Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Fun Day at Mount St. Helens

Last Sunday I spent a wonderful time with my daughter down at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. We hiked the Boundary Trail from the Johnstone Ridge Observatory up to the Spillover saddle, then up to St. Helens Lake.

This is a pretty gentle trail, but does have some exposed areas where its best to hold the hands of young ones. Of course, the views are outstanding!

We encountered snow shortly above the Spillover, at around 4,500'. The snow was patchy until reaching the ridge saddle above St. Helens Lake where it became continuous. The lake itself was still mostly frozen.

It was a fun afternoon on the trail, with round trip stats of 10 miles, ~1,000' elevation gain. Of course, that was a lot of mileage for the feet of a 6 year-old, and her dogs were barking by the time we reached the truck.

This changed my evening photography plans. I had hoped to backtrack along the trail about 1/2 a mile or so for evening photography. But her feet were done and wouldn't allow that. So instead I found my favorite location near the JRO and looked for an interesting composition other than the one I have shot several times before, which includes an interesting tree for the foreground. I couldn't find anything else that interested me. So I set up yet again to incorporate that dang tree. But I couldn't do it. Not again.

So I packed up and we headed back to the truck to search for a different location.

I didn't search far as I had one in mind: The Castle Lake Overlook. I think it was a good choice. It's further west from the JRO, which takes away the views into the crater. However it offers more of the west slopes of the mountain, which catch the evening light nicely. I think it was a nice trade off.

This sequence of pictures demonstrate the progression of the shadow of the earth and the belt of Venus. Just after sunset, a flat blue band rises up from the eastern horizon. This is the earth's shadow, which is cast upon our own atmosphere from the setting sun. The pink above it is known as the belt of Venus. Eventually, the blue band grows larger and larger as the pink disappears, signalling the end to the day and offering a welcome to the stars that will follow.

Nice way to spend an evening, isn't it?

Edit: While photographing the mountain, I met Ray Stinson, an astronomer from Tacoma, WA. Ray showed up with his wife in time to photograph sunset, but his main goal was to capture the constellations above St. Helens after nightfall. He teaches astronomy during the summer at the St. Mary's Visitor Center in Glacier National Park. I look forward to looking him up during my visit there next month.

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