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The Big Ba-Boom

It’s that time o’ year again.  31 years ago, Mt. St. Helens blew herself nearly in half and changed America’s consciousness of volcanoes for generations.  Up till then, I think a good majority of us believed that ginormous esplodey eruptions were things that happened to other countries’ mainlands.  Yeah, we’d had eruptions in Alaska and Hawaii, but, y’know, they were Alaska and Hawaii.  Always the odd states out.  (Apologies to my Alaskan and Hawaiian readers, but face facts: your states are awesomely exotic to us grubby lower 48thers).

She seared herself into my consciousness 31 years ago, at a very tender young age, and has stayed with me ever since.  One of the most exciting things about moving up here was getting to see her face-to-crater. 

I won’t go on about it – did a bit of that in my 30th anniversary post and its addendum.  Someday soon, I hope, I’ll get back out there with a proper camera and a better understanding of the landscapes created and do her up properly.  She’s just a day-trip away, now.  In the meantime, I wanted to share this post full of incredible photos that popped up via someone in my Twitter feed, I wish I remembered who.  Thanks, whoever it was!  Some of the particulars in the captions are spectacularly wrong, but the photos are still gorgeous.

Some of them I’d never seen before, like this eruption at sunset:

USGS Photo #11 taken on July 22, 1980, by Rick Hoblitt

And a perfect demonstration of why I’ll never become a vulcanologist:

Photo #21 Date 17 April 1980 by taken from USGS helicopter

If you look above the 17, just over a third of the way to the top, you’ll see a very tiny human being climbing up the slopes of a violently active volcano.  That is David Johnston, USGS vulcanologist, whose last words I’ll never forget: “Vancouver!  Vancouver!  This is it!”  They bring tears to my eyes even now.  He embodied everything it means to be a geologist studying volcanoes: excitement, discovery, and devotion to science despite the danger. 

There’s a memorial at Johnston Ridge Observatory dedicated to the victims of the blast.  Take a moment to remember them today: the visitors, the residents, the reporters, the workers, and the scientists who became a part of the mountain’s history forever.

Memorial – David Johnston’s name is one row down to the left of the rose

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