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Puyallup Legend

According to the lore of the Puyallup tribes, long ago a huge landslide of rocks roared into the Columbia River near Cascade Locks and eventually formed a natural stone bridge that spanned the river. The bridge came to be called Tamanawas Bridge, or Bridge of the Gods. In the center of the arch burned the only fire in the world, so of course, the site was sacred to Native Americans. They came from north, south, west, and east to get embers for their own fires from the sacred fire.

A wrinkled old woman, Loowitlatkla ("Lady of Fire,") lived in the center of the arch, tending the fire. Loowit, as she was called, was so faithful in her task, and so kind to the Indians who came for fire, that she was noticed by the great chief Tyee Sahale. He had a gift he had given to very few others -- among them his sons Klickitat and Wyeast -- and he decided to offer this gift to Loowit as well. The gift he bestowed on Loowit was eternal life. But Loowit wept because she did not want to live forever as an old woman.


Sahale could not take back the gift, but he told Loowit he could grant her one wish. Her wish, to be young and beautiful, was granted, and the fame of her wondrous beauty spread far and wide.

One day Wyeast came from the land of the Multnomahs in the south to see Loowit. Just as he arrived at Tamanawas Bridge, his brother Klickitat came thundering down from the north. Both brothers fell in love with Loowit, but she could not choose between them. Klickitat and Wyeast had a tremendous fight. They burned villages. Whole forests disappeared in flames.

Sahale watched all of this fury and became very angry. He frowned. He smote Tamanawas Bridge, and it fell in the river where it still boils in angry protest. He smote the three lovers, too; but, even as he punished them, he loved them. So, where each lover fell, he raised up a mighty mountain. Because Loowit was beautiful her mountain (St. Helens) was a symmetrical cone, dazzling white. Wyeast's mountain (Mount Hood) still lifts his head in prideKlickitat, for all his rough ways, had a tender heart. As Mount Adams, he bends his head in sorrow, weeping to see the beautiful maiden Loowit wrapped in snow.

Transcribed Text from Oregon State University

Cultural History

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Cowlitz Legend

Mount St. Helens (lawe'latla') had two wives, Mount Ranier (taxo'ma) and Mount Adams (patu '). His Wives quarreled. They had lots of children. They fought and fought. Finally, Mount Ranier got the best of Mount Adams; she stepped on all of Mount Adams' children and killed them. She was the stronger. The children were in the way when they were fighting and so kept stepping on them. The two women and their husband turned into mountains.



Mount St. Helens was once surrounded by pristine old-growth forests, crystal clear lakes, and plentiful summer recreation spots. Many of these recreation activities are still popular today, like hiking Ape Caves or climbing to the summit of the volcano. In addition to day-use areas, Spirit Lake was home to several camps, Harry Truman's Mount St. Helens Lodge, and the Spirit Lake Ranger Station. After the 1980 eruption, the original shores of Spirit Lake were buried under hundreds of feet of ash and pumice.

Images courtesy of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Archive. Mount St. Helens Ranger District Recreation Guide


Ape Cave was discovered in 1947 by a logger named Lawrence Johnson. However, the cave was not explored until the early 1950's when a scout troop, led by Harry Reese, lowered a team of scouts down a 17-foot overhang to the cave floor. Leaving footprints where no one ever had, these explorers were able to travel through a pristine lava tube full of fragile formations. Ape Cave was named by the Scout Troop in honor of their sponsor, the St. Helens Apes. This local group was made up primarily of foresters. The sponsor’s name, St. Helens Apes, may have come from an old term used for foresters in the area, "brush apes," or from the legend of Bigfoot.


