From the Blog

An Afternoon, A Full Tank of Gas, Chapter Four

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The Ka-Pow! Chapter. Because we visited an explosive volcano! And it could have blown at any minute! We live on the EDGE!


When I was a kid, I remember climbing into the hot, dusty attic of our house. My childhood home was originally a horse stable for a larger estate that had burned down. I’m not kidding. There were horse shoes in the yard. I had to dodge them while mowing the lawn. ALL THE TIME.

I used to go into the attic to paw through a big box of old National Geographic magazines. Some kids may have been thrilled to find a hidden stash of porno magazines. I was thrilled to find National Geographics. I also watched a lot of “Nova” on WGBH TV as a kid and I still remember what peristalsis is from 6th grade.

One of the magazines was about the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens. I read it from cover to cover. And when I was done with the whole box of magazines, I always returned to look at that one again. Those photos in that magazine are iconic now.

I think that magazine could have been the catalyst of my love for before and after photos. I’ve always liked before and after photos. Of makeovers, dramatic weight loss, home renovations and giant, apocalyptic volcanic eruptions.

I was 6 at the time of the actual blast. And kids don’t comprehend destruction and explosions as tragic. Kids think that stuff is awesome! When I was young, I thought that volcanoes must have been the craziest shit ever. So can I tell you how excited I was to move to a place where, on a clear day, we can see the squared-off peak of Mt Saint Helens? From Portland, it looks like this.

Below is the view from the first Mt Saint Helens visitor center, still about 50 miles away from the mountain. This is after having driven for about an hour from Portland.

First Visitor Center

Sitting in the passenger seat, wrangling maps and justifiably white knuckled, was our friend Dave. There is much you learn about a person while spending lots of time in a car together. During this trip, I learned that he could have been a “foot model.” Almost in the same way Marlon Brando could have been a contender. I think he should change his site masthead to “Dave Knows: Portland. ‘I Could Have Been a Foot Model.'”

We were advised that some of the viewpoints and visitor centers were closed. And that the road ahead was closed due to SNOW. Bad ASS! SNOW! So the plan was to keep driving, and get as close to the mountain as we could until the road ended. It was a super nice weekend with mild temperatures, and we had a full tank of gas. And we were wearing sunglasses. Or at least I was.

Hoffstadt Bluffs

This photo was taken from Hoffstadt Bluffs, still about 25 miles from the mountain. Here we are east of the mountain and these trees had not been knocked down by the eruption. We were sort of 10 o’clock here, and the blast faced 2 o’clock. I believe the river below is either the north or south fork of the Toutle River. If the mountain ever blows again, the crater is faced away from Portland, towards Washington. Sorry Washington! Should have learned the first time!

As we drove, Dave pointed out “new growth” forests along the road. In many places, there were signs showing when certain sections had been planted or when they had been fertilized. I guess if you live in Oregon your whole life, you can tell from the height of the trees how old a forest is. In some places, the uniformity of the young trees made them look fake. Perfectly straight trunks. Perfectly perpendicular branches.

As we drove, we started to see some SNOW.


Due to a hereditary blip in IQ levels, all members of my family have a tradition of going to famous or interesting places, and pointing out the obvious. In the photo below, I’m even blocking out the item of interest.


I don’t know how deep the snow was here. But it was soft and melty and I sank up to my thigh multiple times. It was deep.

Car in Snow

This was an indicator that the end of the road was coming. The snow banks were ten or 12 feet high. Dave was quite patient with the amount of photos I stopped to take of my car. But I believe he is silently filing those moments away in case he ever needs to prove to someone that I am a nut job. But come on! This was the most snow my car had ever seen!

Up Close

And eventually, there was a closed gate, and beyond it, a field of snow. No more road. The closest we got to the mountain was still 5 miles away. In the photo above, there were clouds and/or steam in the crater. No explosions. See the above photo larger here.

It was a great drive even though I was not able to get super close to the gaping maw of the mountain. But that’s what camping in the summertime is for. Yay for volcanoes!
The End

An Afternoon, A Full Tank of Gas:

Chapter I here.

Chapter II here.

Chapter III here.


  1. Correction: I still could be a foot model. My feet have not yet lost their looks.

  2. When are you going to let people know we had like, the smallest yard in town and you couldn’t read until you were 10. You’re a blip.

  3. i have that national geographic. it is one of three i keep. the other two are about dinosaurs and when they found the titanic. anyway… sweet!!! mt. st. helens! you rock. can i come stay with yo and we can go camp on the live volcano? i don’t mind the vaporizing so much as the boiling alive thing. just make it quick.

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