Meet the Volcano: Mt St Helens, Washington (with video).
Like most young boys in the 1980s, I was fascinated by two things: dinosaurs and volcanoes. The vast power of a volcano, spilling red lava after a dramatic explosion, inspired excitement and fear. The idea that mountains could change shape, that rock could melt, and that entirely new islands could be created through cracks in the Earth’s crust, filled me with wonder. They helped create the curiosity that still drives me today.
At school, the ultimate volcanic case study was Mt St Helens, in Washington state on America’s West Coast. When that volcano erupted, it lost a third of its height and scoured the landscape in front of it with a vast mudflow, and a blast of dust, rocks and hot gas (the pyroclastic flow). There wasn’t actually a lava flow, because of the chemical composition of the magma, and that’s partly what made it so explosive and devastating.
I’d always wanted to see Mt St Helens in person, so when I was driving down America’s West Coast from Canada to Mexico, on my Border to Border road trip, we took a little diversion to check it out.
It was more than worth it. The mountain is stunning, standing on its own amidst a blasted landscape that has been left to recover naturally as a scientific study, and as a monument to the 57 people who died during the eruption. Seeing it gave me a sense of just how big this explosion was, with entire forests, 15 miles from the mountain, flattened like matchsticks.
Check out the video at the bottom of the page, which I made during the visit, and let me know what you think. Have you ever visited a volcano?
PS. If you love volcanoes and dinosaurs, check out the Natural History Museum in London. It might just be my favourite place on Earth, and I still love visiting as an adult, reading all the panels and trying all the experiments. It’s great!
PPS. Thank you to Hertz for letting us use a car that looks like Bumblebee from the Transformers (we actually called it Bumblebee during the trip).