The bulk of the pre–1980 edifice of Mount St. Helens (above about 1,800 m or 6,000 ft) was constructed during the Spirit Lake Stage, which includes the most complex part of the eruptive history. Excellent preservation of deposits and numerous ages from radiocarbon and tree-ring dating provides considerable detail for this stage. Volcanism was intermittent, with lulls lasting from a few to about 600 years. As in earlier stages, Spirit Lake volcanism erupted mostly dacite, but significant amounts of basalt and andesite also erupted. The Spirit Lake Stage is subdivided into six eruptive periods—the Smith Creek, Pine Creek, Castle Creek, Sugar Bowl, Kalama, Goat Rocks, and the Modern period of activity that began in 1980. ​

On March 16, 1980, the first sign of activity at Mount St. Helens occurred as a series of small earthquakes. On March 27, after hundreds of additional earthquakes, the volcano produced its first eruption in over 100 years. Steam explosions blasted a 200- to 250-ft wide crater through the volcano's summit ice cap and covered the snow-clad southeast sector with dark ash.


Within a week the crater had grown to about 1,300 ft in diameter and two giant crack systems crossed the entire summit area. Eruptions occurred on average from about 1 per hour in March to about 1 per day by April 22 when the first period of activity ceased. Small eruptions resumed on May 7 and continued to May 17. By that time, more than 10,000 earthquakes had shaken the volcano and the north flank had grown outward about 450 ft to form a prominent bulge. From the start of the eruption, the bulge grew outward—nearly horizontally—at consistent rates of about 6.5 ft per day. Such dramatic deformation of the volcano was strong evidence that molten rock (magma) had risen high into the volcano. In fact, beneath the surficial bulge was a cryptodome that had intruded into the volcano's edifice, but had yet to erupt on the surface.

Text from USGS

Volcanic Eruptions

MAY 18, 1980

Debris Avalanche

With no immediate precursors, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake occurred at 8:32 AM on May 18, 1980, and was accompanied by a rapid series of events. At the same time as the earthquake, the volcano's northern bulge and summit slid away as a huge landslide—the largest debris avalanche on Earth in recorded history. A small, dark, ash-rich eruption plume rose directly from the base of the debris avalanche scarp, and another from the summit crater rose to about 650 ft high. The debris avalanche swept around and up ridges to the north, but most of it turned westward as far as 14 mi down the valley of the North Fork Toutle River and formed a hummocky deposit. The total avalanche volume is about 3.3 billion cubic yards, equivalent to 1 million Olympic swimming pools.

Lateral Blast

The landslide removed Mount St. Helens' northern flank, including part of the cryptodome that had grown inside the volcano. The cryptodome was a very hot and highly pressurized body of magma. Its removal resulted in immediate depressurization of the volcano's magmatic system and triggered powerful eruptions that blasted laterally through the sliding debris and removed the upper 1,000 ft of the cone. As this lateral blast of hot material overtook the debris avalanche; it accelerated to at least 300 mi per hr. Within a few minutes after onset, an eruption cloud of blast tephra began to rise from the former summit crater. Within less than 15 minutes it had reached a height of more than 15 mi or 80,000 ft.

The lateral blast devastated an area nearly 19 mi from west to east and more than 12.5 mi northward from the former summit. In an inner zone extending nearly 6 mi from the summit, virtually no trees remained of what was once dense forest. Just beyond this area, all standing trees were blown to the ground, and at the blast's outer limit, the remaining trees were thoroughly seared. The 230 sq mi devastated area was blanketed by a deposit of hot debris carried by the blast.

Plinian Eruption

Removal of the cryptodome and flank exposed the conduit of Mount St. Helens, resulting in a release of pressure on the top of the volcano's plumbing system. This caused a depressurization wave to propagate down the conduit to the volcano's magma storage region, allowing the pent-up magma to expand upward toward the vent opening. Less than an hour after the start of the eruption, this loss of conduit pressure initiated a Plinian eruption that sent a massive tephra plumehigh into the atmosphere. Beginning just after noon, swift pyroclastic flows poured out of the crater at 50 to 80 mi/hr and spread as far as 5 mi to the north creating the Pumice Plain.


