I took this picture in the fall of 2006, at an overlook on 504 just over a mile due west of Coldwater Lake. Here's where I took the photo (see the map centered on the overlook).
My first visit to Mt St Helens was in the late spring of 1992. I had purchased a '91 Corvette convertible earlier in the year and had driven around Mt Rainier, enjoying the day, when I came to the sign off of Hwy 12 that said "Mt St Helens" and decided to go take a look. I followed the road south through the trees as it rose above the valley floor, and then as I crossed a ridge the trees disappeared. To be more exact, I left the green forest and came to an area where there were trees... blown down like the hand of God had swept them away from the volcano. Of course, there was no sign of life, the ground was grey and desolate. I followed the road up to the Windy Ridge viewpoint, where the pavement ended, and got out to look at the open crater that gaped at me from less than four miles away. To say the sight was awful is to use 'awful' in its original sense... one is filled with a sense of absolute awe at the devastation. Looking left and right, there are tens upon tens of thousands of dead trees, stripped of their limbs by the blast, the fallen trunks pointing outward from the crater. Spirit Lake, below, has a raft of logs covering a large portion of the surface.
I went to Windy Ridge once more, back around 2003, and happened to get there near sunset on a summer day. It was just myself and my sister, visiting from London, and she was as awestruck as I was. Even though it had been more than a decade since my last visit, not much had changed, in terms of nature restoring itself.
The picture above was taken after an abortive trip to Castle Lake (you can see the lake to the left of the volcano). To get there, you have to drive 20 miles off of the nearest paved road, and that puts you on a ridge about 2,000 feet above the lake. Going straight down is very steep with knee-high scrub. I tried to go there on a Saturday afternoon, got down to the end of the pavement just before sunset, and ended up getting lost and turned around in the middle of the night so I slept in my truck. I woke up at dawn Sunday to hear the sound of bugling elk. With daylight the chance to actually see where I was, I was able to deal with locked gates and finally made it to the ridge above the lake around noon... too late to hike down and fish.
I haven't had the chance to go back, but plan to go back in 2009. It will be a 3-day trip, and I'll bring a friend and my tri-band HT (ham radio). Cell phones don't work out there, and it's big country... a broken leg without a way to call for help would most likely mean death.