Exploring southeast Washington

We’ve been so busy playing, I haven’t had time to catch up the blog! This area of southeast Washington has mountains and seashore and so much to explore – and we only allotted a week!

Nearest to us was the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I was in college in May of 1980 when the mountain blew its top, killing dozens of people and wreaking devastation on the surrounding area. What I hadn’t remembered (or never knew) was that the lahar (mud) flowed all the way down to the Columbia River, clogging up ship traffic until the channel could be dredged. Hiking around the cratered mountain, you can still see the destructive evidence as well as nature’s regrowth. The Mt. St. Helens visitor center is run by the State Park system, and is located 30 miles away from the peak. I guess this visitor center can operate even when the peak gets active and closer visitor amenities are closed!

Along the road to Mt. St. Helens, we stopped at the Forest Learning Center, a free museum describing historical and modern forestry practices. Although it was sort of like one giant commercial for Weherhaeuser, the exhibits did a good job of explaining their current sustainable forestry practices. After all, we do need and use wood! They treat it like a crop – a long growing crop, but still a farmed item. As long as they maintain buffers for sensitive ecosystems, monitor wildlife populations, and stay away from irreplaceable old growth forests, then I guess it’s the best we can do. At least it’s a renewable resource.

Another day we headed westward toward the sea.  On our journey we happened upon the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. A little gem of a museum, it describes the history of the area (fur trading, salmon canneries) as well as the history and challenges of Columbia River navigation. I had no idea the Columbia River bar (mouth) is one of the most dangerous passages in the world. The massive river water flow sweeps silt from the Cascades and collides with ocean waves and tides, creating constantly-shifting conditions and sandbars. The entrance area is littered with shipwrecks, earning the moniker “Graveyard of the Pacific”. Ships navigating the bar must employ a Bar Pilot, of which there are currently only 17 certified. Once on the river, ships must take on a River Pilot, to navigate the narrow channel miles upstream to inland ports. There, the giant ships take on loads of logs, grain and other products for overseas shipment. The museum also describes specialized rough water rescue training the Coast Guard offers only at Cape Disappointment, at the mouth of the Columbia. While we were there, the river looked so peaceful …..

IMG_4196From Astoria, we crossed the Columbia River (by bridge!) and headed to Long Beach, Washington. Located on a long peninsula, Long Beach claims to be located on the “longest beach in the world”. It does have a lovely beach that you can drive on (a la Daytona Beach), but first we unloaded our bicycles and took a spin on the smooth asphalt bike path that snakes for miles along the shore. We cycled through dunes and pines, and watched fanciful kites soaring on the brisk seabreeze. Even though it was a weekend before a holiday (the 4th of July), the beach felt relatively uncrowded. The small beach towns have a laid-back vibe that’s appealing. It’s a place we could definitely go back and spend more time.

Next post:  Mt. Rainier National Park!

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