What really sets us apart though is the Cascade range which divides our state in half (East and West). Active volcanoes run up and down this range - Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Baker. They are all active volcanoes. While sleepy, they sometimes wake up.
In 1980 Mt. St Helens woke up with a fury. My mom was in Onalaska, a sleepy little town a couple hours south of Seattle, with me at her parents (my grandparents). She was also very pregnant with my little brother. She was leaving my father's mom's house and driving back to her parent's house when she noticed people standing outside their houses and staring up at the sky. She just about freaked out when she looked behind her and saw this...
Remember, this was still the time of the Cold War, and that does look an awful lot like a mushroom cloud. She seriously thought it might be a nuke. Her car radio was out - just static - so she was freaked until she got to her parent's house and found out it was the mountain.
Early in the morning on May 18, 1980, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake was recorded. The earthquake shook the mountain and the great force of the shaking led to an instant escape of very hot ground water and pressure. As the hot water escaped it melted the snow and ice and blew off most of the north face of the summit! The massive explosion and force of all the pent up gases and pressure gave way to one of the largest recorded landslides in U.S. history. The exploding steam that came out of the mountain added water to the avalanche which increased it's speed. As it traveled down the mountain, it took out entire trees and pretty much anything esle in its path. It had the consistency of wet concrete because of all of the debris it picked up, making this landslide very destructive. It filled the valley below with it's thick "concrete" mesh of ash, water and other pyroclastic debris. The avalanche caused a terrible and devastating flood and even clogged up the Columbia river making navigation almost impossible to boats and ships. U of O
I was two years old. I don't remember specifics, but I do remember it being very dark when it shouldn't have been. And I remember having nightmares about lava flowing and me floating on it. Come on, I was only two.
Prior to the eruption, St. Helens had been a beautiful towering mountain (see the first photo above). Afterward it was a desolate and wasted landscape. Everything was just gone.
We went camping and horseback riding on the mountain a few years ago. You can still see the trees laying down like that - like toothpicks. My grandpa told me stories of some friends who got caught in the ash and had to wade through several feet of hot mud, getting severely burned, and who are lucky to be alive today. I cannot even comprehend the fear.
Slowly life does return to even the most devastated areas. Our planet is ever changing, always adapting, and incredibly resilient. I don't believe that there's too much we can do to affect that.
On trips to Onalaska today, on very clear days, we can see the beauty that remains of this volcano. My sister in law has hiked it - just last year. But it is not completely asleep. And neither are the other mountains in this chain, which could also wake up at any time.