocated 1.5 cubic miles of mountain and flattened 230 square miles of timberland, killing virtually all life within its zone.

Superheated gas and clouds of volcanic ash shot more than 17 miles into the atmosphere and around the earth. Hot ash melted ice and snow, triggering a mudflow and flood containing more than 130 million cubic yards of debris.

Thirty-eight years ago this country witnessed a startling natural event within our own borders. I am old enough to remember the disastrous eruption of Mount St. Helens. I was living on the east coast at the time, so it was basically a drama unfolding on TV. Within a day of the blast, ash had traveled to the midwestern states, and a couple days later fine ash had even reached the northeast.

Back then, I never imagined I would move to the west coast or ever visit Mount St. Helens, but in 2007, after moving west, I did visit the National Volcanic Monument.

Approaching the volcano, I saw the path of the winds and ash: downed trees all facing the same way, layers of ash still in and around Toutle River.

The Toutle River, with Mount St. Helens in the background

The blast zone, I thought. The blast zone, where all things in its path were blown down, covered in ash or obliterated. Once green, forested lands were now gray.

It was a spooky landscape. Scary words like lahar, pyroclastic flows and blast zone echoed in my head.

The eruption had changed the shape of the mountain and filled Spirit Lake with ash, debris and trees. Fifty-seven people had died.

The visitor center has an excellent, sobering documentary about the volcano. Images of thick billowing ash clouds rising from the crater are singed in my memories. They are reminiscent of Vesuvius.

Visitor Center

Today, vegetation continues to rebound, and the volcano still sends up steam.

From 2004-2008 the volcano reawakened with some dome building. There are frequent small, local earthquakes. Geologists continuously monitor its activity.

After driving through the Mount St. Helens blast zone back then, and experiencing ash fall from wildfires in eastern Washington just a couple years ago, I could imagine what it was like to suffer the ash clouds from St. Helens. I would never choose to live so close to a mountain that could erupt, or to forests that could burn.

Disclaimer: My images are 10 years old, so these scenes might look slightly different today.

 

The Little White Church

Otherwise known as Elbe Evangelische Lutherische Kirche, the Little White Church sits next to the railroad tracks in the village of Elbe, Washington.

I had passed the kirche before. A couple weeks ago I decided to stop and photograph the bright white building in the morning light. But it wasn’t open then. This time, I vowed to stop if I saw that the church door was open. I approached Elbe and looked over to see that the church door was indeed open. I quickly pulled over and parked.

And, as luck would have it, a gentleman in red suspenders was doing some painting around the doorway. A real Norman Rockwell scene.

I stepped inside the wee church. Built in 1906, it’s a National Historic Place and one of the smallest churches in the country.

Its lovely wood pews can hold 46 people, though there is no organized congregation and no full-time pastor.

It’s a modest interior. No stained glass windows. The organ is the original Farrand-Votey, built in Detroit.

Services are held once a month, from March through November, and the church overseen by a nonprofit with a board of directors from area Lutheran churches.

The folks who originally settled in the area were immigrants from the Elbe River area near Hamburg, Germany. Locals built the church, which stands 46 feet high at the steeple. The bell is from a locomotive.

As I was ending my visit, I noticed a narrow rope hanging from the ceiling near the door, and a small handwritten note nearby that read “Ring the bell.”

What?? I can ring the bell?! I can ring a church bell! That would be something. So I asked the painter, just to make sure, and he encouraged me to do so. I gave a gentle pull and the bell gave a modest clang. That made my day.

The rope

It can make yours too. If you are driving to Mount Rainier National Park, toward the Nisqually entrance, you’ll go right through Elbe.

Mount Rainier’s Historic Paradise Inn

When people have birthdays, there’s usually singing. “Happy Birthday to you… happy birthday…“ You get the picture.

But when an inn has a birthday, does anyone sing?

The historic Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park is celebrating its 100th year. Built in 1917, the inn is a classic, rustic, big-timber affair that the national parks are known for.

Back when men were men, and furniture was BIG, this inn set a precedent for other parks. Until then, visitors stayed in Spartan tent camps. The first director of the National Park Service, Steven Mather, wanted the new inn to be a model for other parks. Can you believe it cost only $90,000 to build? Of course, in 1917, that was a lot of moola.

You could say Paradise Inn rose from the very soil around Mount Rainier. Cedar trees damaged in a nearby fire in Silver Forest were salvaged and used in the construction.

The large, heavy tables and chairs in the lobby were made from Silver Forest trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back then, dead trees were not valued and left standing as they are today, largely as wildlife habitat.

If you visit the inn, you can see the original timbers and furnishings.

There is a tall clock that is framed in local wood, along with an upright piano also encased in wood.

With a view of Mount Rainier just steps away, the inn offers 121 simple guest rooms – no telephones, TV, or internet. There are rooms in the main lodge, with shared baths, and rooms with private bath in the Annex, which was added later to accommodate ever-growing crowds of visitors. The structure is getting some renovations and promises to be better than ever.