About an hour drive from where we were visiting in Tacoma, WA is Ballard Locks. The official name is Hiram M. Chittendom Locks, but I don’t think anybody knows that.
Ballard Locks is more than just a shipping channel. On the shore are beautiful gardens, with rare trees and plants. Parks to sit and watch the activity on the locks, have a picnic, or roll down the gentle slopes, as a number of children (and adults) were doing. There is also a walking path through the gardens and a museum. We had a personal tour guide: Tim, a ranger, took us around and pointed out features of the gardens and locks. He pointed out ginko trees, dawn redwoods and sequoias in the gardens.
He showed us the difference between the stronger, original cement and gravel construction of the buildings and the newer cement benches, which were already cracked and crumbling. He explained how the locks functioned as we watched them in action.
He showed us the fish ladders where the salmon migrate from their ocean home, back to fresh waters to spawn. Cables, much like clotheslines, are strung across the locks to protect the spawning salmon and smolts from seagulls and other predatory birds.
We watched as kayakers paddled through the locks from fresh water into Puget Sound and yachts motored from Puget Sound through the locks.
Even sculptures are displayed at the locks.
Across the dam, there is an underwater viewing area, where you can watch the locks and fish ladders, if you’re lucky you’ll see some fish. Of course, it helps if you’re there during spawning season.
Mount Saint Helens National Monument is an easy day trip from either Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington. From Portland we headed up the freeway through thick forests and past numerous rivers, streams, and lakes. Once on the road heading up the mountain, you can see the numerous areas that had to be evacuated in the days leading up to the eruption in 1980 (the mountain is a volcano). At least one old mountain man refused to leave his cabin, knowing that he was not long for this world anyway, and preferring to die on his mountain. There are many stopping places in between, but we waited until we were in the Mt. St. Helens area to stop for lunch. The visitor’s center at Hoffstadt Bluffs is nestled in a small valley just below the volcano. There are viewing areas, picnic tables, and a nice, grassy knoll, perfect for children (and some adults) to roll down. You can walk down to the river or sit in the sun outside the café next to the visitor’s center. This gift shop is very limited, but it is the only one open in late April, so we made do.
We continued all the way up to Johnston Ridge Observatory, where a ranger was giving a talk, despite the facilities being closed. We walked part of the trail, but only a little ways. This was an outing with abuelo, so no extreme hiking today. Much of the trail is paved, but there is a longer version that turns to dirt and gravel. We’re saving that for next time.
Watching the clouds play around the mountain was fascinating. At one point, a cloud formation made it look like the cinder cone was actually steaming! But it finally shifted and we could tell it was just clouds. Our pulses raced for a few moments.
On the way down, we stopped for an early dinner at The Birth of a Lake Trail. This lake was formed as a result of the 1980 blast and is still protected as it continues to grow and nurture water and plant life. The crystal clear blue waters sparkle in the sunlight. Spiders spin their webs unmolested. The trail goes most of the way around the lake, with plenty of stops for sitting and viewing.
Abuelo and Tia did a good section of this trail with his walker/chair. After a couple hours of relaxation at this quiet spot (until the guy with the leaf blower showed up) we continued back to busy Portland, scenes of mountainous beauty and visions of the frightening power of nature filling our minds to be pulled forth for future mental getaways.
Getting ready for vacation wears me out. Trying to pack as little as possible and yet have everything we need sets off some lively discussions at our house. Nevertheless, my travelling companions and I managed to divvy up the labor and circumvent any pre-trip explosions. The plan, visit family and see some sights in Oregon and Washington over 3 weeks in August. The mode, a 24 mile per gallon Jeep Cherokee and a newly acquired used tent trailer. The new (to us) tent trailer was checked out, and minor repairs made. Camping supplies were reorganized and streamlined into two boxes and a cooler. Sleeping bags, camp chairs and camp stove were packed. Personal items were packed, unpacked, and repacked into half the space. This weary pilgrim fell into bed early to grab a few hours sleep before the epic vacation was to start. At 2:20a.m., grumbling and threatening bodily harm to a certain travelling companion who begrudged me my last 10 minutes of sleep, I stumbled to the espresso machine and made myself a large double (would that be a quadruple?). I dressed myself and my son, gathered my purse and book, and packed us into the back seat of the jeep, where we proceeded to fall directly back to sleep. It was still too dark for any sight seeing anyway.
First stop, Las Vegas, Nevada. Breakfast buffet at Palace Station. The cheese blintzes were awesome, but the strawberry sauce I put on top of them was not. Should have stuck with a dusting of powdered sugar. Coffee and sausage were plentiful, and after some in our party topped off with ice cream cones, we made our way to Bass Pro Shop for air mattresses. Unfortunately, we forgot the air pump at home, so had to get another one. I was in favor of a 12volt that could be left attached, to inflate the mattresses while we set up the rest of our camp, got the fire going, cooked dinner, etc. I was overrulled by manly men insisting on a bicycle style pump. Okay by me, I’m not the one going to be inflating the air mattresses anyway.
Now with the sun up, the drive through Nevada towards Reno was alot of gray, hot, dreary desert. It was too hot to stop anywhere to make sandwiches for lunch (our cooler and other food were in the tent trailer), so we just snacked. A roadside stand boasted buffalo jerkey, but it was rather pricey, so we opted for garlic stuffed olives instead – yuck! were they sour! Then we read the label and found they weren’t even local…
We stopped again to stretch our legs in Goldfield, Nevada. While everyone else went over to inspect an ancient Mercedes diesel, I walked around the even more ancient Goldfield Hotel. Repairs are apparently being attempted on the dilapidated building, but they do not appear to be historically correct, which is a disappointment because it must have been a beautiful building. I must know: why such a huge hotel exists in such a remote town and what is the story of Goldfield? I will report at a future date.
The remainder of our first day is spent driving through the unmerciful heat of the Nevada desert. We finally reach our first camp at midnight, Donner Pass, but that will have to wait until my next post…