Wandering Around Washington State

So it’s been a bit rainy here in the PNW. That’s my headline. Our laundry isn’t so much dirty as it is damp. But we’ve seen some cool stuff in the last week or so as we’ve hovered near Seattle knowing we’d have to return for some follow up errands.

Heading east toward Yakima and Walla Walla, we checked out the large small town of Ellensburg. It was the Friday before Halloween and businesses were handing out candy. You could get a real feel for the community spirit in this town as nearly every IMG_2903business in their large district was participating. The ROTC class from the local high school served as safety patrol (and handed out candy themselves.) They have a large county historical museum where I tried to learn how to pronounce the county name-Kittitas. I also learned there the town’s name used to be spelled Ellensburgh, but in 1890 The US Board of Geographic Names made every town with a “burgh” drop the “h” (apparently Pittsburgh rebelled.)

We thought it wise to park ourselves for the evening at a winery via Harvest Host, given Washington’s excellent wine scene. We picked White Heron Cellars partially because it is a bit north of where we were headed and would allow us to see a different part of the region, and partially because it was in Quincy, WA and I have a friend named Quincy! See hoIMG_2936w frivolous one can be on a year long trip? Indeed White Heron was beautifully situated on the Columbia River, though we had to take a circuitous route there. The winds were high and Cameron the proprietor said that there had been a fire previously this year adjacent to I-90 and trucks (and trailers???) just couldn’t travel safely–too many tumbleweeds. We loved all their wine and bought not one but two bottles, a red (a blend, Mariposa) and a white (Roussane). The next morning #visitorkitty got as far inside (which is to say just to the front step) of the Airstream as any kitty has thus far.

From there we headed to Walla Walla. When Ben and I got married, we had to look around for an officiant. A fortuitous serious of events led us to Rev. Jack Mathison – a World War II vet and otherwise amazing person who has remained a family friend. Jack trained as a navigator on the B-24 Liberator in Walla Walla, and we were headed there to see what we could see and share with him.

The excellent Ft. Walla Walla Museum had the goods. When we sent Jack some of these pictures, he replied saying he had spent some memorable evenings at the Marcus Whitman Hotel Café, and it’s where he started and perfected his Mark Twain yell:  “Mark .. TWAIN!”  Love him.

Jack told us about preprinted messages home like the one in the bottom of this pic. Easier to get past the censors! And it did take a while to get them home after the war had ended.

Jack told us about preprinted messages home like the one in the bottom of this pic. Easier to get past the censors! And for various reasons it took a while to get the troops home after the war ended. (For his part, Jack’s return home was delayed at least a month, as he had to spend time “fattening up” at Camp Lucky Strike in Europe following his liberation from a German POW camp, where he spent a hungry year after his B-24 was shot down.)

Walla Walla is deep into Lewis & Clark country as well. A local guidebook indicates that most of the places they camped or referenced were now hidden away under lakes and reservoirs created by the dams in the Columbia River. Oh what L & C would have done for a leisurely stroll across a lake! Of course the ensuing settlers and railroad and mining led the US government to negotiate, push, provoke, swindle and otherwise take land from the many Cascades Indian tribes, including the Walla Walla. Chief Peopeomoxmox, seen below left, actually stood up to the territorial governor and won some concessions in 1855; he secured additional lands, allowing more tribes to stay on at least some of their home lands (see the three reservations below, i.e. rather than one or two). In the scheme of things it was a small victory, but it stuck with me.


Walla Walla is at the center of the lands of several Cascades tribes

Walla Walla has become quite the wine-focused destination in the last 10-15 years. We spent Halloween evening there – in the Elks parking lot bless their hearts – and it rained. Such a bummer for the kids! We loved the scenes of Walla Walla people and culture over time depicted in “Windows on the Past” – the carefully preserved Odd Fellows Temple sandstone façade. Did you know Adam West (Batman!) grew up here?! Pop culture is important to trace as well.


