Monday, October 25, 2021


Trip date July 2021

With COVID making international travel difficult, and I haven't been ready to do any long haul flights yet, I've been doing some road trips around the PNW. Which, let's be honest, is an amazing place to be able to explore! 

I've lived in Washington State since about 1975 and I had never been to Mount St. Helens. I had however experienced first hand the eruption of the volcano on Sunday May 18, 1980, which also happened to be my dad's birthday. I was outside riding my bike with friends in Spokane Valley where I lived at the time, and we were all called home. The sky was growing dark even though it was only around noon. I don't remember if my mom told me a volcano had erupted and we had to stay inside or not. But I do remember having to stay in the house for days, school was cancelled and our entire street was blanketed in dirty toxic ash. I was pretty obsessed with this occurrence for most of my childhood and collected zip lock bags filled with ash.

So it seems weird that I had never been, but it's a 6-hour round trip drive and that just makes for a very long day trip. Cue pandemic and also working virtually...

I rented a very cute lakefront cabin via Airbnb right on the shore of Lake Tanwax. I drove down late in the afternoon on a Wednesday and stopped in Tacoma at Southern Kitchen to pick up takeout dinner- fried chicken, mac & cheese, cornbread stuffing, and cornmeal pancake. To be clear, I didn't actually order all of that but that is what they gave me!

Of everything I had I really liked the fried chicken and the cornmeal pancake. I could have used a green salad though!!

It was such a gorgeous evening when I arrived. I made a cocktail and sat outside with my book and this awesome view! And when it got dark there were sooooo many stars!!
The next morning I did some work outside while having coffee and breakfast; it was an absolutely beautiful day. I was excited to get on the road and start exploring.

It was a 2 ½ hour drive to Mount St Helens, so still a big round trip, but I would be stopping at Mount Rainier the next day so was making the most of it. It would be pretty much impossible for me to do both of those in a day trip from Seattle. 

The day was really heating up, by the time I got to Toledo, the self-proclaimed "Gateway to Mount St Helens" it was already 80F.

There was little traffic on the drive up to the mountain. I stopped at a few viewpoints, the mountain was completely visible which was great as many friends had warned me that sometimes you get all the way out there and it is socked in.

One of my stops was at the western edge of the blast zone, it was pretty cool to see an area which had 150,000 acres reduced to basically nothing during the eruption, now covered in forest.

At the Johnston Observatory the exhibits inside were closed because of COVID but the restrooms were open. There was also a food truck set up in the parking lot. 

My plan had been to hike the Boundary Ridge trail out towards Harry's Ridge, it's an out and back and I had planned to hike about 6 miles total. You start at the Observatory where there is a ½ mile loop with excellent views as well as some informational plaques. 
The Boundary Trail was dry and dusty, the only shade came from brush that was about as tall as me and only here and there. I had plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat but even at 4,314 feet elevation it was over 90F!

You are looking right at the mountain pretty much the entire time on the trail. It was a little surreal! I also was so surprised to see zero snow on or inside the crater. And there was a bit of wind up at the peak which was stirring up dust, making it look like the crater was smoking!

I caught glimpses of Spirit Lake off in the distance and really wanted to make it out to the ridge for a better view but after only 2 miles I was so overheated I had to turn back. I finally sat on the ground at a trail marker, the only shade around. And then nearer the Observatory I sat under a lone tree for a bit.
It was a long drive home and I honestly didn't feel good. I had lots of water with me but I could tell I had a slight case of heat exhaustion. I stopped in Elbe and picked up a burger at the Elbe Tavern (it was good!) and headed back to Lake Tanwax.

That evening the power went out on the entire lake. It was so dark and still, and HOT without a fan. But I was exhausted so went to bed early and the next morning the power was back and it was another gorgeous day. And hot.

I finished off the cold fried chicken for breakfast along with some coffee while working out on the patio table. Then I packed up and started my drive to Mount Rainier. It was about 1 ½ hours to the Naches Peak Loop trailhead. 

