The 40 Year anniversary of Mount St Helens eruption is a fascinating time to look at the historic event. How has the landscape evolved and how you can  explore it…

This week marks the 40 Year Anniversary of Mount St Helens eruption, an active stratovolcano located in Skamania County, Washington State, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The eruption was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.

On May 18th, 1980 a 5.1-magnitude quake led to the largest recorded landslide with an eruption of magma that flattened 600 square kilometers of forest. The eruption lasted nine hours causing a column of ash to rise 18 miles in the air, with 540 million tonnes coating the Pacific Northwest and drifting as far east as Wyoming. In total some 1,300 feet of mountain blew off.

Mount St. Helens was formed over 300,000 years ago. In 1972 British explorer George Vancouver named the peak after fellow Brit, Alleyne Fitzherbert, Baron St. Helens. In 1982, the U.S. Congress designated Mount St. Helens as America’s first National Volcanic Monument.

The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center opened its doors to the public a few years after the monumental eruption. Functioning as a gateway to the mountain, the Center educates visitors on the historical significance of the landscape before and during the eruption. The highlight of a Mt. St. Helens visit is found at Johnston Ridge Observatory overlooking the crater to view the lava dome and growing glacier. The Center is open from mid-May to the end of October.

The natural recovery of the destruction zone is quite fascinating. Mount St. Helens has rebuilt about seven percent of the mass it lost in the eruption. Wild animals such as mountain goats and elks have now returned to the area and flora and fauna is thriving. The Prairie Lupine was the first known species to return to the area after the eruption. The flower enriched the soil through nitrogen fixation, allowing other greenery to return faster than expected, including edible wild strawberries.

To help with future planning, when all this is over, highlights for a 9-day Western Washington road trip include:

Olympic National PArk

Olympic National Park. Photo: Nick Mealey via Flickr

  • Venture into Olympic National Park, home to temperate rain forests, natural hot springs, pristine mountain lakes and wild Pacific Coast beaches. The park, with its 26 native species, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with nearly 95% of the park designated wilderness.
  • Discover the Pacific Northwest’s First People and learn about the tribes’ rich history and magical legends.
  • Walk back in time in the charming village-by-the-sea, Port Townsend, with its Victorian architecture, maritime heritage and boutique shops with galleries showcasing local artists.
  • Breathe the heady, fragrant scent of lavender when you’re in Sequim, known as the Lavender Capital of North America, with its many farms selling the lovely herb along with quality lavender products.
  • Experience the 28-mile Long Beach Peninsula, bordered by ocean, bay and river. Seafood is pulled daily from the Pacific Ocean and delivered to local chefs for dinner that evening.
  • Take time out to visit Olympia, Washington’s state capital and home to coffee roasters, brew pubs and farm-to-table restaurants. Handcrafted is a way of life here!
  • Explore Rainier National Park, where fire meets ice at America’s most notable volcano. Glacier-capped Mt. Rainier is known locally as ‘The Mountain’. Within the park find massive old-growth trees, alpine fields of wildflowers and truly memorable hiking for all.

Find out more here.

Also Read: 

America’s lesser-known National Parks to visit this Summer

Wildlife & Volcanoes: Reinventing Family Travel with Epic Adventures