Day 2: North Fork Toutle River & Kid Valley
When I was a kid my parents took me to see Mt. St. Helens in the early 90s. Looking back at those pictures it is a wonder how much nature has continued to push forward in renewal. Back than Johnson Ridge Visitor Center had just opened for visitors, and the surrounding landscape looked desolate with little vegetation. Now the desolation is limited to the areas closest to the volcano crater.
As we left SeaQuest Visitor Center on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (SR 504) climbing up toward Johnson Ridge. As we climbed along we passed through an area destroyed by the 1980 eruption, North Fork Toutle River. In the small town of Kid Valley (no joke!) there is a roadside attraction called A-Frame House Survivor of North Fork which is buried up to the second-floor balcony in mud flow from the flooding of the Toutle River. This house and one other on the same property are a testament to the 200 homes destroyed or washed away when 250 ft of mud came flowing down the river valley. There is some humor to the area since it is called “Bigfoot” country, and a huge statue of Bigfoot made out of the mud and ash from the eruption of 1980 stands as an attraction.
Seeing the North Fork Toutle River Retention Structure Dam gives an eerie feeling of how much destruction the river played a part in the eruption. Ten years later the dam failed to hold back the new river route and there is parts of the dam strewed along the river from the breach. Now there is a new dam, but it is still showing issues.
Further, we climbed, we stopped along the way to view the new Hoffstadt Creek Bridge and to cross it on the way up. One side of the road into the high hills is the Weyerhaeuser timber company tree farms are located. These tall Douglas Fir trees (monocultures) tower over the road on one side and the other side is the volcanic monument where trees are different species.
At Hoffstadt Bluffs Viewpoint and Coldwater Viewpoint, we stopped to view the mountain which was masked in fog and clouds at this point. For some reason, she was not going show us her glory…..yet.
Once at Johnson Ridge Visitor Center, we piled into the theater to watch two short documentaries about the eruption, and volcanoes. The funny point of one of the films was when the curtain lifted to show Mt St. Helen’s only to show a wall of gray clouds covering the mountain. At one point the clouds played peek a boo with the mountain long enough to get a glimpse of her.
While taking in the sights on the Eruption Trail, I turned to see a massive dark gray cloud coming towards me on the ridge at eye level. At 4300 ft elevation, I forgot how close the clouds are up this high and how fast they can move! Within a minute the cloud engulfed the area and rain pelted me to the point of being soaking wet within minutes.
Once back in the van and starting to dry out, we turned back towards SeaQuest for another night of camping. And some campfire ravioli.
Johnson Ridge Visitor Center
Mt. St Helen’s Volcano Review