First thing’s first: yes, this entry is named after a Taco Bell menu item. One of Taco Bell’s more revolutionary menu items, actually. But you knew that already.
The St. Helens blast zone has had a banner year for wildflowers, and I’ve been up a couple of times in the last few weeks to see them: once with Krista, from Johnston Ridge down to Loowit Falls, Windy Pass, and the Pumice Plain; and once with some friends, from Johnston Ridge up to the top of Coldwater Peak. This entry covers the first trip.
June 19: JRO to Loowit Falls, Windy Pass, and the Pumice Plain
We leave Portland just after six, and get to Johnston Ridge Observatory well before it opens. There are already a half dozen people ambling around, but it’s nice to get it largely to ourselves – at least, “to ourselves” relative to the throngs that will be here in a few hours.
The first couple miles of trail follow a long flat ridge east from JRO. From the first steps, the flowers are just amazing.
We follow the Boundary Trail east across Devil’s Elbow, then jut south on the Truman Trail toward the Langes Crest and Pumice Plain. It’s like leaving the highway for a backroad.
Just after the junction, there’s a beautifully thick grove of alders surrounding a small seasonal stream tumbling down from Harry’s Ridge. We stop for a bit to put on sunscreen.
Once onto the plain proper, views of Spirit Lake open to the north, and the whole place explodes with burning red paintbrush and bright blue lupine.
Along the several creeks that flow through the blast zone into Spirit Lake, large, thick groves of alders have sprung up to colonize the trail. Things sometimes get a little… crowded.
After oscillating between alders and ash for a few miles, we finally reach the outer edge of the Pumice Plain, and begin ascending into the blast crater.
We stop for lunch – KRock’s patented “Icy Hot Ham Rolls” (don’t ask) – at Loowit Falls, a beautiful, dusty waterfall that flows straight out of the breach. It’s the closest you can get to the actual crater, and I spend a while on my tip toes, trying to see in.
From the falls, we follow the Loowit Trail east, up and down canyons cut by rushing creeks through the dusty ash and pumice. And there are flowers again, but they’re smaller – mostly lupine, short as suburban grass, carpeting the way.
The whole thing is just magnificent.
Eventually the trail veers south, toward Windy Pass and the Plains of Abraham, and we turn around for the day, north toward Windy Ridge, then back east, along the southern shore of Spirit Lake.
We join an old road that runs from the ridge down into the Pumice Plain. It’s lined by the most vivid flowers we’ve seen all day – paintbrush and lupine and a million smaller things I can’t name.
Eventually we rejoin our old path, and pass through the Pumice Plain up toward Harry’s Ridge. The creeks are flowing a little higher now, in the faltering late afternoon light.
We stop for a long evening break in the last alder grove, sit down in the middle of the trail with beer and ice tea and a snack for the last push.
In the shade, surrounded by flowers, it’s easy to imagine spending the night here. There are clear spots among the trees. The ash is so soft we could probably get by without pads, and it’s been such a warm day, we wouldn’t really need a tent…
But of course it’s Sunday and we have to get home, so we pull ourselves away, and meander back across Devil’s Elbow, to the long ridge that leads the way.