Mount St. Helens, Washington, Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Mount St. Helens
After attending the wedding in Portland, Annette's sister Allison had a couple of more days to vacation - - time enough to explore some more of the gorgeous area. We wanted to get outdoors, do a little hiking, breathe some of this clean, clear air, and see the sights. We had visited these areas a few years back, when we came to Portland as speakers at an education conference. We decided to spend one day at Mount St. Helens and another day around Mt. Hood.
We were amazed at how much the area within the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument had changed in just a few years. Flowers, trees and other plants had further reestablished themselves in the blast zone of the May 18, 1980 eruption. Our first stop was the Silver Lake Visitor Center (Northwest entrance on highway 504). The 20-minute film and museum displays there provided lots of information about the geological event and the history of the area. Leaving there, we drove along the North Fork Toutle River and then up above the river valley on the ridge road -- on toward Coldwater Ridge.
There are several viewpoints along the way where sometimes you catch sight of Roosevelt Elk grazing along the river. Next stop was the Weyerhauser Forest Learning Center. Here they have two short films that run continuously, one is about four minutes long and summarizes the eruption, the other is a brief history of logging, timber, and the Weyerhauser Corporation.
We finally arrived at the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center but decided to continue on to the recently opened Johnston Ridge Visitor Center before stopping. Johnston Ridge Observatory is at the end of the road, 52 miles east of the Castle Rock exit, at an elevation of 4,200 feet. The Observatory looks directly up into the open crater, about 4.5 miles away. Clouds were covering most of the peak and the blown-out crater area, but as the afternoon progressed this cloudcover would probably increase. The cloud you see in the upper right corner of the photo (Above) of Allison and Annette is covering Mount St. Helens. Luckily, we'd seen it before so we could imagine what it looked like.

After a brief hike around part of the trails at Johnston Ridge and a sobering stop at the memorial to the fifty-two people who were killed in the blast, we drove back down the road. We stopped at Coldwater Lake (Left photo) for our picnic lunch and then hiked around this scenic area. The lake was created when the crater dome of the mountain was catapulted into the valley, part of its debris damming up Coldwater Creek and creating a new lake.

A walkway leads you through a wetland section and out over the lake's edge. If you have time, there are trails completely around the lake, up to Johnston Ridge, and on to the Crater. As we were getting ready to leave, the clouds began to lift so Allison caught a glimpse of the mountain crest (Right photograph). Next stop for us, the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center.

One of the highlights the last time we visited was a ranger's talk at Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center. Even though our visit there had been four years before, this time we were surprised to see and hear the same ranger again. She approached her audience with the same intense energy and excitement as we remembered from our first visit (Below left). She captured everyone's attention with her vivid telling of the story of the mountain. This was undoubtedly only the upteenth-thousanth time that she had made this presentation!

And although we had been here before, this is one location that you can revisit. It especially interesting to see the mountain and its habitats recover and reestablish themselves. The programs, displays, and media presentations at each of the visitor centers were interesting and not overly repetitious. They were definitely worth the time and added much to our understanding.

Next time, we might enter the park from the Northwest and drive into the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. This would provide a different view of the Crater and overlook Spirit Lake, now bigger than ever.
Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge
The following day, we made the loop-trip around Mount Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon (11,235 feet), and down the Columbia River Gorge.

Our drive started with following route 26 to the south side of Mount Hood. We first stopped at the Mt. Hood National Forest Headquarters. This is a good place to pick up a backcountry hiking permit that is needed for many of the hiking trails. Nearby, we found a great forested campground and decided if we wanted to spend some time without a phone hookup, this would be a choice location.

We ate lunch in the Timberline Lodge up on Mount Hood. They always have a 'hot soup of the day' and a sandwich and/or salad. Timberline Lodge is located on the mountain's treeline border. Its construction was a WPA project from the 'New Deal' days and features original decorative woodcarvings, custom-built furniture, and wrought iron that was designed and created for this facility. The view from our window seats in the restaurant looked up the glacier-cloaked mountain. There were still a few skiers and snowboarders on the slopes.

Next we headed down the mountain. At the base it is easy to miss the turn to take directly to the town of Hood River and the Columbia River. We did, but caught our mistake a few miles down route 26 before we traveled very far to the south. We turned around and took route 35 north to the Columbia. This road took us around the eastern edge of the mountain.

All around the Mt. Hood area are hundreds of hiking trails and numerous waterfalls. On this day, we only had time to do a few short hikes near the roadways; however, some of the more beautiful and less visited areas are just a few miles out. A short hike that we have previously done and can recommend is the Tamanawas Falls trail (About 3.8 miles round trip), that is located in this west side of Mt. Hood. Today we cruised on by the trailhead and followed the road along the edge of the East Fork of the Hood River. After awhile we dropped down into the Upper Hood River Valley. This is orchard country today.
Finally arriving in the town of Hood River, we made a turn back to the west to follow the south shoreline of the Columbia River. Here Interstate 84 parallels the river and the Union Pacific rail line, but we soon exited the four-lane to follow the narrow, winding, and sometimes steep Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. Today we made stops a three falls. First was a short look at Horsetail Falls (Left photo below), that is literally on the edge of the scenic drive. The second was nearby Multnomah Falls (Middle and right photos below). Here we made the short trail climb up to the bridge for a unique view of both the upper and lower cascades. At the roads edge, there are restrooms and a souvenir/gift shop. After an ice cream cone to regain some strength (8-), we continued on to Bridal Veil Falls. A short hiking trail leads you down to this smaller-sized drop.

These three falls are heavily visited because of their close proximity, easy accessibility from the highway. We skipped stopping at Latourell Falls because of the lateness in the day, but Annette and Allison took a quick peek out the window as we drove by.
Next, the road began a steep climb in elevation to summit a large rock block that juts above the Columbia. Here we made a last stop of the day at the unique Vista House on Crown Point (Below left) for a great view of sunset before heading the last few miles back to Portland.

In our two days, we could not do it all. There are lots more hikes and sights that we would like to do. We had to 'save some' for another visit. We are sure that we will return.
Learn More About Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge
Mount Hood - USGS
Mount Hood - National Forest Service
Mount Hood - Volcano World
Columbia River Gorge - National Forest Service
Columbia River Gorge - GORP
Learn More About Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens - Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Mount St. Helens - USGS
Mount St. Helens - Volcano World
Mount St. Helens - GORP
Mount St. Helens Remembered - Seattle Times
Mount St. Helens, 20 Years Later - CNN

Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 7/01.
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