Mount St. Helens  (MSH)
Visitors Resource Packet
Compiled/Written by Lloyd & Doris Anderson
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Seeing the Seven Wonders of MSH

            Reference:     Read the 7 Wonders of MSH paper in Section 1 first

            See Also:   3a.  Johnston Ridge;  3e.  Hikes/Trails/Walks

            The Big Question.  When people see the 7 Wonders on Geologist Steve Austin’s video, they ask where they are located, wishing to see them for themselves when they come to the mountain.  At first I didn’t have the foggiest idea.  I had supposed they were all around the mountain.  In fact, I had never even paid any attention to which side of the mountain the eruption was on because I figured the whole mountain had erupted.  I was a pastor in the Seattle area when it happened.  My daughter rushed in to tell me.  Relieved it wouldn’t touch Seattle, I went on with my life.

            People are still asking me where the 7 Wonders are located, so this explanation is for them.  However, I encourage everyone to read it because it helps produce a feel for the vastness of the area and our uphill fight against evolution.

            Good News/Bad News.  Before telling the bad news that they are in places hard or impossible to see, we need to remind ourselves that all seven wonders were carefully documented by photographs and notes of numerous scientists, many secular.  To our knowledge none of the wonders have been questioned or challenged.  They are scientific fact.  However, you can be sure the secular visitor centers are not making a big deal out of them.  A careful scrutiny of every display and film in the secular visitor centers will leave you mostly in the dark about six.  The other, the greatly altered mountain, is obvious. 

            This universal blindness is reflected in the writing of Tom Paulu, veteran volcano explorer and editor of the 96-page Welcome Magazine, who says in his otherwise superb lead story entitled The Ridge of Wonders, “Below (the observatory) is the deeply eroded pumice plain, where streams have carved canyons...”  Paulu confirms Dr. Austin’s point that the whole world automatically assumes the stream produced the canyon even though a little reflection will recall the scientific documentation which shows that the canyon produced the stream.  Why aren’t the visitor centers telling us this?  I think they think, so what?

            But now the work of a team of scientists in Southern California and a humble outpost in the midst of 35 million dollars worth of secular visitor centers are on record saying that there is more to the story than our tax dollars tell.  There are seven mighty wonders that point to the Omnipotent God and give us confidence in His infallible Word.  For this reason we urge you to visit the MSH Creation Information Center as well as the 10 million-dollar Johnston Ridge Observatory.

            The 7 Wonders are located in the area of major impact between Spirit Lake and Johnston Ridge on the North, and MSH on the south, although the various flow deposits stretch down the Toutle Valley to the west.  Their visibility falls into three categories--those visible, those of limited visibility and those destroyed or underwater.  We will briefly discuss each category and then devote the rest of the paper to those of limited visibility.

            Those Visible.  Wonder #1, mountain rearranged beyond recognition in nine hours.  All visitors see this wonder (weather permitting) from the Observatory as they look at the gaping mountain and debris-laden valley.

            Those of  Limited Visibility.  Wonders #2,4 & 5, deep canyon erosion, rapid stratification and river system.  Discussed below.

            Those Destroyed or Underwater.  Wonders #3, 6 & 7.  Wonder #3, the badlands topography formed in the valley directly north of the base of the mountain.  These 30 some steam explosion pits of varying sizes were destroyed or altered by later events--mud flows, pyroclastic flows and water erosion.  There are several pictures of the pits in the visitor centers,  but the accompanying text fails to note the rill and gully effect and connect them with similar formations elsewhere. 

            Wonders 6 & 7, the peat deposit and deposited logs rest on the bottom of Spirit Lake and are slowly being buried by sediment.  You can see them if you happen to have a scientific research permit to go scuba diving in the lake.  While the east side viewpoint and public trail are close to Spirit Lake, you can’t go off these trails to explore on your own.  You can see the very southern tip of Spirit Lake by looking east from the Observatory just to the right of the prominent ridge.  About half of Spirit Lake comes into view by hiking the trail until it reaches that point (called Devil’s Elbow).  (See 3E-Hikes/Trails/Walks.)

            Visibility Limited Due to Location.  Wonder #4, layered strata formed in three hours.  Between 9 and 12 p.m., June 12, 1980, numerous pyroclastic flows poured from the mouth of the crater and dusted the valley between the base of the mountain and Johnston Ridge.  Then, in 1982, an enormous mudflow poured out of the crater leaving a sea of mud across the valley.  Later in the day it breached the blockage at the mouth of the valley and eroded through the newly formed mudflow deposit, the pyroclastic deposit of June 12th and even the top of the main eruption ash deposit.  The side of this canyon is displayed in detail in Steve Austin’s video.  It is located on the north side of a canyon.  In the segment of his video showing the nine-hour drainage, one shot shows canyons traveling around both the north and south side of a plateau.  This cliff is the north side of that canyon going around the south side.  Looking down from Johnston Ridge one can only see the south side of the canyons but generally not their bottoms because of the angle.  One can actually be looking at a canyon from JR and not realize it, for all he sees is a depression or crack in the surface of the plain.

