The observatory and its viewing deck provide the views of the mountain. The observatory was named after David Johnston, a volcanologist camped at the site who died in the 1980 eruption after radioing in “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”
Spirit Lake visible from the observatory, was a popular tourist destination, with several camps and a number of lodges, including Spirit Lake Lodge and Mt. St. Helens Lodge, for many years until 1980, when nearby Mount St. Helens erupted. Thousands of trees were torn from the surrounding hillside and the lake became toxic, bubbling from the volcanic gases seeping up from the lakebed. The logs that were deposited there still remain and cover a vast portion of the water surface. The lake also became 10 percent smaller and much shallower. Even though it was devastated by Mount St. Helens, Spirit Lake has rebounded significantly and is on the way to recovery.
Pior to the 1980 eruption, the last major eruption of Mount St. Helens, was believed to have occurred about 1840, pumice cinders were thrown from the crater, covering the ground to a depth of 10 to 20 feet. Tree trunks, rotting away in this cemented substance, left what was known as “tree wells,” of which there were thousands on the south side of the lake. Many of the pebbles along the beach were of light pumice filled with air chambers. Some of them will float for five or more minutes before becoming saturated.
Spirit Lake was so named because Native Americans of the region, believers in ghosts, interpreted many weird natural sounds of the place as the haunting voices of departed spirits. One legend relates that a Native American brave, seeking food for his starving tribe, trailed a giant bull elk to the lake, only to be led by the phantom to his death in the water; the Native Americans are said to have believed that each year both of them appeared over the lake on a certain night. According to another legend, the region was the home of fabulous Siatcoes, outcasts from other tribes, to whom were attributed ventriloqual and supernatural powers.