[/caption] Here is a shot that I took last July while hiking in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I had visited the Park from the east, which is a long drive that takes you through Cougar and then north up the 131. The drive from Portland is very long and twisty but you are more likely to see herds of elk than people. This was my first trip along the east part of the mountain and I have to say that its one of the most scenic and peaceful parts of the wilderness. The Park reminded me of a National Park but minus the thousands of visitors and campsites. You can make it a day trip from Portland, during the longer days of summer, but I highly recommend you leave before sunrise and pack a lot of food since there are no places to eat. I took this shot with my Canon EOS T1i and my Tokina 12-24 wide angle lens. I was using my UV, warming and CIR-PL filter to bring out the colors and tame to intensity of the glaring sun. I took this shot looking south at about 6:35pm and the sun was just to the right. I had to set my ISO to 100 and the white balance to -2 due to the glare. The focal length was at 15mm and the shutter speed was 1/100 second. I was standing directly in the path of the explosion that destroyed all of the timber in its path. There were several pumice fields directly below where I was standing and you can see that some of the vegetation was just beginning to come back. I was amazed at the amount of pumice that littered the entire north side of the park. It was like walking through time and you could physically see the destruction from the wrath of the volcano. You can hike to Spirit lake and view the thousands of trees littering the lake and photograph dozens of species of wild flowers that grow among the pumice fields. I highly recommend visiting the park from the north east side. There are dozens of trails to hike and the park is very well kept and there are numerous areas to picnic. You are also guaranteed to see some wildlife. I startled a herd of elk while hiking on one of the trails and watched as they scurried up the mountain. This was truly an epic day.
[/caption] One of the best areas to visit Mt. St. Helen’s is via the Windy Ridge viewpoints and trails. It’s the furthest from any of the other areas but it’s well worth it. Since there are no roads that connect the Johnston Ridge and the Windy Ridge area, you have to make the long drive from either the south or the north. It’s 128 miles, one way, from Portland, which made this the longest one day drive I’ve done so far. However, it’s well worth it. I passed several camping areas, which would make for a great couple of days. There are endless amounts of trails throughout the entire wilderness area. The Windy Ridge highway have close to a dozen viewpoint areas that have trail access. Every parking area was in fantastic shape. The highway was clean and smooth and the viewpoint areas had ample parking and some had picnic benches and bathrooms. I was extremely surprised at how well it’s maintained. It had a National Park feel and look. However, the drive is very long and windy. There are several twisty areas that cause you to slow down a lot. This will add an hour to your drive. I also found a small herd of elk standing on the highway at one point. You really need to be cautious when driving here. There were three hikes that I did on this day. The picture shown was taken along the Independence trail. On this trail I came upon a large herd of elk that were resting under some trees. I watched them scurry up the hillside. It’s also amazing how much pumice lay within the wilderness area and the amount of wildflowers scattered within them. The trail leads to an awesome viewpoint of Mt. St. Helen’s, Spirit lake and a panoramic view of the logs in the lake. You can also see just how immense the destruction of the landscape was. The entire wilderness was stripped of its trees and now lays in Spirit lake. St. Helen’s caused the largest landslide in recorded history and it hit Spirit Lake at some 150 mph with a tree-clogged, toxic mudflow that sent the lake sloshing more than 800 feet up the opposing bank. What had been a pristine, alpine lake ringed by old-growth conifer forests suddenly became a hot, toxic sludge hole. You can also see Mt. Hood in the distance as well as Mt. Adams. Mt. Rainier can be seen at the top of Windy Ridge viewpoint, which is a steep but short hike up the hillside. To get this shot I made sure to attach my UV filter as well as my warming filter and my CIR-PL. It was around one o’clock, so I was having to adjust my white balance quite a bit. I never used my tripod due to the huge field of view and the brightness of the sun. I had the ISO set at 100 and the aperture at F-8. I had the camera set at Auto Exposure, the shutter speed was at 1/600 second and the white balance at -.7. I was using my 12-24 wide-angle lens and had the focal length at 14mm. This wasn’t my best shot of the day but I wanted to show as much of the area as possible. Everywhere around you allowed for a great photo opportunity. The Harmony Falls trail allows you the only trail down to the edge of Spirit lake and it’s worth it. You can feel the warmth of the lake as well as the frigid cold creek bubbling out of the earth. There is a small waterfall which allows for a great place to cool down but the water is frigidly cold. I had collected some pumice stones and waited to see how long it took them to sink in the lake and suddenly a huge trout swam from beneath the logs to investigate. The Windy Ridge trail is the start of the volcano and the glacier hikes as well as several other shorter hikes within the wilderness. If you live in the area and don’t have the time to visit a National Park, I highly recommend this area. It’ had National Park written all over it and offers some of the most unique sights that other Parks can only dream of.