Wednesday, October 16, 2013


So far in our Northwest Adventure, we had seen two major volcanoes: Mt. Shasta and Crater Lake. Over the next couple days we got to see two more. One a desolate mountain devastated by a recent eruption and the other a beautiful mountain top, covered in snow and hidden behind clouds.

But first we made the short trip across the bridge from Portland, OR to Vancouver, WA. While Portland has its own weird sensibility, one it is actively embracing like a teenager who just discovered Nirvana, tattoos, and PBR, Vancouver is like Portland's nice older brother who has a real job and likes to drink coffee while watching the rain. We visited Vancouver's land bridge, walked around its modest downtown, and bought groceries before heading up to Mt. St. Helens.

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is about an hour off I-5, but it is definitely worth it. While there's a great visitor's center just a couple miles from the highway, the Johnston Ridge Observatory is just 5 miles from the volcano itself. I mean, really, just click here and look at these pictures. It's so close, I was just a bit worried about another eruption. What's great is that inside there's a big map of the area with little lights which show where the last eruption went and how it completely wiped out the ridge I was currently standing on. The whole place is a bit surreal and the views are unique.

Johnston Ridge Observatory
Unfortunately, the clouds surrounding Mt. St. Helens stubbornly covered the peak so we never got a fully exposed view of the mountain, but we'll go back again some day. Hopefully it'll still be there.

After another pleasant stay at a KOA, we left Mt. St. Helens for Mt. Rainier. I was looking forward to the flower-covered fields of Paradise with views of the snow-capped, 14,411 ft. mammoth, Mt. Rainier. For weeks I had been reading about all the different trails I could go on from the visitor center at Paradise. I was so excited to see the wildflowers and hike on the trails! But it seems we came a month too soon. The entire mountain was covered with snow from about 4,000 ft. up, meaning the fields at Paradise were blanketed with snow instead of colorful wildflowers. For a guy from California's central valley where June meant 100 degree weather, this was a bit of a surprise. I had been enjoying the 70 degree weather of the Pacific Northwest, but I didn't realize it would still be snowing, even on the mountains.

Visitor Center at Paradise

Taking a good, hard look at the snow
I was disappointed. When we got to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise, Mt. Rainier was completely hidden behind clouds. It was raining so we went inside and ate lunch, hoping the weather would clear up soon. Instead, the rain turned to snow and we went down the mountain. Despite my disappointment, the whole area was still beautiful and Erinn led us to the Grove of the Patriarchs, a quick hike on a loop trail just off Stevens Canyon Road, southeast of Mt. Rainier. On the way down, a bear popped its head up on the road, took a little jog alongside the cars ahead of us, and sauntered off the road, back into the trees. That bear's quick little visit definitely brought our spirits up!

The Grove of the Patriarchs is a fun, short hike with a little suspension bridge that takes you across the clear blue waters of the Ohanapecosh River and into the Patriarch Loop. The trees are big, old, mossy, and beautiful. A good stop even if you're tired and bummed about the snow.

After the Patriarchs, it was still early, so we took our chances and went back up to Paradise, hoping for a better look at the peak. Eventually, the clouds did clear up enough that we could see the top of the mountain, if only for a moment. After that, we called it a day and went back down the mountain to the city of Yakima where we picked up french fries and Gluten-free burgers at Red Robin and watched The Mummy back at our hotel.

A moment of blue sky behind Mt. Rainier

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