This year, because we knew we would be traveling in the western United States, we bought a 2-zone-for-one Thousand Trails camping pass. The cost of the pass pays for our first 30 nights, and any subsequent nights are $3. There are some restrictions, but this has worked well for the way we are camping this year.
The Thousand Trails system has been around for a long time, and some of the facilities are showing signs of wear. Many of them opened up to full time residents in the slump of ’08 just to stay afloat. Most often they are crowded and there are lots of families with children, and the find-your-own-campsite check-in procedure can be confusing and disorganized, but now that we know the ropes, I like being able to pick my own spot. Many of the parks have lots of organized activities, although we’re not really into that sort of thing. All in all Thousand Trails has been a positive experience, and they are located in or near areas that we have been looking forward to exploring.
We are currently staying at Paradise Cove Resort in Silver Creek, Washington, and I have to say, this a beautiful park! If you need full hook-ups there are lots of spots available in the “stacked like cord wood” section of the park, but if you can go the duration of your stay without a sewer connection, there is a lovely heavily wooded section of the park that feels as remote and secluded as anywhere we have been so far.
The main thing we wanted to do while we were in this area was visit Mount St. Helens. I was living in the Portland area in 1980 when the major eruption occurred. I watched the ash column from the balcony of my apartment. I was working in Portland and we had to deal with huge piles of ash on every street corner. It was like a massive snowfall but it didn’t melt. I even had the special privilege of flying around the mountain in a small plane within a couple of months of the event.
But what I saw and remember about the eruption of Mount St. Helens is only a small part of what actually happened on the mountain, and the discomfort and inconvenience of what we experienced in Portland pales in comparison to what people in the actual path of the blast had (and still have) to endure.
Mount St. Helens is a still-active volcano which erupts on average every 125 years, and I think it feels so significant to us because it happened in our lifetime. Some of us actually have the “before” and “after” pictures seared into our brains. The major eruption in 1980 was a three-part event which involved the biggest landslide in recorded history, a massive lateral explosion of pressurized gas and debris, and an ash column rising over 15 miles in the air within 15 minutes. The volcanic ash cloud drifted east across the United States in 3 days and encircled Earth in 15 days. It is estimated that the explosion created as much as 5.5 billion cubic yards of debris.
The following video is a compilation of still photographs taken of the event.
Unfortunately, the day we were there, there was so much smoke in the air from forest fires in Canada that we couldn’t get clear pictures of the crater, but it is changing all the time. There were two measurable rockslides from the rim in the time that we were watching.
One of the things that is impressive to me is the efforts to clean up the mess, still going on 37 years later. In 1989, the Army Corps of Engineers built a Sediment Retention Structure to prevent flooding in the rivers downstream of the volcano. There was sediment buildup in all of the watersheds out to the Columbia River, and up to that time efforts to dredge the rivers were not keeping up with the continuing flow of debris.
I had never heard of a sediment dam before, but apparently it is a technique frequently employed in the Eastern United States in coal mining areas. The structure was expected to collect sediment until 2035, up to 258 million cubic yards. However, the dam was nearly full by 2012, its efficiency decreased from 97% to 31%, and large amounts of debris had overflowed it and continued downstream.
In 2013 the spillway was raised by 7 feet, which was supposed to keep the structure operational for an additional 5-10 years. In addition to continued as-needed dredging of the major shipping channels on the Columbia, an additional raising of the spillway of the Sediment Retention Structure and continued monitoring of levee systems, the Corps of Engineers is also considering a No Action Plan. At this time it is believed that the threat of flooding as well as all other environmental concerns will be minimized by 2035.
It was interesting to go back to Mount St. Helens 37 years after the event and see how the forests have recovered, both the ones left to nature and the ones managed by man; and especially to see how mankind has managed to live with the ongoing effects of such a huge natural phenomenon.