October 10, 2020

Mount Rainier

by Rosemary

Mt. Rainier is an active volcano that last erupted more than 100 years ago. It is considered extremely dangerous; a major eruption would be deadly and would likely send smoke and ash throughout the entire area between San Francisco and Vancouver, BC.

The indigenous people called this mountain Tacoma or Tahoma. The ubiquitous George Vancouver named it after his pal Peter Rainier.

On our way up, we stopped at the Riffe Lake Overlook.

I liked this couple, driving through the park on a cool day with the top down.

There are beautiful views around every bend in the road.

The forest is lovely, but it can be hard to see when all those trees get in the way.

There are 25 glaciers on Mt. Rainier, although they are melting fast. The one most visible from the road, Nisqually Glacier, is shrinking 120 feet per year.

Nisqually Glacier drains into the Nisqually River. At this time of year, there isn't much water in the river. The width of the riverbed and the huge driftwood hint at the power this river will have when it fills with rain and meltwater in the spring.

Small as it looks now, the river runs pretty fast, and the bridge isn't much more than a log. We decided not to cross.

It's not possible to drive any closer to the top than an area called Paradise, about 15 miles from the summit. Here are sightseeing paths, colorful meadows and hillsides, small waterfalls, and the trails that lead serious hikers and climbers to the peak.
(This quotation is engraved on the staircase.)

At some point on the way home, the car decided Steve had done too much driving.

We were here in early October. The day was sunny; despite a prediction of 50F, the temperature was around 65F.


September 12, 2020

Under the Volcano

by Rosemary

Captain George Vancouver, the British naval officer and explorer whose name was given to two cities, named a volcano in honor of Alleyne Fitzherbert, British Ambassador to Spain, whose title was "Baron St. Helens". The indigenous people had called it Lawetlat'la, Loowit, or Louwala-Clough, names that mean "Smoking Mountain" or "Fire Lady".

Mt. St. Helens became famous for a series of eruptions in March and April 1980, followed by a nine-hour eruption on May 18, the most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people and thousands of animals died; homes, businesses, bridges, railways, and roads were destroyed. A 5.1 earthquake triggered a debris avalanche that reduced the mountain's elevation from 9,677 ft to 8,363 ft. The blast was heard for hundreds of miles, a mushroom cloud of ash and gasses shot 12 miles into the air, and ashes fell as far as 930 miles away.

Many of the trees still lie where they fell.

Today the area around the volcano is a national monument used for recreation, education, and research. When we visited in early September, the weather forecast had called for a high temperature of 65F, but it was actually in the high 80s.

There are several routes into the area. We chose the "Scenic Drive Adventure" on Highway 504, also known as the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. The visitor centers and educational exhibits were all closed, but the gift shops and (fortunately) restrooms were open.

Our first stop was the boardwalk trail through the wetlands at the edge of Silver Lake.

In some places the plants are so dense it looks like solid ground. It isn't.

A little farther up the road, in Kid Valley, is the "Buried A Frame", a new house whose ground floor was filled with mud and ash. The home's second floor is now at ground level. I was surprised that some of the glass had survived.

As far as we know, Bigfoot wasn't involved in the eruption, but nevertheless, there is a tribute to him near the A Frame.

Built in 1992, Hoffstadt Bridge over Hoffstadt Creek is the longest and tallest of fourteen bridges on Hwy 504, and is the tallest bridge on a state highway in Washington. We stopped at the viewpoint for a picnic before crossing the bridge.

The shock wave from the explosion traveled 19 miles, creating a "blast zone" where all the trees were knocked down. Beyond that, the trees were killed but remained standing. As we learned on a trip to Sunset Crater in Arizona, it can take many decades, even centuries, for plants to appear after an eruption.

A $9,000,000 project sponsored by Weyerhaeuser (who already had tree farms here) has brought trees back to the area. Large sections of monoculture forest have been planted, to be harvested and replanted starting in 2026. A lot of natural reseeding has also occurred.

Castle Lake was formed when an avalanche caused by the eruption dammed the south fork of Castle Creek.

Coldwater Lake was also created by an avalanche.

The road ends at Johnston Ridge Observatory, named for volcanologist David Johnston. During the days leading up to the final eruption, he was camping on the ridge as part of his work for the United States Geological Survey, making daily reports of his observations by radio. His last words were, "This is it!"

From this spot, we have an excellent view of the volcano.

Nearby, we can see the stumps of some of trees that were left standing after the blast.

There are elk living in the park, but the closest we came to seeing them was this statue outside the visitor center.


April 21, 2020

Time Travel

by Rosemary

Right now, taking more trips is not an option. We've been doing a little virtual tourism by re-reading this blog, reviewing our vast collection of unpublished photos, and looking back at earlier vacations.

My first travel blog appeared 20 years ago, documenting our trips to places like St. Barthelemy, Tanzania, and Italy. For fun, we are sharing those historical adventures in a new blog, "Trips We Remember". You're welcome to join us.

Bahamas, 2015