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 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh, I LOVE this post! I don’t live near any volcanoes (I’m in Toronto) so they fascinate me!

    Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! πŸ˜€

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Thanks! Appreciate the kind words …


  2. 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. gregmeyer says:

      @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).


  3. 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.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Yep, agree that in geologic terms, Rainier is due. And in the meanwhile, I’m glad I live on a hill πŸ˜‰


  4. Nandini says:

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

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Nandini – thanks for the comment!


  5. 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

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Thanks for your comment, and appreciate the thoughts!


  6. Paul S Allen says:

    Great photo, and an excellent post. Love the section “Nature Doesn’t Care What You Want” as it puts a good perspective on life and work.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Paul –

      Thanks for your feedback, and glad you liked the photo too!


  7. Great post! Loved the “Nature Doesn’t Care What You Want” section, its very true and so refreshing to read this sort of perspective! Best of luck!

  8. Inkor Pank says:

    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. gregmeyer says:

      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.)


  9. umanbn says:

    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.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Thanks, appreciate your thoughts and your comment.


  10. Tincup says:

    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.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Tincup –

      Thanks! Do you have a favorite local mountain/volcano?


  11. passing rosecrans says:

    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.

  12. sarahein says:

    Huzzah to St. Helens. As one who calls Washington home, it was nice to know others appreciate the wonder as well.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Sara –

      Huzzah indeed! I enjoy Rainier as well … But hope it takes a much longer time to erupt.


  13. Mike says:

    Really enjoyed this post – perspective is right! We just returned from a trip to the Kamchatka Peninsula in far Eastern Russia that has around 130 volcanoes, 30 of which are currently active. We were fortunate enough to walk right into the crater of active Mutnovsky (http://offtrailtravel.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/kamchatka-up-close-and-personal-with-a-very-active-volcano/) and had the thrill of a lifetime!

    1. gregmeyer says:

      @Mike –

      Really neat post – thanks for sharing your experience!


  14. 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!

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Rebecca – thanks for your comment!


  15. newsy1 says:

    Yep, sometimes us humans can be a bit arrogant until we realize “Nature doesn’t care what you want.” Terrific post.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Newsy1 –

      Thanks for your kind words …


  16. Puts the world and our little part in it in perspective. Wonderfully written post by the way!

    1. gregmeyer says:


      Appreciate it …


  17. Husbang just climbed St Helens – one last hoorah before leaving WA. Great post πŸ™‚

    1. gregmeyer says:

      The Family Practice –

      Wow! Awesome news on the climb – any pics to share?


  18. viktoriablog says:

    A really wonderful and uplifting post! I really enjoyed reading it:-)
    you rock dude:-)

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Viktoriablog –

      Thanks for your comment …


  19. Julio Eiffelt R R says:

    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. gregmeyer says:

      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.


  20. fuzziepotato says:

    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™‚

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Fuzzlepotato –

      Thanks for your comment!


  21. Great post!! There’s nothing like something great in nature to remind you how small you are! Thanks for sharing~


    1. gregmeyer says:

      HowFickleMyHeart –

      Thanks for the kind words —


  22. ditchthebun says:

    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. gregmeyer says:

      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!


  23. thorsaurus says:

    I lived in Issaquah at the time. It’s still amazing to see 31 years later. Pictures rarely capture the magnitude, but yours does.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Thorsaurus –

      Thanks, and glad you liked the photo!


  24. 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:

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Nathan –

      Thanks for your comment – I’ll be sure to check out the blog …


  25. Rachel Southwood says:

    Would love to live near such a natural piece of beauty and destruction! Awesome photo too!

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Rachel –

      Thanks – if you’d like to see other photos, you can check them out at http://flickr.com/photos/gregmeyer – I’ve got some photos of Mt. St. Helens and many others there too …


  26. That is an amazing photo. I love it.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Chandra –

      Thanks for your comment!


  27. Katie says:

    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. gregmeyer says:

      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.



  28. tmso says:

    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.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      @Tmso –

      Thanks – would love to see pictures of Mt. Ruapehu as well –


  29. 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!

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Dot –

      Thanks for your comment and glad you got to visit the volcano as well – great observatory and neat resources …


  30. Jan Simson says:

    Awesome post, awesome photo, awesome awesomeness. Congrats on being FP! Cheers.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Jan –

      And an awesome comment – cheers!


  31. bearcat8 says:

    Nice post! I’m heading into Patagonia to see some!


  32. travelrat says:

    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.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Travelrat –

      Thanks for your comment – that must have been neat.


  33. Great post! I felt the same when visiting Fuji-san in Japan… they do a great job at making you feel really small :>

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Thanks! Appreciate the thought …


  34. rubyophelia says:

    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

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Rubelle –

      Thanks for your kind words – I’m glad your day got a little better!


  35. jen says:

    here also is my post about a visit to taal volcano in the philippines. visiting a volcano really is a larger than life experience. πŸ™‚


    1. gregmeyer says:

      Jen –

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here as well.


  36. Great post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I agree with the previous comment: Nature Doesn’t Care What You Want definitely puts things into perspective. If you want to put volcanoes into the perspective of “fun”, take a look at this post: http://raxacollective.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/volcano-sandboarding/

    We lived for many years in Costa Rica…volcanoes are an awe inspiring and amazing part of the landscape.


    1. gregmeyer says:

      Raxa –

      Thanks, I’ll check it out!


  37. the illustration is divine… a WOW is not even enough to describe it. good job! c:


    1. gregmeyer says:

      Yep, I think it’s amazing too …

  38. tsubakuro says:

    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.”

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Tsubakuro –

      Love the quote and the idea – thanks!


  39. misterkelvin says:

    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.



    1. gregmeyer says:

      Mister Kelvin –

      Thanks for sharing!


  40. meganchapple says:

    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.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Megan –

      Thanks for your feedback! (This one doesn’t smell as far as I can tell.)


  41. RoseWine says:

    Lovely post with great shot…

    ~dance like you do when nobody’s watching~

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Thank you for the kind words!


  42. Fantastic photo, thank you also for the intriguing info πŸ™‚

  43. I like the Polaroid look of that photo.

    1. gregmeyer says:

      Aileen –

      Thank Instagram! Love that app …


  44. 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!

  45. Sharvil says:

    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˜‰ )

  46. asoulwalker says:

    I got to see a smoking volcano from a boat off the coast of Alaska– it was awesome! Great post.

  47. I remember the day when it blew and later found a slight dusting of ash on my car; nearly 1,000 miles away from it.

  48. belladaze says:

    Nice post! Here’s a link to a post of mine that may interest you. There are pictures on my blog that were taken from a small aircraft flying above the mountain as it erupted May 18, 1980. I have more but still need to load them.


  49. ournote2self says:

    Breathtaking photo!

  50. Niiiiice! Loved reading this post. I’ve never been to a volcano before. Definitely something new on my list!

  51. gaycarboys says:

    knowing my luck it would pick that time to explode its head off. I’m happy to watch from afar

  52. Trivi says:

    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.

  53. GOactivities says:

    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!

  54. Love this! πŸ˜‰ Keep up the good work and ill keep following you!!

    -Chris Styles


  55. Adriano says:

    Γ‰ uma cidade bonita, um dia vou visitar
    It’s really jaw-dropping

  56. trialsinfood says:

    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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