            While the video filmed the formation where it was the clearest, to some extent it must be visible on the south wall as well.  Possibly one needs very powerful binoculars to see it from the ridge.  Of course, the problem lies in the fact that one’s ability to distinguish formations quickly decreases with distance.  It is 1000’ down to the valley floor and several thousand out to this canyon. The entire valley below the observatory is a part of the restricted area and the only public trail, Loowit Trail, skirts the base of the mountain on the far side of the valley three miles away.  So Loowit Trail is even further from this formation.  A helicopter might be the answer unless there are restrictions against flying too close to the observatory or near narrow canyons.

            Visibility Limited Due to Distance.  Wonder #2, Step and Loowit canyons formed in five months.  (These canyons drain rain & snow water from the crater).  The larger, Step Canyon, is up to 700’ deep and from the observatory appears as a great gouge in the center of the crater’s mouth.  Loowit Canyon faces more to the east and is hardly visible from the Observatory.  It is reached from Windy Ridge, and has been a favorite destination for Design Science Association of Portland hikes.  On September 2 Dr. Austin led an ICR hike to Loowit canyon, only to discover an avalanche had filled the entire lower end sometime in the last two years.  We continued west on Loowit Trail #216 until we could see into Step Canyon, but the trail skirts north around the canyon.  There is no spur into the canyon.  I enjoy watching Step Canyon from the Johnston Ridge Trail (see Hikes/Trails), but the canyon is still 4 miles away at the closest.  Again, a flight brings these canyons into excellent view.  However, the natural desire is to walk through them and look at that 100’ of solid rock that mud and pyroclastic flows ripped through in just five months.  Unfortunately, they are in the restricted area.

            Visibility Limited Due to Immensity.  Wonder #5, River System Formed in Nine Hours.  This wonder was created, March 19, 1982, as a result of the seventh explosive eruption that melted a large snow pack in the crater and caused a destructive mudflow.  The big avalanche had buried the drainages in the valley, especially the outlet of Spirit Lake, the Toutle River.  This mudflow opened new paths for water to the ocean.  In fact, it established an integrated drainage across much of the 23 square miles of the valley.  This newly formed drainage was typical of a well-established drainage with rills, gullies, ravines, and even canyons up to 100’ deep.  These drainages meandered and had branches.  Canyons had amphitheater-headed and gully-headed side canyons.  One can see these canyons as well as canyons created by later erosion from all the high points along Johnston Ridge.  One portion of a canyon has been called “The Little Grand Canyon of the Toutle” because it is a 1/40-scale model of the real Grand Canyon.  Many have asked where this is located.  Even Steve Austin had difficulty pointing it out to ICR President John Morris from the Johnston Ridge Trail.  Dr. Keith Swenson tells the story.  John said, “Steve, where is this 1/40 scale Grand Canyon?”  Steve looked and studied, then pointed toward a slight shadow in the plain and said, “There.”  John searched and searched and finally said, “Uhu.”  It is there, but it is nearly impossible to see from the ridge unless you know exactly where to stand and look.  We can only dream of taking a helicopter flight with Dr. Austin, landing on the plain, walking to the edge of the canyon and looking in, so give the following a try.

                Follow the Johnston Ridge Trail until you are directly south of the horseshoe bend in SR504.  You can see it from the trail.  Find the nearest vista (on the trail, of course) where you can see the near side of the Toutle Valley clearly.   This portion of the valley is the very west edge of the Pumice Plain.  Notice the major drainage coming from Step Canyon towards you.  You will see it turn to the west.  The turn is 2/3 of a mile south and 1000’ below you.  Once the drainage turns west, the next mile is marked  “Little Grand Canyon” on Dr. Austin’s slide set map.   As you can see, it is running parallel with the ridge, so you can only see the depression, not the bottom and especially not the width.  Be sure to review it over and over again in the video before you try to spot it from the ridge. Possibly one could look directly down it from Truman Trail, but I have not been on Truman Trail yet because it was closed when I was there last summer.

            Good luck.  Let me know what you find.                                          

Lloyd Anderson, 2/4/99; Rev. 5/9/00

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