However, I have hiked the surrounding area many times and taken numerous pictures of the peak and the returning flora, so I wasn't as shutter happy as I usually am. It allowed me to relax a bit more and enjoy the sites with my own eyes instead of on a camera screen. I did snap a few photos, though.
This lupine was draped elegantly over the rock face along the trail, with it's roots sunk into a narrow cleft filled with gritty soil. So lush and beautiful for such a harsh local.
The famous and much-photographed Mt. St. Helens. See that moonscape in front of the mountain? That's where we're going.
We lucked out by hiking this area at pretty much peak bloom time for Penstemon cardwellii and indian paint brush (Castilleja spp.).
Some of the paintbrush had gorgeous dark leaves to contrast with the red flowers.
Down off the ridge and onto the plains in front of the mountain. It looks a little greener than it did up on the ridge. In fact, it's covered in lichens and lots of various little plants and tree seedlings. If you look at the highest point on the right side of the rim and look down to the dark shadow directly below that, that's our destination.
Here's a closer view. You can see Loowit Falls tumbling down out of the base of the mountain.
The most numerous plant by far on the landscape in front of the mountain was dwarf alpine lupine (Lupinus lepidus). It carpeted the ground in silvery grey, punctuated by over-sized purple flowers. The bits of red in the photo below are sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella). A terrible weed in the lowlands, it actually looks like it belongs up here and is kind of pretty. It's still an invasive weed, though.
Here's a few of those over-sized lupine flowers. They glow with the silver leaves.
As we get closer to the mountain, the plants are fewer and farther between and the landscape begins to look truly barren. One can hardly believe this is in western Washington.
But even in this desolate landscape, certain plants have colonized the rock and ash and are thriving. Here a particularly beautiful Penstemon cardwellii shows the tenacity of living organisms.
Looking back, you can see Spirit Lake. When the mountain blew, the lake bed was raised 200 feet by pyroclastic flows and the water in the lake was pushed up over the ridges behind it to form several new lakes. If we had been a little higher up, like on the ridge to the left of the lake, we would have seen Mt. Rainier. We did get glimpses of it, but not in this picture.
Turning back toward the mountain, we're so close to it we can hardly see it. Ironic, isn't it? Wispy clouds fanned out above the crater like an echo of flame. Of course, there was very little lava or fire when St. Helens blew, but it makes for nice imagery, doesn't it?
Lupinus lepidus grows onto the very base of the mountain. Pity it's one of those alpine plants that just doesn't make the conversion to garden growing.
No ridges stood between us and Mt. Adams, allowing us a great view.
Almost to the falls now.
And here it is! This is likely the youngest and fastest-changing canyon in North America. The loose rock results in frequent slides, altering the canyon with each collapse. I found a source claiming that in 2011 the falls were 186 feet tall. I'm not sure how much they've changed since then, but the photo below is quite deceptive as to scale. Those falls are much taller than they look.
When we reached the parking lot we made a beeline for the visitor center to refill our waterbottles. Even on a cool, breezy day like that day, hiking across that open landscape is thirsty work. Just before we left, a hawk landed in a nearby tree, probably waiting to snag one of the chipmunks or ground squirrels that grow fat and lazy off of handouts from tourists.
The unrelenting sun, compounded by the reflective rock, left me rather lobsterish, even where I had applied sunscreen. My legs were definitely tired, and no wonder. On the map at the trail-head, the route we took looks about 16 miles long. The section of trail that goes across the flats doesn't have a distance on the map, and it's a far more winding in the walking than it looks on the map. So the total distance was probably closer to 18 miles, but it was definitely worth it. It was so good to get out hiking again. Time to plan another trip.