Last weekend, Lance and I accompanied my brother and his family to Portland, which included several detours. The first detour was Mount St. Helens.
Honestly, after seeing Mt. Rainier, I never thought looking at St. Helens or Mt. Hood (which we saw later that same day) would even compare. I was wrong. St. Helens, though not nearly as tall as Mt. Rainier, is still a very impressive sight, but not nearly as impressive as the eruption in 1980 that launched it into the history books, an event upon which the tourism in this area is primarily based.
It's shocking how tourism here can border on the absolutely tacky...with signs on hotels that say things like "hope you had a blast!" or completely tasteless souvenirs (you'll see Lance wearing a baseball cap in my photos that explains what I mean). Yes, people died in this eruption. But it is also from the tourism industry surrounding it that people put their lives and their communities back together.
There are beautiful souvenirs that literally rise from the ashes of St. Helens - I bought a snowman ornament molded out of ash. We watched a glass blower make beautiful creations using volcanic ash harvested from St. Helens. These are the things I want to take home with me, to remember St. Helens.
As you drive closer to the mountain, the atmosphere becomes increasingly eerie. You notice entire forests in which the trees are all exactly the same height. Many of these forests are labeled with the year they were planted. Most, as you would guess, were planted after 1980. Eventually, you see a large sign warning you that you are entering the blast zone, and then the road starts a slow ascent upwards toward the mountain. There are several lookout points along this road, and we didn't get to all of them. After all, we had to get to Portland. The crater that was blown out in the eruption, on its north face, was obscured by clouds. So unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of it.
On the way back to the freeway to continue down to Portland, we stopped at a tacky Bigfoot souvenir shop. This area is also known as being home to Sasquatch, and you can pretty much spot him in every souvenir stand in the area (and you can't really miss the giant Sasquatch statue made out of ash).
For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant called 19 Mile House. The food was average, but the view from their back porch was lovely. The restaurant is apparently known for its cobbler (although we didn't have any) and it also has a souvenir shop. In the front yard is a truck that has been sitting there since 1980...completely totaled by the eruption, it stands as a testament to the power of St. Helens.
On the road again...
It was early afternoon when we reached the Washington - Oregon border, which is divided by the Columbia River. It was a clear day, so we had a great view of Mt. Hood in the distance. Also shorter than Mt. Rainier, it has a pointy top and looks completely different, and every bit as impressive.
Sorry I didn't have pictures of it. In fact, I didn't get any pictures of Portland, except for one.
We arrived in Portland without any hotel reservations (I wouldn't recommend this) and spent a good chunk of our time there just checking to see if we could get a room somewhere. Nearly every hotel was sold out, but we finally managed to get 2 rooms at a Shilo Inn near the convention center. It's certainly not the best hotel I've ever stayed in...especially as Lance and I had to sleep in a smoking room. But at least it was one of the more affordable options for downtown Portland, and it was half a block from the tram into the main area of downtown (a Denny's is just down the street as well, which was handy for breakfast the next morning).
Once the rooms were taken care of, we explored. Marcus and Lance were particularly interested in the Oregon Brewers Fest taking place that weekend on the riverfront. So we took the tram (which is free for most of the downtown area) to the stop that was closest to the festival and followed the crowds in. It was a bust, however. So crowded that each line for each type of beer was at least a half hour wait. We gave up shortly after we got there. Besides, I didn't relish another Oktoberfest-type incident like what I had last year.
So they decided to sample the local brews at bars and restaurants instead. And thus began our tour of Portland's fine drinking establishments. I can't even remember where we ate dinner...it was completely unremarkable anyway, and the beer was not well-praised. But we went to Paddy's Bar and Grill after that...a nice Irish pub that had a great looking menu (I wish we had eaten there), and absolutely ginormous selection of liquors, a good beer and wine list, and a fantastic waitress. We just chilled out there a bit and relaxed, but at 9 pm, it's only open to adults 21 and over, so we had to leave, as we had my sister-in-law's 13 year old son in tow (who was dying of boredom anyway).
So...back on the tram...back to the hotel. Didn't see much of Portland. We left shortly after breakfast the next morning.
What I did see of it, I absolutely loved. I love Seattle, but Portland is more my scene. It's got the feel of a smaller town and everyone is so outgoing and friendly. We didn't feel the least bit unsafe or uncomfortable wandering around at night. Everyone there seemed really happy. Lance and I might consider relocating down there at some point.
After breakfast at Denny's, we headed to the Columbia River Gorge area, where we visited Multnomah Falls, stopping first at Wahkeenah Falls. That was a beautiful little detour, but I didn't bring proper shoes for hiking, so it was a bit difficult making the 1 mile loop between the two falls. Note to self: proper footwear next time. Of course, I only packed for city walking. Did not expect that we would be going there, but I'm so glad we did.
We started heading back up toward Seattle before lunch, stopping at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on the way home. That was more for Marcus's benefit, as he's an avid birdwatcher, but I saw a beaver and a river otter, so I'm not complaining.
So was that enough to do in 2 days? I think so. Whew.