Maybe we blew it by not spotting this photo a week ago, on the actual anniversary of the eruption of Washington’s Mount St. Helens, but social media has taught us that some things are just too good not to share, no matter the time peg.
It is a holiday weekend after all, and plenty of folks are sure to head out into nature to mark the unofficial beginning of the summer season. And certainly some will visit the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument — the 110,000-acre destination south of Seattle where the mountain blew its top on May 18, 1980.
So, check out this amazing image making the rounds on Facebook:
We spotted the photo in the news feed of Seattle photographer Joshua Trujillo, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer vet with ties to some of us here at GeekWire.
Trujillo shared the image by simply saying, “Wow!” — and the longtime photo journalist has seen a lot of images, including many of the historic eruption. Fellow P-I photo vet Grant Haller took one of the more iconic images when he was on assignment for the newspaper 37 years ago. Haller talks about getting that shot in this YouTube video.
The photo being shared on Facebook this week gives us a ground-level view of massive tower of smoke and ash during the eruption. Down what might be a logging road, the viewer’s eye is directed to the mountain by evergreen trees framing either side of the picture. And in the foreground, we get a wonderful timestamp of sorts with a 1980s-era orange Ford Pinto parked at an angle on the road. The car is towing a dirt bike via some sort of odd contraption off the rear bumper.
Michael S. Keys posted the image and shared a string of messages he received from a man named Steve Firth, which provide some good insight into how the photograph came to be. The messages are in the photo comments, and retyped as one here:
“Hi Michael, you don’t know me but my daughter saw your post of Mt. St. Helens blowing and showed it to me because she recognized it. That Pinto and dirt bike belonged to a good friend of mine and when he stopped to turn around, he took this picture. He told me that there was lightning bolts shooting out of the smoke but he didn’t have the right filter on his camera to capture them at that moment. The picture could have been even more amazing. It was used on the TV news and used to be on the cover of Mt. St. Helens brochure at the Johnston Observatory / visitor center. He gave me an original 8×10 copy of it although it looked like he was a good distance away from the blast, he barely made it out of there alive. Had the blast came more in his direction he would have died in seconds. Sometime later he returned and photographed a burned-out pickup with a horse trailer attached to it. He told me he had talked to them that day and said they never made it out. He is a freelance photographer so he took some amazing pictures of the aftermath as well. Anyhow, I thought I’d let you know a bit more about that fabulous picture. Take care, Steve.”
The eruption claimed the lives of 57 people, including a less-fortunate 27-year-old photojournalist named Reid Blackburn. The Columbian newspaper out of Vancouver, Wash., wrote about a roll of Blackburn’s unprocessed film of St. Helens, which was developed 33 years after his death.
In the age of camera-equipped smartphones and social media, it’s not hard to imagine how many still images and videos would instantly flood the internet if such an eruption were to happen today. If you’re new to the area, it’s worth noting that St. Helens is still an active volcano, as are others in the Cascade Range — Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Baker and Glacier Peak.