Thursday, July 17, 2014

Trip Report - Portland, Oregon - July 6th - Mount Saint Helens, Ape Cave,

When Harry and his siblings were younger, one rule on family vacations was that everyone could choose one thing they wanted to see or do. For this trip, one of the group wanted to see Mount St. Helens. I confess that this was on the bottom of my list. Part of my reason was that it was a minimum of an hour and a half drive each way, and the other reason was because I didn't particularly want to see the scene of devastation. It turned out to be very interesting; however, and I'm glad we went.

Because it was a long drive and none of us knew the territory, I suggested that we take a package tour - this time with a small company that had a ten-passenger limit. As it turned out, there were only the five of us, so it was almost like having a private tour.

The Mount Saint Helens area contains multiple parks and visitor centers. Our first stop was at Ape Cave. (Named after the group that discovered it, not because there were actual apes there). This is a long lava tube formed around 2,000 years ago during an earlier erruption from Mt. Saint Helens south flank. Then, about 450 years ago, there was another erruption and more lava flowed through the tube and blocked the cave at its lower end.
Our guide furnished headlamps for all of us, and explained different features as we hiked along.

This is what happens when you all take photos at once.

The Meatball

The inside of the lava tube was DARK. How dark? Well, I had the miner's headlamp, a small travel flashlight, and the 'flashlight' on my smartphone, and it still was dark. Even though it was July above us, the cave was so cold you could see your breath. It was also damp, and the floor was uneven. Since taking this particular tour had been my suggestion, I was chiding myself for not being better prepared and worried that I would fall and break or twist something and ruin everyone's trip. For some reason the phrase "in questa tomba oscura" ("In this dark tomb") from Verdi's Aida kept going through my mind.

This is not a cave with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites like the Carlsbad caverns, but it had some interesting features like the ‘Meatball’ formed when a blob of lava dropped off the ceiling, floated down the running lava, and got stuck at a narrow section of the tube. I found it interesting to think of that ancient erruption when Mount Saint Helens spewed a stream of lava. The the outer shell hardened but the molten basalt interior kept flowing until it had formed the lava tube.
I was so glad to see sunlight again!

Next we walked the "Trail of Two Forests". Ah, sunlight, warmth, and level footing!
Sign for "Trail of Two Forests"
Horizontal tunnel formed by lava covering fallen trees, which then decayed. Great for kids!
A visit to the middle visitor center.

Mount Saint Helens in the distance.
We visited another park where lava had fallen in ancient times and covered standing and fallen trees, which then declayed and left tunnels and wells.  Then we stopped at one of the first visitor centers and took a walk around while our guide put out a healthy lunch. We're getting closer! 

Mount Saint Helens from the second visitor center.
The second visitor center had a unique video explaining the history of the volcanoes and what happened during the most recent eruption. There was another visitor center closer to the volcano, but then the mountain wouldn't have fit into the viewfinder of my camera...

Apparently this is still considered an active volcano, and it is closely monitored. Actually, there are several active volcanoes in this part of the country, including one near Seattle.

After more than 30 years, the landscape recovers slowly.
Another thing I learned was that while the public lands around Mount Saint Helens have been allowed to evolve naturally (except for removing dead wood) the land that is owned by the timber companies have been planted and are covered with trees.  We took a walk from the second visitor center through some 'natural' landscape and I was happy to see the wide variety of shrubs and flowers that were reclaiming the landscape.

Back in Portland our guide offered to drive us over to "Restaurant Row". This is an area on Division Street, east across the Willamette River, where there are more restaurants than food carts.

After walking up and down the street looking at restaurants, the majority voted for Block & Tackle, a seafood restaurant. With my usual talent for choosing the wrong menu item, I chose the fried cauliflower with pecorino, fennel, olive, currant, chilli, and aioli. What I got was fried cauliflower in which the lemon in the aioli totally drowned any of the other flavors.

Then we took the bus back to downtown.

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