After Walla Walla, we headed toward the Columbia Gorge town of The Dalles (still can’t pronounce it.) We visited the excellent Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and the folks there were kind enough to let us park and stay overnight in their lot. The area along the river there is also a trailhead for area walking/biking trails and there were lots of locals coming and going to make use of them. The staff person who oriented us to the exhibits, knowing we only had a short time, suggested we take a close look at the basket exhibit. She said of course you will see baskets at other museums, but in this exhibit she felt like she really learned and was surprised by some of their uses. (For example, upper right, those baskets were used as hats!)


Scenes inside and out of the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center

The next morning we did a quick hit on Hood River – daylight savings time had ended and we for oIMG_3037nce were up and out early – almost too early for any stores to be open. But we did see Hood River is home to one of our IMG_3039favorite beers (Full Sail, left).

And I browsed their local book store and saw this on sale – photographs taken by the excellent Molly Peterson, a good friend and former colleague of my good friend Pam. Kind of cool to see it out here in the wild! Any food picture taking tips I have learned from Pam, Pam has learned from Molly, so thank you Molly! And with that, I will leave you with a potato encrusted red snapper, which I believe I made in the enchanted forest adjacent to Mt. Rainier last week. Pam’s tip to me (and I assume Molly’s to her) is to zoom in, give your picture a focus, which I did below for the picture on the right.

To test my theory, I asked Grier, who is sitting next to me, which of the pics was more interesting/engaging and she said the right one BUT she noted she is not sure she can tell what the food itself is (eg fish, potato, etc). GooFullSizeRenderd feedback for next time!!!IMG_2875


TBT 1980 and 8th Grade Science Class – Mount St. Helens on a Very Clear Day

We spent a lovely long weekend in Seattle with friends new and old, enjoying our first days in a REAL bed since our trip began almost two months ago. We headed to Mount St. Helens – that perfect mix of history, nature, and places we might never get to in a world of limited vacation time. Though we’d heard enough from Seattle-ites about the wonderful precious mountain views that only come “on your tiptoes during full moons when the breeze is blowing just so, and a black cat hasn’t crossed your path, etc”, we were pretty blown away by this view of Mt. Rainier on our way out of town, south on 5. A foreshadowing of spectacular sights to come…

Mt. Rainier, on a unusually clear day, heading south from Seattle on THE 5!

Mt. Rainier, on a unusually clear day, heading south from Seattle on THE 5!

Soon we were in the land of volcanoes, many active in the Cascades regIMG_2685ion (being so close to those Pacific faults you know), and one famously so 35 years ago, Mount St. Helens. Though we both remember the eruption, we don’t remember that there had been plenty of warning (seismic, geysers, a bulge on the northwest side that grew five feet(!) a day) that a major volcanic event was coming, and that somehow made the human story behind what happened here even more compelling today. The weather held and we were greeted with this view when we arrived at the Visitor Center at Silver Lake. It’s in an area northwest of the mountain which was devastated by the eruption. The exhibits there focus on the impact on the local community.

IMG_2686The staff there suggested (thankfully!) that we hightail it to the Johnston Ridge Observatory — about 50 miles west — for a closer look at the mountain and to take advantage of the spectacular visibility, which weather reports suggested would not be coming again any time soon. Plus. the observatory is only open seasonally and closing in a few days. We made plans to return to this VC the next day and headed up the mountain.

About halfway up to Johnston Observatory - elevation not too bad for towing the Airstream.  I believe that is Mt. Baker to the left.

About halfway up to Johnston Observatory – elevation not too bad for towing the Airstream but these viewpoints are convenient to give the truck a rest. I believe the snowy peak to the left is Mt. Baker..

Johnston Observatory , 5 miles from the summit, is named for David Johnston, a 30 year old (!) volcanologist working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who died in the eruption. He is credited with saving hundreds/thousands of lives because of his warnings about the danger based IMG_2744on the readings off the mountains they were getting in the weeks and days before May 18th, 1980. Though the area around there isn’t widely populated, it is/was a popular summer destination, with cabins, lakes, camping, etc. Police had set up checkpoints all around keeping people out on the advice of people like Johnston. You can imagine, especially with the run up to summer, the pressure from residents, business owners and others. This exhibit panel to the right from the Silver Lake Visitors Center tells some of that tale.

