Mount Saint Helens
Since October 2004, Mount Saint Helens has been intermittently reminding us that she’s far from dormant. Although any current volcanic action isn’t as dramatic as the last major eruption more than 30 years ago, the new lava dome inside the crater continues to slowly grow, emitting low levels of steam, gas, and ash. Of course the seismic activity could intensify with little or no warning, but it’s not expected to be anything like May 18, 1980 when an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale provoked a cataclysmic eruption. That episode lasted nine hours and drastically changed Mount Saint Helens and the surrounding landscape.
For a good look at how Mother Nature repairs herself over time, stop at the many roadside viewpoints within the 110,000-acre Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. Still barren yet surprisingly filled with life, the natural environment inside the Monument is healing. Trees, wildflowers, and elk have returned.
Johnston Ridge Observatory, at an elevation of 4,500 feet, is just 5.5 miles from Mount Saint Helens. It’s the closest Visitor Center to the crater and provides an outstanding view of the blast zone, surrounding devastation, and current lava dome. From here, and from several roadside viewpoints on your way to the Visitor Center, you’ll be looking directly into the throat of the crater. Watch for wisps of escaping steam and imagine what it would be like to witness another major eruption.
If you can tear yourself away from the view outdoors, catch the 16-minute film shown inside the center’s large-screen theater. The must-see movie details the dramatic eruption that took place over a quarter century ago. Interpretive Naturalists regularly provide scheduled talks both inside and outside the center, and there’s a bookstore and interesting displays, too.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Johnston Ridge Observatory is located at milepost 52 on State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Memorial Highway). It’s open daily 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. through October. A required Monument Pass is a per person pass, good for one day. Monument Passes are $8. Children 15 and under are free. Golden passes accepted for holders, their spouses, immediate children and parents only, and Interagency Passes (Golden Age/Access Passes) accepted for holders plus three adults. Northwest Forest Passes are also accepted at Monument Pass sites. This site is a per person site, not per vehicle.
Johnston Ridge Observatory
phone: (360) 274-2140
Can’t visit but don’t want to miss the view? Near real-time images of Mount Saint Helens, taken from the Johnston Ridge Observatory are updated every 5 minutes.
The USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory continues to monitor Mount Saint Helens closely and issues updates and changes in alert levels as warranted. For updates, call (360) 891-5202.