Johnston Ridge Observatory · Mt. St. Helens National Monument · Gifford Pinchot National Forest · Toutle · Washington · USA
Save for a few frustratingly rare exceptions, I've got majorly bad cloud juju. I mean storpendously bad. So bad, I had to make up an adverb for it. If cloud juju were hemorrhoids, I'd be under the knife of a proctologist by now. I recently paid my first visit to the amazing Johnston Ridge Observatory (I know, pretty pathetic for a guy who's essentially lived within eyeshot of Mt. St. Helens most of his life) to take in dramatic front-row views of the northern slope's gaping and intimidating maw, the aftermath of the May 18, 1980, blast that left 57 dead in its wake and me with mouth agape as I sat atop our old yellow 1976 Volkswagen Rabbit gazing up at the foreboding column of dark ash that threatened to smite the heavens.
On this day, we rambled up to Harry's Ridge (named after volcanologist Harry Glicken and the posthumously famous old man of the mountain Harry Truman) and were blessed to have a little wind to keep us fairly cool along the completely exposed trail. As the day progressed, some visually distracting clouds behind the blown summit finally gave way to a couple of charming puffs and wisps that suggested an epic sunset was in store for us. But I've also had 10 million carrots dangled enticingly in front of me by the previously trustworthy Ed McMahon, and that never amounted to anything other than 15 cents in lost postage (remember that??!) and a 2-year discount subscription to Sock Puppet Monthly.
So back to the observatory we went, and just before sunset the charming clouds that I mentioned earlier went all Chucky-The-Doll on me. In the span of less than 15 minutes the entire upper half of the mountain was veiled behind a head of clouds so thick it would've made Cheech and Chong weak in the knees. I was lucky, then, to have had the subconscious foresight 20 minutes earlier to snap the series of photos that comprise this image from the top of the observatory's viewpoint, looking opposite the mountain and back upon the parking lot that marks the terminus of the sinuous Spirit Lake Highway. The reflective SUV roof mirroring the sunstar was a either a bonus or the cloud gods throwing me a bone. Beats a junk magazine subscription, I guess.