Mount St. Helens

Wednesday August 30, 2022

We left Port Angeles a little earlier on Sunday as we have 180 miles to travel, two thirds of it on windy US Highway 101. I’ve not mentioned that Ferry service runs between Port Angeles and Victoria BC. We never saw a ferry so we’re not sure if the service frequency was reduced due to COVID or our timing was off.The scenery is beautiful with the Olympic Mountains on one side and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca on the other.

Sequim (6600 souls). The town is in the rain shadow of the Olympics. It receives on average less that 16″ of rain annually yet is relatively close to some of the wettest temperate rainforests of the US. This climate anomoly is sometimes called the “Blue Hole of Sequim”. The climate is fairly humid however, due to its proximity to the Strait. The city and surrounding area are particularly known for the commercial cultivation of lavender. It makes Sequim the “Lavender Capitol of North America”.

We get a good look at Sequim Bay and Discovery Bas as we continue south. Quilcene (596 souls) lies at the head of Quilcene Bay, an arm of the seawater filled glacial valley of Hood Canal.

One can enjoy views of Mt. Rainier, Seattle and the Puget Sound from 2804′ Mt. Walker, the only peak facing Puget Sound that has a road to the summit. The town has one of the largest oyster hatcheries in the world.

US Highway 101 follows the Hood Canal southward. We stop at the lovely Doswallips State Park day use area. The Hood Canal is in view and the day area is largely in forest with grassy areas set with picnic tables. The Doswallips River runs through the park on its way to the ocean. The name Doswallips comes from Indian folklore- a man named Dos-wail-opsh being turned into a mountain, a mythical Klallam chief turned into a mountain, and Doquebatl changed a woman into Mt. Raineer and her son into Little Tahoma- take your pick.

Hoodsport (376 souls) is located along the Hood Canal. Its the gateway to the Staircase area of Olympic National Park. Hoodsport is renowned among scuba divers as a staging area to view the giant Pacific octopus. Local marine preserves such as Octopus Hole and Sund Rock offer divers the chance to see octopus, as well as wolf eels, rock fish, plumose anemones and other marine life.

We leave the Hood Canal area traveling towards Olympia (52,400 souls). Olympia is the capitol of the state of Washington and lies of the southern end of Hood Canal on Puget Sound. The town had historically depended on artesian wells for drinking water. Many of those wells still .exist today as Olympia’s main water source is fed by them. The former Olympia Brewery was supplied by 26 artesian wells.

We pass through nearby Tumwater, Washington (25,350 souls) and continue our journey south on busy Interstate 5. Tumwater is the oldest permanent Anglo-American settlement on Puget Sound. The name of the city is derived from Chinook people jargon “tum tum” which means beating heart, an appropriate way to describe the upper and lower Tumwater waterfall. Due to Tumwater’s proximity to Olympia many state government offices are located here.

Castle Rock (2446) is our home for a few days. Located between the Willapa Hills and the western base of Mount St. Helens, Castle Rock is at the heart of Washington timber country in the Pacific temperate rainforest.

Castle Rock is named for a volcanic rock outcropping over the Cowlitz River, “The Rock”, rising 190 feet high on the south side of the city. The rock formation, resembling a castle, became a geographic landmark for Cowlitz Indians and Hudson’s Bay Company traders as early as 1832. Today, it is the location of The Rock Community Park, with hiking trails, picnic tables, and a historical marker.

The city was platted December 12, 1888 and incorporated on June 20, 1890. Castle Rock prospered as a Cowlitz River steamboat port and trading center for valley farms. The local sawmill was the first to produce cedar shingles, using the western red cedar, which grows in abundance in the region.

By 1940, the population had reached 1,182 and was supported by dairy farming, truck farming, and lumber manufacturing. Sword ferns, common in the region, were picked each year by several hundred people to be processed into medicine. In the spring, large quantities of Cascara Sagrada bark were gathered, dried, and shipped. Cascara was used in the US as an over the counter laxitive. It’s been banned since 2002 as a laxative ingredient as serious side effects were sighted.

Spirit Lake Memorial Highway connects the city to the Mount Saint Helens Volcanic National Monument the Spirit Lake recreation area, Seaquest State Park and Silver Lake. The State Route 504 Spur extends to Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

So, why do you suppose we’re here in Castle Rock? Righto! We hadn’t been up to Mt. St. Helens for close to two decades. We are staying at the Toutle River RV Resort. Ironically, the closest river is the Cowlitz, maybe 100 yards to the west. The park is large with maybe 400 sites, mostly pull-throughs in the new portion of the park.

The older section is mostly in a deep conifer forest and is closed; I don’t know why because the old section is beautiful! There are many conifers and deciduous trees in the new section but it is much more open than the old. The old section is great for walking the dogs in the heat of the day. The park has some unusual features, at least from an RV park standpoint. It has saunas- we’ve never seen saunas offered at an RV park. It also has a large convention/picnic area with a large shed building, covered picnic area and a very large turf area. This park is really nice!

Johnson Ridge is the premier viewing point for Mount Saint Helens. She erupted on May 18, 1980 and remains the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people were killed; 200 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche caused by a 5.1 earthquake triggered a lateral eruption that reduced the mountain’s summit from 9677 feet to 8363 feet. The debris avalanche measured .6 of a cubic mile. The magma in St. Helens burst forth into a large-scale pyroclastic flow that flattened vegetation and buildings over an area of 230 square miles. It was continuously active until 2008. Geologists predict that future eruptions could be more destructive! Holy Smokes!

It’s a long, sometimes windy drive up the Toutle River canyon on the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway to Johnson Ridge, some 50+ miles, but it’s worth traveling up there. There are three visitors centers along the route, Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Seaquest/Silver Lake, Forest Learning Center located about halfway up and Johnson Ridge Observatory. Before going it’s advised to check the weather as the mountain often is cloud shrouded.

Johnson Ridge Observatory was named for volcanologist David Johnston who was camped on this ridge observing the volcano when it blew. His final words were “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” He was never found. This site has awesome views and great exhibits. Admission to exhibits is $8 or free with the proper pass.

We decided to do some reprovisioning since we aren’t too far away from a Walmart. It’s Jil’s favorite store in which to purchase frozen fruits for her protein drinks because the cost is much lower than in grocery stores. So we burn $5 worth of gas round trip, but we also get to visit Longview (37,000 souls). Jil’s Mom and brother used to live here.

A fella by the name of Robert Long needed 14,000 workers to run two large mills as well as lumber camps so Long planned and built a complete city in 1921 that could support a population of up to 50,000 folks, all with private funding. The town’s neighborhoods are lovely. Downtown looked more vibrant than the last time we were here and was very clean. The city has a port on the Columbia River and a bridge over the same river to the state of Oregon.

The Pacific Northwest is experiencing a heat wave. Temps are in the mid to high 90’s for the next three days. We’ll be heading to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery for our host commitment for the months of September and October. We are looking forward to working with our boss Hugh, the hatchery groundskeeper, and the “fish guys” when the salmon are running.

See you at the hatchery!

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