To Get to Boston From Here, There are Volcanoes

The alarm went off at 2:30 am on the June morning my youngest son and I began our trip to Boston. We were in the car by 3:15am, barreling up the deserted highway in the dark.

Ticketing in a small airport is fairly easy, long lines aside. There’s only the one gate here…although now that I think about it, with the recent airport remodel there must be six or seven gates now at our local airport.

All doors at the six or seven gates pass through to the outside, where you walk the tarmac to ladder trucks rising up to the body of the plane. In our case, we passed several other prop jobs, er, turbo-prop engine airplanes, before reaching our own commuter plane.

Dawn was a thin sliver of reddish-gold atop the ridges to the east when son and I boarded — our seats were right in the middle of the plane.

Mountains and early morning views were blocked by the turboprop reduction gear outside our window.

There are a lot of volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, all along the Cascade Range

In the seat ahead of us, a young, highly pierced couple was making out passionately, their heads drawn together right in the space between their backrests, offering us a far-too-close view of tangled tongues and lips, noses and metal bits.

I thought it a little early for voyeurism, or their exhibitionism, while my then 15 year-old son wondered a little too loudly if they were going to have sex right there like he’d read happens on planes sometimes. The couple obviously heard as they pulled apart, smirked at each other, and retreated to their own seats — for awhile. I closed my eyes.

There was only enough time for the safety talk, lift-off, and some tea, juice and crackers served before the pilot let us know we were descending again. Dawn had risen while we flew north, high over the non-visible volcanic peaks of the southern Cascade ridges. By the time we landed in Portland, Oregon, it was around 6:30am.

There was a brief moment nearing the Columbia River (the thin, pale grey stripe visible below) where a glimpse of the new day was possible through the spinning propeller.

After a quick breakfast in the terminal, we dashed off to board the jet that would take us across country to our favorite city — Boston, Massachusetts. I’ve flown a lot in my adult life, but not for a long time; I was internally giddy and nervous while attempting an external savoir-faire for my son.

As we settled in our seats and the plane began its rolling to the runway, I expected the flight would be similar to most of the other flights I’ve taken: look out the window a bit while staring at nothing, really, read a bit, and repeat until arriving at the chosen destination.

Within minutes of this take off, though, a quick glance through the window to the north changed any expectations I might have had. The view outside was extraordinary.

I grabbed my camera and began taking multiple shots, ones I have perused over and over since that trip, ones that I still marvel over, even though the geography viewed has long been a familiar sight.

The first glimpse — looking north to Washington state, where only volcanic peaks rise above cloud cover that mostly hides the lower ridges.

It was this combination of cloud cover, blue sky, and soaring peaks peeking through, that created such an unusual sight to me that day.

In the distance is Mount Rainier, with Mount St. Helens — famous for blowing her top thirty years ago in a catastrophic eruption — in the foreground. Mount St. Helens is by far the most active (in the past 10,000 years) and youngest volcano in the Cascade Range.

It’s easy to forget it was June when looking at these peaks.

A closer view of the southern flank of Mount St. Helens with visible lahar (volcanic mudflow) trails from the 1980 eruption. It was the deadliest eruption in U.S. history with the largest ever recorded debris avalanche, due to the north face collapse. Over 230 miles of vegetation and buildings were flattened, 185 miles of highway damaged or destroyed — 57 people were killed.

It is worth looking at further images of the 1980 eruption if interested — the collapsed north face, not visible here, is very dramatic, as are images of the eruption’s miles-high ash plumes.

Two shots of Mount Rainier, the massive volcano that dominates the views from Tacoma and Seattle, Washington. By this time in the flight, the low clouds were beginning to thin more, showing a few lower, tree-lined ridges.

Mount Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world — with highly populated areas nearby, its large amount of glacial ice, and the potential for widespread, devastating lahars.

As the plane continued east, beautiful Mount Adams, also in Washington, came into view.

The visible peak across the airplane aisle looking south would be Mount Hood in Oregon, 50 miles east of Portland — but it wasn’t ever visible to me.

Mount Adams’ snow-covered peak appears to float over the now more-visible landscape with majestic Mount Rainier beyond.

The snow-filled cone is so crisply distinct here, I love this shot. Most of its 12 named glaciers are on the north flank, only a couple smaller ones visible here on the southern side.

This photo was taken while twisting back toward the west in my cramped airline seat for a last glimpse (for awhile) of our beautiful volcanic neighborhood.


Hours ahead, after closing my eyes and nodding off for awhile, I woke up after a nudge from my son.

“Look! We’re getting close to landing in Boston,” he said excitedly…well, excitedly for him. I opened my eyes and turned once again toward the airplane window, rather excited myself to catch my first view of the city.

The difference from our neck of the woods was startling.

Our long-awaited vacation, however, was grand.