Looking for perspective? Visit a big volcano

It's bigger than you think

Seriously, go look at a Volcano. Ok, some people might not have the privilege (or the unfortunate nearness) of living near a mountain like Mt. St. Helens, but the next time you are nearby, you should go. But why?

Geologic Time is Long

In the era of “internet time”, where everything changes in nanosecords and it’s tough to remember what you ate for breakfast much less what happened yesterday, visiting a volcano (a still active volcano) like Mt. St. Helens reminds you that our lifespans are very very short in the face of geologic time. The last major eruption of this volcano happened around 1500. The 1980 eruption (which some of us remember) was a blip. Looking at the geologic record provides us with some interesting clues and encourages us to think in much different ways. If you’re interested in thinking about time for the long haul, you might want to check out the 10,000 year clock project.

Nature Doesn’t Care What You Want

Although we clearly influence and change the scape of the planet, the sheer scope, scale, and speed of the changes that can happen in the face of an eruption like the one at Mt. St. Helens dwarf any changes that you or I might try to make on the planet’s course. That doesn’t mean we should give up on our individual efforts – but what it does mean is that the planet can be fickle. In the 1980 eruption, enough material was displaced to fill almost three quarters of a cubic mile. That’s a lot of stuff. See more details about the 1980 eruption here.

It’s Awesome

The sheer scale of the mountain is amazing. You can see Mt. St. Helens for miles on the approach to the Johnson Ridge Observatory (accessed from WA state 504), and yet it still is an incredible site to see. The photo above was taken a Johnson Ridge, about 5 and a half miles away from the Volcano and at an elevation of about 4200 feet (the mountain is around 8,000 feet in height.) Looking at Mt. St. Helens from that distance, you feel as if you’re facing it square on, yet can see the vast influence the mountain had on the surrounding valley when it erupted 31 short years ago.

Of course, Mt. St. Helens isn’t the only interesting natural wonder out there. But it’s a pretty cool one, and I’m amazed to think that I hadn’t been there and had driven past the general area tens or hundreds of times before I decided to go. And I’m glad I did.


101 thoughts on “Looking for perspective? Visit a big volcano

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  1. Truly: AWESOME in every sense of the word! From sheer power to size, volcanoes do lend perspective to some of life’s littlest dramas (that feel big, but not VOLCANO big!).


    1. @Mikalee –

      +1 to your comments – always good to get some perspective on the things that *seem* big right now to see whether they really are big (or if you just feel that way at the moment).


  2. You can also compare St Helens now with Ranier as a perspective as to what St. Helens was prior to 1980. Also compare the other way, as St Helens is now what Ranier will once be. Yes, the Seattle area may be doomed. But, don’t go running and screaming. It may happen next week, or it may be a few thousand years.

  3. Great post. I’ve watched many programs about volcanoes on television, but your post gave me different perspective. They have always fascinated me. πŸ™‚

  4. The image is truly striking. In the UK we don’t have anything like it tho the hills outside my window were once volcanoes millenia ago. You’ve definitely made me think. Bit disturbed by the 10,000 yr clock tho – I mean … why? Perhaps it’s just hubris, who knows. Great stuff and many thanks for stopping me in my tracks

  5. I love this photo and the post!
    And I love the sentence “Nature Doesn’t Care What You Want”, because even I made often this experience when I was working in the field (I am paleontologist and worked often together with two friends of mine who are volcanologists).

    Thank You and greetings from Germany!

    1. Inkor –

      Very interesting – have you ever visited the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana? They have a very nice set of fossils and full-size skeletons (and replicas.)


  6. Very true…perspective is everything, whether its a cultural perspective, or due to time, age, sex, race. We all see things differently depending on when and where we are standing.

  7. Love the post. So many great hikes around here…there are few where you can see Rainer, Adams, and St. Helens. Volcanoes symbolize both creation and destruction and their imposing size reveals both of those natures.

  8. Great post! I appreciate the perspective–with everything happening in our world today, I absolutely indulge in those moments where the time and size of myself and our modern society are truly dwarfed by the earth and its history.

  9. Love Mt. St. Helens and the observatories. Have been by there at least twice since the eruption. It’s good to see so much growing back. My husband, son and I were supposed to be driving from SoCal on I-5 on May 18, 1980 – would have been very near there had our vacation plans not been changed just a few days earlier!

  10. Nice Post and Photo.
    Big explotion has occured because I think big this Mount have a big crater. almost half Mt. St. Helens has gone. Does the flow was formed by eruption or by rain? πŸ™‚

    1. Julio –

      Thanks for your question. This flow was caused by the eruption itself according to the information we learned at the Johnson Observatory – though I agree, it looks like it flowed like water.


