We left Friday morning (after packing the car the night before and doing some additional loading before leaving) and stopped to have breakfast at the McDonald’s across the street. After eating, we hitched onto highway 101, then southbound I-5. An hour or so later, we coasted into the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, about 15 miles outside of Castle Rock, WA.
This particular visitor center is one of three along highway 504. Each visitor center presents a progressive series of stories about the mountain, from what I’ve been able to tell – Mount St. Helens, then Coldwater, then Johnson Ridge. The Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center presents the history of Mt. St. Helens – how different cultures and activities have impacted the mountain and a timeline of the 1980 eruption. In addition, it has some information on how the 1980 eruption compares to other historical eruptions, as well as information on the most recent smattering of eruptive activity that began in 2004. Amanda and I took in this exhibit, then headed to the south end of the mountain to explore the Ape Caves.
The Ape Caves are actually a lava flow formed by an eruption of Mount St. Helens several hundred years ago. I’d been there before, but wanted to revisit it and show Amanda around. We visited for a couple hours after spending just about as long driving down there, then had lunch and left for our campground by way of Forest Roads 90 and 25.
Forest roads are a pain in the ass. They’re twisty, curvy, nausea-inducing things that have to be taken at low speeds lest you careen your car off a cliff. I swear that the designers who put these roads in place had a really sick sense of humor.
We got to Iron Creek campground after a couple more hours of driving, which were not really as nice as some of the other driving I’ve done. Iron Creek sits alongside the Cispus river a half hour northeast of Mt. St. Helens and about ten or fifteen minutes south of Randle, WA. It’s a very popular RV spot (attested to by the fact that something like 90% of the claimed slots in our loop were filled by RVs, if not a higher percentage). The only downside was the existence of pit toilets, but I personally hadn’t expected anything better.
Our stay that night consisted of setting camp, making dinner, and sitting next to a campfire.
Saturday, after some snafus in figuring out whether a particular forest road was actually open (it wasn’t) and going 8 miles north when we should have been going south, we followed forest road 25 to forest road 99 towards the Windy Ridge viewpoint. We ended up going all the way to the viewpoint itself, stopping at the Edge viewpoint, the Miner’s Car, Meta Lake, Harmony viewpoint, Donnybrook viewpoint, and, finally, Windy Ridge viewpoint, where Amanda climbed a whole bunch of stairs (I didn’t go – not in the mood to deal with heights, the steep drop-off on the sides of the road on the way in freaked me out enough). After a snack, we headed homeward.
I thought the drop-offs freaked me out on the way in, but they really freaked me out on the way out. We stopped by the Cascade Peaks viewpoint, which had a store selling various merchandise.
Oh, and the power was out.
Normally, that store would accept credit cards, but since the power was out, they couldn’t — thus, the stuff I wanted to buy (particularly a shirt and a DVD) I couldn’t. That basically ensures we’ll have to go back out there. (And yes, I did find it odd that they didn’t have one of the manual card swipers that require ink and hand motions to create a receipt.)
On the way out, I was paying so much attention to the road that I didn’t hear Amanda talking about a steam eruption coming from the mountain. I was too busy worrying about the line of sports cars behind me trying to run me over and trying to make sure that my precious Prius didn’t run herself off a cliff. Thus, I was quite surprised when we pulled off at the Edge viewpoint to let the cars go by and Amanda insisted I look out the back window.
Needless to say, we whipped out cameras and took pictures (though my digital camera’s battery finally croaked at this point). We then continued up to the Bear Meadow viewpoint and took some more pictures from a different vantage point before heading to the campsite.
We took the opportunity that evening to wander around the campground and follow some trails to the nearby picnic area and along the Cispus river. A very pretty area and well worth wandering around in.
Sunday, we headed back via Randle and highway 12. Uneventful, other than catching the beginning of a large backup on north and southbound I-5 after this road rage accident. Everyone, of course, stopped to gawk, so we got to enjoy a mile or two of I-5 at extremely low speeds. I hate gawkers. I try not to be one. It slows everyone down.
It was a fun trip, and we got the chance to break in some new gear, including a new propane camp stove and air mattress. I love Mount St. Helens – both its history and the beauty of the area – and you can bet I’ll be back there again.