I'd never been on this trail and unlike the day before on St Helen's the green and lush fields were so pretty and inviting! I had also never been on Rainier during wildflower season and was just amazed at all these little flowers!

Starting from the parking lot and facing Lake Tipsoo I started the 3.7 mile hike heading left up the trail and heading clockwise. I recommend this direction as you will have the mountain in your face for the whole last part of the hike. It also seemed a bit less hilly this way.
The hike intersects with the Pacific Coast Trail for about ½ of it. I mean that is as close to hiking the PCT as I will get so that was quite fun!

It's little wonder why this trail is so popular, it is just gorgeous! Meadows, lakes, mountain views... it has it all!

Even at 5,500 feet elevation it was hot, almost 80F. And after my heat exhaustion the day before I was trekking pretty slowly. I took about 2 ½ hours and stopped for a snack along the way. 

At about the halfway part Mt. Rainier makes her appearance and stays there for pretty much the rest of the hike. It is soooo stunning, even for someone who can see it from her bedroom. The view of that mountain just never gets old to me. 

Finishing back in the meadow completely blanketed with wildflowers was fantastic as I was a bit tuckered out! 

Hiking on two different volcanoes in the course of two days is certainly something I think might be only done in the PNW!

All photos of Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier here

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Road Trip; Crater Lake and Beyond

Trip date: September 2020

Day 7. Healdsburg, CA to Klamath Falls, OR: ~7 hours

After a great few days with my friend Aaron in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, he drove me back to San Sebastopol where we'd left my car. Aaron was heading back towards LA and I was starting my return drive to Seattle. 

It was very smoky most of my way up I5, it was also very hot- 106-109F for almost my entire drive. Thank god for A/C! Most of the drive was past dry fields, but there were still some big swaths of sunflowers which were quite cheery! It was so smoky that I couldn't see any of Mt. Shasta even as I drove right next to it. 

Arriving in Klamath Falls, I stopped at a pretty park with water jets spraying up from a lake. It felt good to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. As I passed a man sitting on a bench, he asked me "Are you my connection?". Ok then, drug park!

It was one quick night at the Holiday Inn and the next morning a stop into The Grocery Pub for a to-go sandwich and some hiking snacks. What should have then taken me 1 ½ hours to drive to Crater Lake took me almost 2 ½ because of a 45 minute queue to enter the park. Luckily I have a National Park Pass which I was able to flash once I was near the ticket booth and I was directed to a lane which then finally passed the queue. 

I was very excited to be staying at the Crater Lake Lodge, I had a small room with a queen sized bed that looked directly out onto the lake. I had never been to Crater Lake and I was immediately struck by how incredibly beautiful it was!  

The lodge is the only non-campground sleeping in the park and is only open from May to October. It's a gorgeous stone structure, originally opened in 1915 after President Roosevelt declared Crater Lake a National Park in 1902. 

Besides the big stone fireplaces in the lobby and great room, the lodge has a huge outside deck lined with rocking chairs facing the lake. It's the perfect place to sit with a book, a glass of wine, and enjoy the view. Which is exactly how I spent the afternoon.

It was a Sunday and the park was very busy, and as this was during Covid and before vaccinations, it made me a little nervous, but the lodge had all registered guests wearing wrist bands and without one you could not enter the premises at all. 

Dining options were slim, only the lodge's dining room and a take out pizza truck at nearby Rim Village were open. Since the lodge menu was the same each night, and expensive, I had the rest of my sandwich from earlier in my room and watched a movie I had downloaded. Pro tip: there is no phone service at Crater Lake and the wifi was basically non existent, download some entertainment before you arrive.

Day 8. Rim Road Crater Lake, OR ~ 6 hours

The next morning I was up early and in my car by 8am. I had a full day planned and the weather looked absolutely perfect! I'd be driving the Rim Road, 33 miles around the lake, as well as doing a few hikes along the way.
My first stop was at the trailhead to Watchman Peak. There was no one, except for the chipmunks, on the steep but short trail up. And when I got to the top there were just a couple of people sitting on the rocks enjoying the morning. I had packed some fruit and granola bars for breakfast and hung out for a while taking in the amazing views of the entire lake.

