Mount Saint Helens: 35 years ago

As someone who grew up in Seattle and has lived here for the past 17 years, I, like many in the Pacific Northwest, have a long history with Mount Saint Helens. In junior high, we took a field trip to explore the volcano’s lava tubes. I remember wandering through the narrow passages and being excited at being inside a volcano. It was just a few years later, on May 18, 1980, that the mountain blew for the first since 1857.

I spent the day of the eruption watching TV and wondering about my brother who was driving home from college via Portland. We did not know for hours where he was. And nor did he know about the eruption. He and the guy he was traveling with couldn’t figure out why traffic had come to a standstill. It was both exciting and sad to follow the stories of that day and the months that followed.

As the mountain continued to erupt, we were lucky enough that the wind periodically blew north and carried ash into Seattle. It wasn’t much but we did get light coatings of ash on our deck.

My closest encounter with the mountain didn’t come until 24 years after the 1980 eruption when I wrote an article about its 25th anniversary. I was fortunate to spend two days on the mountain with Charlie Crisafulli, a biologist who has studied Mount Saint Helens since the eruption. The most astounding part was to walk across the Pumice Plain, the area directly in front of the crater, and to see how much life had returned to what had been an area completely lifeless in 1980. We found shrubs taller than us, toads, birds, snakes, rushing water, wildflowers, and many rodents. As life returned and biologists studied it, they were, and continue to, rewriting our understanding of how a landscape revives after devastation.

Studying Mount Saint Helens
Studying Mount Saint Helens
Plants on the Pumice Plain
Plants on the Pumice Plain

In September 2004, a couple pals and I climbed the mountain. The next day we were going to meet up with a University of Washington geology class and hike up into the crater. They never showed at the meeting point, so we headed out across the Pumice Plain. The vegetation was even larger and more widespread. We didn’t go into the crater. Not until we got back home, two days later, did we find out that an increase in earthquakes had alerted geologists to the potential for the mountain to erupt again. Turns out that the mountain was closed to climbing the day after our ascent and just six days later it erupted again for the first time since 1986.

Post 2008 Crater
Post 2008 Crater
Post 2008 Crater - Close up
Post 2008 Crater – Close up

I have continued to return to Mount Saint Helens over the years. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited: an astounding combination of destruction and life, unfolding and ever changing. We in the PNW are incredibly lucky to have Mount Saint Helens in our backyard.

Looking back at the crater - 2013
Looking back at the crater – 2013

Lyons and Lions in Seattle

One of the most unusual building stones in Seattle is the Lyons Sandstone. I know of only one building built with it. That building is now known as the Interurban but began life as the Seattle National Bank. The new name came about sometime after 1902 when the Tacoma Interurban railway terminated in front of the building. Running from Tacoma via Green Valley and with an off shoot to Renton, the Tacoma Interurban ran from 1902 to 1928.

Lion of Lyons
Lion of Lyons

English-native John Parkinson designed the building in 1890-1892. He later moved to Los Angeles where he is much better known, especially for the Los Angeles Coliseum and City Hall. In Seattle, he also designed the Butler Block, sadly most of which was removed; the upper brick clad stories have now been replaced with a rather banal garage. At the least the handsome granite base remains.

The classic Romanesque Revival building is a delightful ediface. At the base is the local Chuckanut Sandstone, a gray sandstone. Sitting atop it is the Lyons Sandstone, quarried at the Kenmuir Quarry in Manitou Springs and shipped by rail to Seattle. I have not been able to determine why Parkinson chose the Lyons rock, though it clearly contrasts well with the Chuckanut and complements the brick that makes up the remaining part of the building. The Lyons was deposited as sand dunes during the Permian Period around 280 million years ago. Outcrops of the rock, which often appear as massive hogbacks, occur along the Front Range of Colorado, including such famous areas as Red Rocks Amphitheater and Garden of the Gods. Minute quantities of oxidized hematite (that is rusted) give the Lyons its red color.

Lyons Sandstone was the most commonly used sandstone building stone quarried in Colorado. Quarries opened in the 1870s and continued in Manitou until the 1910s, and still takes place in Lyons, where descendents own the quarries opened by their relatives in 1873.

Welcome In...pfffth.
Welcome In…pfffth.

What makes the Interurban particularly charming are the elaborate carvings. The most obvious is the lion overlooking the entrance at the corner of Occidental and Yesler. More intriguing figures are found in two additional locations. To the east on Yesler is another entrance, where you can find grotesques on the columns. (There is some debate about the origin of the term grotesque, but many trace it to paintings in Roman grottoes.) These curious faces were a commonly used architectural feature, often adding a sense to a whimsy to stately structures. Another grotesque peaks out from carved foliage on the southwestern side of the building. It’s about 20 feet above ground level.

What you looking at?
What you looking at?

These are not the only grotesques in Seattle. I know of one building that has 78 carved in its sandstone. Do you know it? There is also another curious feature on the Interurban. Do you know it?