Frances and Katherine were with us, of course. This was their first trip to Mt. St. Helens but they've always been fascinated with stories and photos of the May 18, 1980 eruption. We were fortunate to bring my nephews - Dylan, Devin and Ian - along with us. None of them had been to the mountain either. We really lucked out as the clouds cleared up just as we arrived.
For both Liz and I this was the first time back in many years. That last time I went was on May 18, 2000 for a special commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the eruption. I went with my friend Paul Nickell. Paul's mother and step-father were camping in an area considered by the authorities to be safe from any danger but the eruption that day was the size no one could have expected. Their bodies were never found. Most of the 57 people who died that day were in areas local, state and federal authorizes had deemed safe. It took twenty years for any level of government to officially acknowledge the deaths of the 57 people because of fear of legal action on the part of survivors.
What struck Liz and I so much today is all the life that has returned. We saw birds, chipmunks and butterflies. Elk are in the area but we didn't see any today (Liz had on a previous trip, however). New trees are growing alongside the remnants of trees destroyed thirty years ago.
I remember that eruption vividly. It was a Sunday morning and an early morning phone call from KOIN-TV came in for my father (he was then the program operations manager at the CBS affiliate). They needed him in the office because the mountain, which had been having small eruptions and hundreds of earthquakes for months, had literally collapsed on one side. I went with him to the station. As we drove into town you could see a massive mushroom cloud. It looked like an atomic bomb but we'd later learn the force of the eruption was actually much more destructive.
In 30 years so much has changed. What once looked like the moonscape is beginning to look like a forest again. PBS's NOVA ran an episode a few months back to commemorate the 30th anniversary of May 18, 1980. You can watch Mt. St. Helens: Back From The Dead online.