Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mt St Helens - Johnston Ridge

My daily view of Mt St Helens makes me very fond of the mountain. A trip up to the National Monument is always a treat, and we were delighted that even though it's October we had beautiful, warm, sunny weather.

As barren as the landscape looks, it's actually teeming with life compared to just a few years ago. The blast part of the eruption sterilized this area, on top of the landslide that buried the old growth forest. The ash laid down on top of everything else prevented plant roots from reaching nutritious soils, and made it difficult for animals to move through the area.

The new dome has also built up an amazing amount since I was last here. A new mountain top in the making. Steam is rising throughout the dome and crater.

The river has cut through the ash and pumice, creating 150' crumbly banks.

The elk have been an important part of the restoration of the blast area since the May 18th 1980 eruption. One of the largest herds in the state roamed this area - 1400 elk. The blast killed them, covering them in super-heated ash. That winter scientists noticed moss-covered elk-sized lumps. In death, they provided the nutrients needed for life in a newly created desert.

Surprisingly, elk from surrounding areas started coming in to the blast zone almost immediately. Grass and plants were seeded along the river valley to provide food for them. These elk were large enough to walk through the ash and pumice up the slopes looking for food. Their hoofprints provided hollows for rain and seeds to collect in, and as the seeds germinated they became flowerpots, further protecting the young plants. The elk paths loosened the ash, rains made gullies, and more protected places were made to collect water and seeds.

Besides all that, the elk droppings contained a multitude of seeds (one scientist grew 8 plant species from just 3 elk pellets). They also reseeded the areas they walked through.

There is once again a huge elk herd living in this barren-looking land.

Mt. Adams peeks over the ridges. The vine maples are turning brilliant red. Very surprisingly there are still flowers blooming. The white in the foreground are small daisy-like flowers.

Spirit Lake, nestled against the far ridge. Part of the landslide that preceded the eruption slid into Spirit Lake, pushing the water up the ridge behind it. When the water crashed back down it brought with it the trees killed in the heat of the blast. The lake now covers a much larger area, but is half its previous depth.


Veryl said...

Thanks for the update. I can't believe that it will be 30 years next year. The pictures are lovely and your text told me things I didn't know. Great blog entry. Hugs.

Judy said...

I know, it doesn't seem like 30 years, does it? The nature talk the ranger gave was short but very interesting. All those times I've visited and not gone to talks or watched the movies! So much to learn!