Almost everyone knows about Mount Saint Helens in Washington State. It was made famous by its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980. I find the mountain, its recent history, and the area around it to be very interesting.
I have visited Mount St. Helens many times since its eruption. Seeing the area a couple years after the eruption with what appeared to be almost nothing alive and watching as the vegetaion and animals have come back in the area has been very interesting. For details of the eruption, I recommend the Wikipedia Article.
The trip to Windy Ridge Viewpoint takes about 4 hours from Seattle. It is doable in a day, but I prefer to camp in one of the many National Forest campgrounds near the mountain and spend an entire day exploring the area.
Head to Randle on highway 12, then go south on highway 131 and continue south on Forest Service Road 25. Turn west on FS road 99 to Windy Ridge. If you are a motorcycle rider, you will find FS road 25 gets high ratings in the Washington Destination Highways book.
There are many turnouts with informational signs along the way. The car in the photo below is just one of these. This car was in the blast zone when the mountain blew. Rubber and plastic parts all melted or burned and the windows shattered. This photo was taken in 1983, just three years after the eruption. Weather has taken its toll, and the car is now much flatter (from the heavy winter snows) than it was when this photo was taken.
The blast from the eruption flattened everything it its path. You can see in this photo how the trees were snapped off in the direction of the winds from the blast. In some places the wind swirled around the hills, and you can clearly see the directions it blew from how the trees are lying on the ground
For many years I went to Mount St. Helens every year with family and friends and watched the changes taking place. At first you could see which side of the downed trees had been facing the mountain because the bark was blasted off that side, and the wood was mutilated from the rocks and debris that hit it. On the back side, the bark was intact. As the years went by, the bark came off and the wood weathered to where there was not much difference between the sides.
Spirit Lake was damned by the landslide from the mountain and the water level raised about 200 feet. The water was splashed out of the lake, and as it ran back in, it brought with it thousands of trees, which float like a solid mat on the lake's surface and move around the lake with the wind. The picture below was taken in 1983.
By 1995, 15 years after the eruption, you can see that the vegetation is coming back.
30 years after the eruption, in 2010, the vegetation has made a very substantial recovery. Thousands of trees still float on the lake surface.
Mount St. Helens, Windy Ridge Viewpoint, Locator Map