Friday, June 30, 2006

Mount Saint Helens

After running through the Columbia River Gorge I decided to stop for the evening in the small town of Woodland, WA to position myself for a ride I've been waiting to complete for a long, long time - Mount Saint Helens. The past two times I've been in the area the park has been closed and the only time I've been able to enter the park was at night during the Butt-Lite III. Riding to Windy Ridge at night was interesting, to say the least. This time would be different.

As a 13 year old punk kid back in 1980 I was awestruck by the events that happened on May 18th. Volcanoes were something that I just didn't think about in North America. In my immature and naive mind, volcanoes only existed on little islands in the south Pacific or in ancient Greece and Italy. Mount Saint Helens changed all that. I learned about the ring of fire; the earth's tectonic plates; fault lines; how the tectonic plates constantly slide into and over one another; and perhaps most importantly, I gained a modicum of perspective and appreciation for the geologic timescale.

Firsthand reports weren't hard to come by either. My Dad's side of the family (most of them anyway) inhabit the Pacific Northwest and, obviously, all the major networks reported on the goings on in the region. One of my aunts sent a couple jars of ash to us in Texas. I think I still have one of them somewhere. I remember watching the news with my Father and seeing the debris flows and how the ash cloud was traveling around the globe. We could actually discern a bit of ash in the atmosphere in Texas. Nothing like the northwest, of course, but it was cool to see. All the years since I've been waiting to get back and see the area with my own eyes.

Leaving Woodland along WA-503 (aka Lewis River Road), the ride out past Cougar and into the park is twisty and fun along lakes Merwin, Yale and Swift. It is actually one of the best rides I've experienced in Washington. Granted, I haven't ridden all of Washington's roads, but the combination of WA-503, FR-90, FR-25 and FR-99 is one that will be difficult to beat on many levels. The road surfaces are nice, the road is twisty and hilly in all the right places, the smells are truly northwest and the views of the area are magnificent. The first glimpse of the south side of Mount Saint Helens comes quickly along WA-503. I had to make a U-turn for these.

And the views just kept getting better and better and as I wound my way from the south side of the mountain to the northeast side.

After turning on FR-99 toward Windy Ridge you're still outside of the blast zone. Surprisingly, the area between zones is abrupt and almost instantaneous. One moment you're riding through the pre-blast old growth forest and the next you're in the middle of a forest of bones where trees were either torn from the ground or sheared or snapped in half like toothpicks.

Over the years life has taken hold in what was once total devastation. A true testament to the resilience and perseverance of life. It starts slowly, but nature began rejuvenating immediately after the explosion.

Windy Ridge is perhaps the best place to witness the devastation in the immediate blast zone as it's situated on the northeast side of the mountain. A short hike up to the top of the hill overlooking Windy Ridge provides an excellent view into the lava dome and a view of the what's left of the north side of the slope that fell off the mountain as the earthquake opened up the mountain and allowed the blast to occur.

The first three pics above show the north side of the mountain - or what's left of it - and the next two pics show how the north side of the mountain fell and flowed into the Spirit lake area. What's left of Spirit lake is a bit of water and an enourmous amount of forest bones floating in the water. The vast pools of bones are an amazing site and testament to the power of the initial explosion as well as the length of time it will take for this region to fully recover to its old glory. We all will be long gone when this area is an old growth forest again.

I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to tour this portion of Mount Saint Helens. It's an amazing ride and journey into the awesome power of mother nature. And as smoke and steam periodically rise from the lava dome, we're all reminded that the geological evolution of this area continues right before eyes.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hells Canyon

After the Utah 1088 I wanted to head back to the northwest and ride through Hells Canyon, the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Saint Helens and Glacier National Park before heading to the Spokane/CDA area to visit family for the 4th. Just a hop, skip and a twist from Salt Lake City is Baker City, Oregon - a nice little town with a rich pioneer history from the Oregon Trail days. I found a nice, cheap hotel right on the edge of the historic district - The Bridge Street Inn. The rooms were clean, quiet, included high-speed internet and at $38/night, were some of the cheapest rates I've seen in a long time. If I ever stay in Baker City again, I won't hesitate to stay here again.