The Plinian phase continued for 9 hours producing a high eruption column, numerous pyroclastic flows, and ash fall downwind of the eruption. Scientists estimate that the eruption reached its peak between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. When the Plinian phase was over, a new northward opening summit amphitheater 1.2 x 1.8 mi across was revealed. Over the course of the day, prevailing winds blew 520 million tons of ash eastward across the United States and caused complete darkness in Spokane, Washington, 250 mi from the volcano. Major ash falls occurred as far away as central Montana, and ash fell visibly as far eastward as the Great Plains of the Central United States, more than 930 mi away. The ash cloud spread across the U.S. in three days and circled the Earth in 15 days.

Over the course of the day, prevailing winds blew 520 million tons of ash eastward across the United States and caused complete darkness in Spokane, Washington, 250 mi from the volcano. Major ash falls occurred as far away as central Montana, and ash fell visibly as far eastward as the Great Plains of the Central United States, more than 930 mi away. The ash cloud spread across the U.S. in three days and circled the Earth in 15 days.


During the first few minutes of this eruption, parts of the blast cloud surged over the newly formed crater rim and down the west, south, and east sides of the volcano. The turbulently flowing hot rocks and gas quickly eroded and melted some of the snow and ice capping the volcano, creating surges of water that eroded and mixed with loose rock debris to form lahars. Several lahars poured down the volcano into river valleys, ripping trees from their roots and destroying roads and bridges.


The largest and most destructive lahar occurred in the North Fork Toutle and was formed by water (originally groundwater and melting blocks of glacier ice) escaping from inside the huge landslide deposit through most of the day. This powerful slurry eroded material from both the landslide deposit and channel of the North Fork Toutle River. Increased in size as it traveled downstream, the lahar destroyed bridges and homes, eventually flowing into the Cowlitz River. It reached maximum size at about midnight in the Cowlitz River, about 50 mi downstream from the volcano.

Text from USGS


The May 18, 1980, event was the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the contiguous United States. Approximately 57 people were killed directly from the blast and 200 houses, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of highway were destroyed; two people were killed indirectly in accidents that resulted from poor visibility, and two more suffered fatal heart attacks from shoveling ash. U.S. President Jimmy Carter surveyed the damage and said it looked more desolate than a moonscape. A film crew was dropped by helicopter on Mount St. Helens on May 23 to document the destruction. However, their compasses spun in circles and they quickly became lost. A second eruption occurred the next day, but the crew survived and were rescued two days after that. The eruption ejected more than 1 cubic mile of material. A quarter of that volume was fresh lava in the form of ash, pumice and volcanic bombs while the rest was fragmented, older rock. The removal of the north side of the mountain (13% of the cone's volume) reduced Mount St. Helens' height by about 1,280 feet and left a crater 1 to 2 miles wide and 2,100 feet deep with its north end open in a huge breach.


More than 4,000,000,000 board feet of timber was damaged or destroyed, mainly by the lateral blast. At least 25% of the destroyed timber was salvaged after September 1980. Downwind of the volcano, in areas of thick ash accumulation, many agricultural crops, such as wheat, apples, potatoes and alfalfa, were destroyed. As many as 1,500 elk and 5,000 deer were killed, and an estimated 12 million Chinook and Coho salmon fingerlings died when their hatcheries were destroyed. Another estimated 40,000 young salmon were lost when they swam through turbine blades of hydroelectric generators after reservoir levels were lowered along the Lewis River to accommodate possible mudflows and flood waters. In total Mount St. Helens released 24 megatons of thermal energy, 7 of which were a direct result of the blast. This is equivalent to 1,600 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Text from Wikipedia


The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and managed by the USDA Forest Service. The Monument was established by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on August 27, 1982, to designate 110,000 acres around Mount St Helens for research, recreation, and education. Within its boundaries, the area that was impacted by the cataclysmic eruption of May 18, 1980 is left to respond naturally to all environmental factors.


The Monument offers many seasonal activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, snow sport, and ranger led educational programs. Information about recreational and educational activities can be found via the Monument's website. A permit is required for any person who wishes to hike above 4,800 ft, which includes climbing to the summit of the volcano.

Text from USGS

A National Volcanic Monument


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Mt. Adams

Mt. Rainier/Yakima

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