The Rim Road has around 25 turnouts, everyone single one with stunning views. The lake is the most deep colored blue, and parts of it are so clear that you could see straight down.

When I was about 2/3rds around I took a 10-minute detour off the Rim Road and drove to the Pinnacles Trail. This super easy ½ mile hike skirts a deep ravine where a large group of volcanic pumice spires eerily stand. 

These are the remains of volcanic activity formed by compressed pumice and ash. I've never seen anything like them! So cool.

Back out to the Rim Road, my final hike of the day was the short Sun Notch Trail. By climbing up the hill you get fantastic views of the "Phantom Ship", a small rock island in the lake. 

It was such a fun day spent exploring an area that I had wanted to go to for so long! Back at the lodge I headed out to the deck with some wine and my book, but the weather was changing pretty quickly. Smoke from the CA forest fires was filling into the crater and the wind had come up quite a bit.
The lodge finally had to close the doors and windows because of the windstorm. Normally that wouldn't be such a big deal but this was pre-vaccine pandemic. I moved inside, chose a seat away from most people, and waited for my dinner reservation in the dining room. This was the first time I was eating and drinking inside in 5 months and it felt a little nerve wracking!
I ate my dinner pretty quickly, ordered another glass of wine and took it and my chocolate cake dessert back to my room. The wind was howling outside! 

Day 9. Crater Lake to The Dalles, OR: ~5 hours

It had been 78F during the day but that night it plummeted to 35F with 20-30 mile per hour wind gusts! That is a huge drop in temperature! I woke up in the middle of the night because my room had gotten really cold; turns out the lodge had lost power. When I got up the next morning there was still no power and it was only 49F outside. I hauled my gear down the stairs (no power, no elevator!), was not able to get breakfast or even coffee (they only had a generator to keep the fridge/freezers running), and scrapped my plans to hike that morning on the way out. Brrrr!

But it had been such a great time at Crater Lake! If you haven't been, put it on your list and book into the lodge well in advance! 

I was driving north now on OR Hwy 97/197 to The Dalles, stopping along the way at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint for a stretch. The Crooked River Railroad Bridge spans the deep canyon and there are also views of volcanic peaks in the distance.  This was a really nice unexpected stop.

As I continued north I could see quite clearly the various forest fires happening throughout Oregon. The smoke wasn't near me yet but you could see it traveling.

I had booked one night at the Fairfield Inn in The Dalles, using points. The hotel is a bit out of the main part of town but my room was quite nice and since there was still a pandemic on it wasn't like I was heading out for a bar crawl!

I took the BMW for a wash, picked up a salad from Cousins which was recommended by the front desk, and turned in early.

Day 10. The Dalles, Or to Seattle, WA: ~4 hours

Last day on the road! I slept in a bit and then went downstairs and grabbed the included-with-my-rate breakfast and had it in my room. 

I had purchased a timed ticket to see Multnomah Falls, I'd never been! The ticket was only $1 but on the day I was there it was very empty so I hadn't really needed it. The falls are absolutely beautiful!
Then on to my last hike of the trip, just a few miles down the highway, Latourell Falls was recommended by a friend and it was a perfect last outing!
It is just a beautiful forested trail, slightly steep up to the falls, and with some downed trees to scramble over. It wasn't very crowded and it was really enjoyable. And I saw my first pygmy owl land on a branch right in front of me! Very cool!

I had just over a 3-hour drive home from here. As soon as I passed into Washington it was so smoky that it was hard to see past the side of the road at some places.

This was such a great road trip, especially after being cooped up at home for so long because of COVID. I really needed to get out and explore!

~1,900 miles driven; this was my newest BMW's first road trip!

All photos of Crater Lake and Columbia River here.

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