Hells Canyon is a region in the northeast corner of Oregon and includes parts of Idaho as well. It's up to one and a half miles deep and ten miles across and is the deepest gorge in North America. Today, the Snake River continues to carve its way through the canyon and expose a plethora of geoligcal formations along the way. The gorge as we know it today is relatively young at two million years, but the region began to form three-hundred to one-hundred million years ago when two oceanic plates collided in the south Pacific ocean and created the Blue Mountain Island Arc. Inch by inch the islands migrated northward over 2000 miles where it collided with the North American continent. From seventeen to six million years ago, lava flows filled in the low areas in what is now Oregon, Washington and western Idaho. The Snake River along with other elements of erosion have shaped the region since.

That evening I perused a map and decided on an easy route through the Hells Canyon region. From Baker City along OR-86 to the Wallowah Mountain Loop (FR-39) north to Joseph, OR. There are other roads that take you through the canyon itself and to other overlooks outside of Imnaha, but I had to leave something for another time.

When I left the next morning I stopped to take a few pictures from an overlook back into the valley where the Oregon Trail ran. Emmigrants flowed over the trail from the early to late 1800s. The trek must have been demanding from every perspective. Those who successfully made the trek were eventually rewarded with land and opportunity.

OR-86 is a nice, curvy road that winds along the Powder river through the drier region of the valley. As elevation increases, so does the vegetation.

In 1984 a section of OR-86 was covered by a landslide induced by an over abundance of rain and gravity. The slide also blocked the Powder river and created a reservoir. The old section of the road still exists to some degree. The photos below show the old section of road where the reservoir would have been, the slide area and the backend of the slide area respectively.

The Wallowa Mountain Loop (FR-39) is an excellent road with an overall good surface that winds its way up onto the Hells Canyon plateau.

The first section of the loop follows a creek and, not too far along, begins the ascent. Spring time is evident with wildflowers faintly blanketing sections of the hills.

The Hells Canyon overlook is strikingly familiar to some of the overlooks of the Grand Canyon. Even some of the features are familiar. The biggest difference between the two is the Grand Canyon is drier which exposes in greater detail the various rock formations, but the Hells Canyon formations are still evident. Just a bit more green. When I first arrived and took a look over the canyon I noticed the last picture below looks very familiar to this picture of the Grand Canyon. It may be difficult to tell in the last picture, but there's a path out to the edge of the plateau and that's the feature that reminded me of the other picture.

At then end of the day I found myself in Pendleton, Oregon. I was trying to hook up with a friend I've known from the Internet for a long damn time, but never had the opportunity to shake his hand. We eventually hooked up the next morning before I bolted off to the next destination. The road brings us a lot of things, but friends is surely one of the best. It was nice to finally shake Mikey's hand and meet him in person.

Followup - August

After the June trip to Hells Canyon I began to feel like I left a few things on Hells plate. I don't like that feeling so upon my return to the west in August I decided to return to the canyon to finish up. I wanted to run up to Imnaha and ride out to Hat Point Overlook. I thought Hat Point Road was paved, but it's not. Once in Imnaha facing 50 miles of dirt/gravel I decided I just wasn't up for it. I reckon I'll have to come back. :)

I spent the night in Enterprise, OR. On the way through Joseph, OR (named after the Nez Pearce's Chief Joseph) I noticed a number of metal sculptures lining the main thoroughfare. Very nice sculptures. As it happens, I also noticed the Cheyenne Cafe and heeded the first rule of the road - eat a good breakfast. The cafe was filled with locals drinking coffee around a big table and shooting the early morning shit. This place had to be good and it was. Plenty of coffee and grub for about $8.

Hells Canyon Road runs north from Oxbow 22 miles to Hells Canyon Dam. It's an excellent road that follows the water's edge twisting, climbing and falling all the way back. Definitely worth the time. Here's a few shots of the area.