  11. Great post! and with some nice bits of historical info–The title caught my eye because I feel the same way about the ocean (in that case, seeing the vastness of it makes me realize how insignificant and small we are in the big scheme of things–and all problems are put into perspective πŸ™‚

  12. Hi Greg,
    Awesome photo!!! I live in Australia… no volcanoes, but we have some hella massive rocks πŸ˜€ I lived right next to Uluru and Kata Tjuta for 15months and it was spectacular, you never start taking them for-granted! Volcanoes have always fascinated me though and in 6 weeks whilst on my honeymoon I get to fulfill a childhood dream and trek an active one, on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, so excited, I will have to post pictures!
    Congrats on being FP’d

    1. DitchTheBun –

      Wow – have always wanted to visit Uluru – have seen pictures and I’m sure they don’t do it justice.

      Congrats on the trip to Vanuatu and the honeymoon!


  13. I love the humbling feeling one gets when standing near such a large body as a volcano or an ocean or anything else of the like! Great post.

    I especially liked that part about geological time being long… It’s true that our lives are often chaotic and fragmented until we take the time to step outside and enjoy the wonders that have been standing for ages.

    if you liked my comment see my blog about outdoor recreation, gear, and photography:

  14. I’ve been to Mt. St. Helen’s a couple of times – from different angles and it is amazing. The one thing that struck me — the rebirth of the area. No matter how awful it was or devastated – beauty does come back.

    1. Katie –

      I agree – it’s amazing to the scope of the devastation, and the degree to which the landscape is recovering and changing all of the time.



  15. My husband and I visited Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand early last year. Even a not so active volcano is pretty cool to visit. Thanks for the post.

  16. Hi,
    I’m from New Zealand and live very near the biggest active volcano here, Mt Ruapehu, which in the Maori language means “second peak”.
    In 2004 I was visiting my daughter in Vancouver WA and we went for a drive up Mt St Helens to The Johnson Ridge Observatory. What an awesome experience!
    Got lots of pics too, and called in at the Forestry info center as well.

    Well worth a visit!

  17. We were lucky enough to see Stromboli erupting as we cruised through the Straits of Messina in 2006. It was dark, and the crew considerately turned out the loghts on the deck for us.


    My only regret is I didn’t have a camera or camcorder with me, and I didn’t want to go below and get them, lest I miss something.

  18. Logged on to WordPress to see this stunning picture in the Freshly Pressed section – congratulations on that! Your picture has inspired me for the day, thank you for the great start and words of wisdom.

    Rubelle’s Moon

  19. I lived up in Vancouver, BC and I never went to see the mountain for decades until just around the 25th anniversary of the eruption. I was amazed at how much devastation there still is. I had read about how nature was bouncing back but around the mountain everything looked leveled.

    I love volcanoes and have been to the Kilauea Volcano in Hawai’i and climbed up two active volcanoes in Japan.

    And yeah, once I accepted that nature doesn’t care what I do or need I found it a lot easier to deal with weather related set backs during hikes. I figured, “This is nature doing things its way. Love it for that and don’t make unrealistic demands that will only frustrate myself.”

  20. I just caught your blog on the front age of wordpress.

    I’ve been blogging entries about three volcanoes I have recently visited in Java.

    You are so right in inferring how the sheer awesomeness of nature is really brought home when you get up close to them.

    Have a read if you get the chance.



  21. Great post. I’ve always been fascinated by volcanoes, however, I can’t go near one. I went up Mt Etna when I was 2, with parents of course, but since then everytime I get near a volcano I can’t take the sulphur smell and have to turn back. I will take your advice and just look at them from now on.

  22. I was up in Washington State when Mt. St. Helens erupted the first time. Up until her passing, my stepmother would keep me updated on the latest eruptions. I miss hearing about it. That’s one incredible mountain and the fact that it’s recovered as nicely as it has is always a wonderful thing to hear about!

  23. I love your writing style and the theme

    and as for the volcano, this volcano seems pretty interesting and there are no volcanoes near me I live at mumbai! and I am sure as hell that I want to visit this volcano one time at least! and that is only because you could make me aware of it. Thank you so much for sharing!

    (obviously its bigger than we think πŸ˜‰ )

  24. Interesting blog. Although I live in US, I was born in India, in a green mountain city in south. I loved looking at those mountains. Your blog certainly brought back memories. Keep blogging.

  25. Ah being in the UK GO Activities are sadly away from any volcanoes. Have you seen Lanzarote’s volcanoes? The ground is so hot up there in the hills, you can cook chicken on it!

  26. great post! totally agree. our first time on a volcano was maui’s haleakala. hiking it really gave me the sense of how small and insignificant we really are. we’ve been lucky to visit more volcanos since (adrenal and poas in costa rica) and have recently seen the effects of an eruption in santorini.

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