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Road to volcano is open again

After 13 years, Mount St. Helens hides no more.

A new spur highway off Interstate 5 between Portland, Ore., and Seattle now takes motorists into the 1980 blast zone _ to within eight miles of the dozing volcano.

Now, it is possible to see firsthand the eerie moonscape of devastation that resulted from the explosion on May 18, 1980, and also to behold the exuberant rebound of nature as it regains footholds in the ash and mud, amid the charred remnants of countless millions of trees.

Until this spring, Mount St. Helens had been visible only from the air, from distant highways or after a difficult drive over U.S. Forest Service roads. The visitor center off of the I-5 highway was little more than a tease compared to the wonders that lay hidden over the ridgeline.

But plowing a pathway to this restless mountain has not been easy.

At a cost of $130-million, the state of Washington has finally rebuilt 30 miles of state Highway 504 destroyed by the eruption. The new highway heads east from Interstate 5 at Castle Rock, about an hour's drive north of Portland. It has been moved higher on the slopes of hills in an attempt to shield it from future ash flows down the valley of the Toutle River.

At the end of the new road is the just-dedicated and architecturally breathtaking Coldwater Ridge visitor and interpretive center. Operated by the Forest Service, the $11.5-million facility is the starting point for a network of gentle paths and trails through the charred landscape.