Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Columbia River Drive and Mount St. Helens

After taking care of the oil change, blood test and dentist appointment, we set out to drive the Historic Columbia River again. We were hoping for fewer people since it was Monday and by rights people should be back to work and kids back to school. We were right for the most part. Our first stop was a viewpoint we missed on our drive through on Sunday. It was posted as the Portland Women's Forum and we assumed (incorrectly) that it was a conference center. It is a state park that has a beautiful view of the Columbia River Gorge.

From the state park we drove to Vista House in the Crown Point State Park. This is 733 ft above the Columbia River and the 1916 building is still in excellent shape. The view was supposed to be for 30 miles but there was some haze in the distance so visibility was probably reduced. Regardless, the view was lovely and the crowd much reduced.

Then it was on to the waterfall area. Our first waterfall stop was at Latourel Falls. This falls was visible from the road and represents a "plunge" type of falls. It drops straight down 249 ft and we're still seeing the effects of snow melt. The road to Larch Mountain, which overlooks everything is still closed due to snow. Hard to believe since it was in low 80's at our elevation.

Shortly after Latourel, we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. This was not along the road and the signs indicated it was 2/3 mi round trip so we decided to hoof it. When the macadam ended and the gravel path started downward, we started to worry. But 2/3 mile isn't that far. So down we went and then up we went to the viewing station. Bridal Veil Falls is a "tier" falls with 3 sections. It was beautiful but the mist created uncomfortable humidity. Coupled with the walk back up the path, we worked up quite a sweat till we reached the van.

The biggest falls, Multnomah Falls, was next. this one was also along the road with just a short stroll from the parking lot to the falls. It has a fall of 542 feet for the upper falls and then another 69 feet for the lower section for a total of 620 feet. Multnomah is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. It is listed as a "plunge" falls but since it has two tiers, I would classify it with Bridal Veil. But, then, I don't know much about waterfalls.

The Bonneville Dam was on our list of "to-dos" but we entered the parking area at 4:55 pm and the sign said open 9 am - 5 pm. Bad timing! We had hoped to see the fish ladders that enable the salmon to pass upstream. But instead we opted to visit the fish hatchery at the same site (open til dusk). This hatchery produces salmon, trout and sturgeon. We didn't realize white sturgeon reached such lengths and that they were that ugly. The trout were also huge and visitors were feeding them causing the water to boil with trout about 18 inches long.

We returned to Troutdale where we planned to have dinner at Tad's Chicken and Dumplings. This is a locally owned restaurant that we were told had great food. Of course they specialize in Chicken and Dumplings. The dinner came with a veggie appetizer, salad and country style green beans (ham and beans). Each dinner was served in a footed dish with two dumplings the size of softballs and about 1/2 a boneless chicken, plus gravy. It was delicious but we should have shared one meal. We will be revisiting that dinner tomorrow night! For dessert I had marionberry cobbler. It too was delicious and had such a unique taste. Yum Yum!

Today (Wednesday) we decided to visit Mount St. Helens. It was about a 90 min drive so we set out with our lunch packed. The skies were very overcast and we expected it to pour at any minute. Our crossing into Washington state was uneventful - not even a welcome sign. That's the first state we passed through that didn't welcome travelers. Hmmmm. By the way, Oregon welcomed us back with open arms at the end of the day.

Weyerhauser owns most of the land around Mount St. Helens and has been a significant presence there since the eruption. We drove through miles of Douglas fir, loblolly pine and noble fir that had been replanted. Some of the plantings had been destroyed in the 1980 eruption and replanted again. Our first stop was at the Forestry Learning Center (sponsored by Weyerhauser, of course). Unfortunately the displays are only open on weekends but the views were fantastic. The elk viewing area didn't reveal any elk during our first stop.

The next leg of the journey wound around the mountain with views of the volcano coming into sight before disappearing at the next turn. The valley below had a small river - the Toutle River. It is rather small but the valley has a wide swath of gray material - ash and mud from the eruption.

Along with 4 buses of school children, we arrived at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, directly across from the face of the volcano. The site was named for the US Geological Survey scientist that was making observations on this ridge when the volcano erupted. He was one of the people who died due to the blast. The center has several interesting displays and a great film about the eruption and devastation in the area. The pictures of before and after are amazing - this is, of course, an after shot. It's hard to imagine the side of the mountain blowing out the way it did. It is possible to hike to the rim but we decided to leave that for the younger crowd. We were close enough.

It is hard to describe the mountains around Mount St. Helens as they appear at the present time. And photographs do no do justice. The sides of the mountains are a strange gray-brown with very little green to be seen. The plan is to allow natural regeneration to occur but it is happening so slowly. A ranger did tell us that it would be brighter in about 3 weeks when the wildflowers begin to bloom.

Some of the mountainsides farther from the volcano still have fallen timber lying on the ground. We learned at the Johnston observation area that Weyerhauser had recovered tremendous amounts of timber during the 2-3 years after the blast. But it is still possible to see some logs and upturned roots in some of the replanted areas. It is hard to imagine the force of the blast and the aftermath. I don't remember any ash reaching us in PA but one of our neighbors in RV park told me his pool in Alabama had a layer of ash on the water.

On a lighter note, when we fueled the van yesterday in Washington we paid $2.79/gal. The good news is diesel fuel is $2.59/gal - finally cheaper than regular gasoline. Also, we did pass through Big Foot Country. As thick as the woods are around here, we're sure there were creatures watching us! Back to the RV and lock the doors.


Charlene said...

I am so impressed by everything that you are seeing. The photos with water are particularly stunning whether it is the falls, the Pacific, or a stream. We also get a kick out of the signs you capture. We have a few of those ourselves. We saw Libby last weekend. She was just doing fine. Ann was terrific in her recital and we were all quite impressed by her performance. I'll attach a photo of her garb on your regular email site. We are off for our trip to NH this weekend and will be there till the 11th. Always fun to visit Tamworth and North Conway. We were going to camp, but they are doing some reconstruction at the park and our site was closed. Rather than change to a non-waterview site, we were given the option of cancelling without penalty. So we did, and now we are staying at the Hampton Inn in North Conway instead. Since the ave overnight temp has been in the 40's and it is black fly season, we think we made the best decision. So much less to pack! Continue sharing your travel news! Love, Charlene

Lewis and Clark Trail said...

What an excellent set of photos! I just referred to this page in my blog, as readers should be interested. Doug

Arun said...

The bridge and the waterfall look gorgeous. Is the fish in the picture sturgeon?

Rayanne said...

Fish is a white sturgeon in the tank at the Bonneville Hatchery. Thanks for the complement on the photos. This area is beautiful so it is easy to get nice pics.