Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wildflowers at Mount St. Helens

When people think of visiting wildflowers, they often think of Mount Rainier or even Mount Baker for their lavishly beautiful displays.  And rightly so - both can be spectacular!

However, there is another volcano in our state that also sports nice displays, which many probably wouldn't think of - Mount St. Helens.  While destruction and devastation largely symbolize this area in many people's minds , they might be surprised at the beauty that can be found on its lower flanks and nearby ridges all these years after that mighty eruption.  With the trees naturally cleared by nature's forces, flower seedlings have taken to many of the open, sunny slopes and turned them into beautiful meadows in season.  The difference here is that they are often set against a stark, gray landscape of pumice and ash.

The predominant flowers here are lupine, Indian paintbrush and violet penstemon.  There are many other varieties as well.

My favorite St. Helens destinations for wildflowers are Johnston Ridge and Windy Ridge - both on the north side of the mountain.  Johnston Ridge is approached from the west (I-5), and Windy Ridge from the northeast (Highway 12).

Johnston Ridge

Johnston Ridge is a drive to destination with a large parking area at the visitor center at the very end of SR 504. Flowers abound all around the visitor center and recently constructed amphitheater.  There is much easy wandering here, and your pace will likely be slow!  For more flowers, walk the Boundary Trail in either direction to fully enjoy the scenery.  This area offers the most spectacular wildflower display St. Helens has to offer, in my opinion.

Windy Ridge

Windy Ridge is approached from Randle on FR 25, then following the Windy Ridge Road (FR 99) to its end at the parking lot.  While the views from Windy Ridge are jaw-dropping in themselves, a bit of exploring can lead you to even better destinations.

One of the most famous views of St. Helens is from Norway Pass along the Boundary Trail (yes, this is the same trail as the Johnston Ridge one), overlooking Spirit Lake.  You've seen it in books, magazines and calendars.  Flowers add to the scene here, and can be pretty profuse in places along the trail.  For a colorful side trip, be sure and check out the Indian Ridge Trail.

The best lupine display I have ever witnessed also resides in this area.  From the south end of the Windy Ridge parking lot, walk the abandoned road 1.7 miles to the Truman-Abraham saddle.  Stop.  Look down to a sea of purple in season!  Now take the right fork and follow the Truman Trail down the slope to see this amazing meadow up close and personal!  While the Plains of Abraham won't offer any flowers, I highly recommend it as a side trip.  To do so, return to the saddle and follow the Abraham Trail (left fork) to a world of barren world of pumice and scattered boulders.

The image above was taken from Johnston Ridge and recently appeared with an article in a German newspaper on this very subject.  To view more images of this area and around St. Helens, feel free to visit my South Cascades Gallery.

See you on the trail!

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