Ohanapecosh Campground to Seaquest SP, Silver Lake, OR
Saturday, September 30, 2006 … 103 Camper Miles – Total 8,806
High 40s, rising to mid-60s, clear and sunny
Today we headed down to see the devastation from the explosion of Mt. St. Helens. We’re weren’t sure what to expect since it’s been quite a few years since the big event and we’d heard that the area is recovering quickly. Our first stop was at the state-run Silver Lake Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center just east of I-5 on the Spirit Lake Highway, signed as OR-504. You’re still about 45 miles from the end of the road near the crater. This particular visitor center is one of many run by either the state, the Weyerhaeuser Corp., the National Park Service or others. Each tells a different aspect of the story of the volcano and it’s environs. We watched the film and took in the exhibits. They gave us a grounding to help us understand what we should see in the miles ahead.
We left the camper in the center’s parking lot and drove toward the crater area. We should mention that a large part of OR-504 had to be newly constructed and completely rerouted because the old road into the area was buried deep below current land levels. Much of the route runs through Weyerhaeuser-owned forest. Parts that were killed by the eruption have been replanted with a mix of Noble fir and Douglas fir so the hillsides are green and seem to be part of the normal timber management process. However, signs at a viewpoint near a newly constructed bridge show what the forest looked like shortly after the blast and before salvage logging began. There was a very sharp line delineating surviving trees from others that were killed from the intense heat of the blast.
Our next stop was at the NPS Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, just inside the park, proper. Here, the NPS is allowing the landscape to recover by natural processes. It seems that Mt. St. Helens is the first place in the world where scientists have been able to study the primary processes that happen in an area devastated by the intense heat of a volcanic eruption. Here, too, the mountain is right in front of you.
We listened while a ranger gave an excellent talk about the mountain, the eruption and the process of biologic succession. He had lived in the area of the park long before and during the time when the explosion occurred. He vividly described how the hillside where the Visitor Center stands is actually covered to a depth of 6 – 8 feet with basketball-sized rocks that were expelled from the crater at speeds of several hundred miles per hour. The rocks along with temperatures in excess of 600 degrees completely destroyed life in the area. Today, red alder turns out to be very important in the plant succession process in that, as a pioneer species, it now covers many parts of the valley. It is clear, however, that the area has barely begun to recover from the blast. Hillsides are still barren for miles and miles.
Johnston Ridge Observatory is the last visitor center and marks the end of the road. Here we listened to another ranger talk, this one recounting the events and continuing process of the current eruption. It is also here that you get the best impression of the devastation of the explosion and how little has changed in much of the landscape.
Don’t you believe it if you hear that there’s not much to see at Mt. St. Helens anymore because the mountain is largely recovered. Recovered? Not by a long shot! It is an amazing sight and will continue to be so for lifetimes to come.
We headed back to our abandoned camper and hauled it across the road to Seaquest SP where we had a pleasant evening and a dinner of a veggie omelet and a delicious salad.
Seaquest SP to Dave & Sharron Reichle Home, Lake Oswego, OR
Sunday, September 1, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 8,806
Low 50s to begin day, overcast, then partly cloudy, high 60s
We decided, today, to also explore the south side of Mt. St. Helens, the side away from the eruption. We drove to Woodland and left the camper at the visitor center there. We then drove OR-503 to access the south-side areas. Our first stop was at Lava Canyon. Here, mud flow from the eruption scoured away existing soil in a valley to reveal two older layers of lava flows. They were different in color and texture and defined a beautiful canyon with several waterfalls.
Next was the Trail of Two Forests. The path through this lushly forested area passes many seemingly inexplicable vertical holes in the rocky soil as well as many horizontal depressions and even tunnels. It turns out that an ancient lava flow happened here, entombing thousands of trees in lava and then hardening around them. The trees eventually decayed leaving the vertical holes where there were standing trees or horizontal holes if they had fallen before the lava flowed. There was even an “L”-shaped tunnel formed by two trees that fell at 90 degree angles from each other that visitors were invited to crawl through. We descended the ladder to look inside. Crawl through, though? NOT!
We also stopped to walk out over a field of old lava-flow that has yet to reforest and to look at the Kalama Horse campsites where each site is provided with individual corrals.
Finally, we drove to the Portland area, Lake Oswego actually, to visit Dave and Sharron Reichle and their daughters, Isabella and Ji. We admired their beautiful, 1930s home above the lake and caught up on events. Afterwards we headed to downtown Portland for dinner at one of their favorite brew-pubs, an after-dinner walk around the area and for gelato for dessert. Divine!
Monday, October 2, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 8,806
Overcast early but cleared and got to high 60s
This was our first relaxing morning for quite a while. We sat Ji while Dave headed to work and Sharron took Isabella to school. Later, it was off for his-and-hers haircuts, a stop at the local library for WiFi access and grocery shopping for dinner. Bill made one of his patented veggie sir-frys while Dave grilled fresh wild salmon glazed with Sharron’s special dill sauce. We finished the day with late evening talk after the girls headed off to bed.
Tuesday, October 3, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 8,806
Overcast most of day, low 60s
Our string of sunny days seems to be at an end. It didn’t really matter since we don’t have a mountain peak to try to see, today. Instead, we headed out to do some chores. First was a stop at the Verizon store. Bill’s phone quit and we had one that Dad gave us activated to replace it. Then, we just HAD to stop at the local Columbia sportswear outlet. Fortunately for our load carrying capacity, however, we found little of interest to us.
We spent most of the rest of the day driving the Columbia River gorge and returning via the Mt. Hood loop. We stopped at Multnomah Falls on historic Rt 30 for photos of one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oregon. Then it was off to the Bonneville Dam and its fish ladder and fish hatchery. The ladder was impressive.
One of the first and largest such ladders in the country, it allows salmon to migrate upstream to spawn. While it was past peak migration, we still saw many fish heading up the ladder through the observation windows in the visitor center. Herman the Sturgeon, a real giant, and beautiful rainbow trout were the star attractions at the hatchery.
Next was the town of Hood River which claims to be the world’s wind surfing capital. Not today, however, since it was a chilly fall weekday with almost no breeze. There were no sails to be seen on the river. One hopeful arrived in a camper with boards tied to the back as we left the parking lot.
The lower part of the drive to Mt. Hood passes through a lush area where there are many orchards with stands along the road. We stopped at Pearls for a selection of fruit. Nearing the top of the drive, we were disappointed that Mt. Hood was shrouded in fog. We could see, though, that the peak was covered with snow. We made a short stop at the settlement of Government Camp. We’d been here once before in the winter. The contrast between this time of year, with no snow, was quite unlike what we saw with, perhaps, ten feet of snow during our earlier visit.
Back in Lake Oswego we stopped for a visit at the home of Carol & Dave Radich whom we’d met at Glacier NP. It seemed amazing that they happened to live just across the “lake” in Lake Oswego, less than a mile as the crow flies from Dave & Sharron’s. We renewed our acquaintance, shared stories and were served a delicious grilled salmon dinner. Nice folks … we hope to see them again, sometime!