The eruption itself happened on a Sunday morning, at 0832. The day before, police had escorted anxious property owners in and out for quick checks and to retrieve belongings – folks had been barred from visiting their homes since March, when the first eruptions occurred!. Officials were planning to allow homeowners to briefly return again on Sunday. That morning, David Johnston was at his observation post, located about where the Observatory is today. His final recorded words came as he urgently radioed USGS headquarters in nearby Vancouver, WA …“Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” The eruption began as a lateral eruption – just like it sounds – the mountain blew up sideways. Because it is so unusual, it was unexpected, even to the scientists. These pictures were taken by a camper who just happened to have the perfect vantage point – and hightailed it away with his life. We camped here the second night.

From Bear Meadow pull out off 99 on the east side of the park.

From Bear Meadow pull-out off 99 on the east side of the park. Pictures taken by Gary Rosenquist, a private citizen who chose this camping spot that weekend, hoping but not nearly being able to predict that he’d get pictures like these. 

Then, later, the 12 mile high eruption. This postcard below is going to my nephew, but for now, please enjoy. Unbelievable.


David Johnston’s body has never been found. 56 other people died.

The Observatory had an excellent trail outside which we braved in very high and very cold winds. Inside, in an excellent ranger talk, we learned how and why the lava coming out of MSH is more like mud balls compared to the syrupy flow of those in Hawaii (if I have my notes right it’s because of silica content of the magma).


Mt. St. Helens is actually relatively young for a mountain in this region. And, it is still an active volcano.

The tree below shows the impact of the blast (left side) and the protected side (right). Good bye park. Some mountains facing the eruption were blasted down to bedrock. Nearly 150 square miles of forest were either blown down completely or killed. The pics are incredible – miles and miles of what look like matchsticks blown over in the direction of the 300 mile per hour blast.IMG_2721

We camped that night in Harry Gardner County Park, newly reopened after 35 years. The whole area adjacent to the Toutle River was swamped by mudflow coming out of the eruption. From what we could gather, Cowlitz County citizens led the effort to get this park back to it’s beautiful condition today. Way to go.

We headed to the south and east sides of the mountain to do some short hikes and see how the eruption did or did not affect various terrains. The south part of the park did not take a direct blow in 1980, but the Trail of Two Forests there shows impact of previous eruptions. While there, an 8th grade class from Camas, WA descended (crazy because we had felt like the only people on the mountain previously) to check out what they’d been learning about in class. Their teacher was awesome! The middle picture below shows the holes left behind when lava encased a tree trunk, then cooled; when the tree rotted or burned away, it left the holes.

Later, we ventured north to the east side of the mountain. Here the views and signage really give you a feel for the incredible effort and payoff of the recovery post-eruption. They are learning so much about how a natural area recovers from such events, trying out different methods of replanting, and of course keeping timber growing and available for lumber companies.


We hiked the Harmony Trail – highly recommended. It leads a mile down to Spirit Lake. Immediately after the eruption, the lake was said to have “disappeared”. If you were a girl or boy scout in this area, you surely would have camped on Spirit Lake. Imagine the devastation as the volcano’s explosion blasted water out of the lake and onto the adjacent mountain sides leveling the forest, then retreated back into the lake, carrying all the tree trunks with it. This area is truly sacred – picture this whole basin filled with mudflow and debris; now the lake is intact, but on its surface floats the remnants of an entire forest felled by the blast. We were lucky enough to be the only ones there when we visited, adding to the experience. At least one life lost here was Harry Truman – an 80-something lodge owner who refused to leave the mountain with his 16 cats, despite pleas from his neighbors and a letter-writing effort by local school kids.

This final picture (from the Observatory) is a neat trick the ranger showed us – my hands show what the summit looked like before the eruption. IMG_2720

After this incredible trip, we headed just north to Mt. Rainier. And tucking into an excellent camping spot in the adjacent national forest, the rain and cold was just too much for us to do more than (enjoy a) drive through the park – next time! We hear there is sun on the east side of these mountains…