Feel Like An Explorer

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

Athabasca Glacier

I can only imagine what it must feel like to work for the National Geographic and visit remote places like the North or South Poles.  The summer of 2016 gave me the opportunity to experience what might be close to what the NG field crews get to feel and see.  Fortunately the Columbia Icefields is neither remote nor difficult to reach.

The Canadian Rockies offer a variety of experiences available to people of all ages and abilities.  You can enjoy the town of Banff and the magnificent hotels in the morning and hike to the toe of a glacier in the afternoon.  This is done with a car and a hiking stick.

My most memorable moment of this trip is when I hiked to the toe of Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields.  Gray clouds were hanging low and moving fast.  It was cold and windy with sleet stinging my face.  I said to myself, “This is what it feels like to work for the National Geographic!” It was totally awesome and I loved every minute.

Getting to the Columbia Icefields is not difficult, just take Hwy 93 west from Banff in Alberta for about 2.5 hours.   The trailhead is directly across from the Icefields Visitors Center which you can’t miss because it’s the only thing out there.  Driving along the Icefields Parkway can take longer than you might expect with all the scenic stops offered along the way.

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

Ice Cave

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

National Geographic Wannabe

Paradise in Washington State

An easy day trip from Seattle or Portland, Mt. Rainier National Park offers spectacular alpine scenery and hiking opportunities.  The most popular destination is Paradise where you’ll find Paradise Inn, a visitors center, and paved trails for a close up experience with the mountain.  You’ll see alpine flowers such as Bear Grass blooming in the fields during the summer.  Get there early and enjoy the fresh clean air, mountain views, and peaceful old growth forests.


Touring Seattle and Pacific Northwest

What are you going to do when you’re in Seattle with a few days before you head out on a cruise or return home after sailing to Alaska?  This is a common question for many and fortunately has several answers depending on your budget and personal preferences.  There are many options close to Seattle and there are other exciting options just across the state border in Oregon.  Follow the hyperlinks within the discussion below for detailed information as you plan your visit and when you find your way around the Northwest.

If a waterfall is what you’re looking for, it’s an hour or less drive out of Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls.  Don’t miss Pike Place Market if you’re in the downtown area.  The first Starbucks is just across the street.  You’ll find numerous shops with unique and hard to find items, plus you might be lucky enough to see a fish fly above the crowd.  If you like planes or cars, plan a visit to the Museum of Flight just south of downtown or the Car Museum in Takoma which is just a little further south of town.

Travel into the Cascade Mountain Range to see Mount Rainier or Mount St. Helens.  Mt. Rainier is seen from Seattle and can be reached in only a couple of hours.  I recommend the Ashford, WA entrance which leads to the Paradise section of the park where you’ll find outstanding views and fresh air.  If you have more time to travel out of Seattle, you’ll want to visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mt. St. Helens.  Yes, it’s still active but taking a rest for now.  The latest report (Spring 2014) is that a mass of molten material is growing beneath the mountain.  The eruption of 1980 is an incredible story and one worth checking out in person.  Check out my previous post on Mount St. Helens for some photos.

If you want to experience the Pacific Coast, head over to Ruby Beach in the Olympic National Park.  It’s over a 3 hour drive through Olympia, WA.  Lodging in the park is extremely costly or unavailable.  In about the same amount of time you can get to Astoria, Oregon which is filled with history and beauty, if it’s not foggy.  Just south of Astoria is the incredible North Oregon Coast.  On a clear day the coast with its rocks, sea lions, and huge crashing white waves are an amazing sight.  One of my favorite locations is Ecola State Park located just north of Cannon Beach famous for its haystack rock.

The Cascade Mountains and the Northwest coast are truly spectacular, but equally in grandeur is the Columbia River Gorge.  Start out in Vancouver, Washington, at the actual location of Fort Vancouver established before the Northwest was part of the United States.  Next swing around to I-84 via I-205 and venture east.  The Vista House at Crown Point should be your first stop.  Then stay on the scenic path and stop at all the waterfalls.  Multnomah Falls is the most popular and offers food, information, and restrooms.  One option is to get back on I-84 and cross over to Washington State at Cascade Locks.  Be sure to stop at the base of the bridge in Cascade Locks ( Bridge of The Gods) to look at the river and get some pictures of the bridge.  When you cross over, you can check out the city of Stevenson just to the east about five minutes, or you can head back toward Vancouver.  See my previous post on Stevenson for more on the city.  On your way back to Vancouver you’ll see Beacon Rock State Park.  This is interesting from an historical and geological point of view.  The rock is actually the core of a volcano that was referenced by Lewis and Clark.  You can climb to the top and get some incredible views of the area.  Continuing east you’ll come to the city of Washougal where you’ll see the Pendleton Woolen Mill along Hwy 14.  Stop here if you want a tour of the mill or want to purchase some merchandise from the most famous maker of wool blankets.

If you have even more time to explore the Columbia River Gorge, don’t turn off at Cascade Locks and keep traveling east toward Hood River.  The little town of Hood River is well known for its apples, cherries, berries, and other fruit crops that are available beginning in June.  You’ll see the flyers for the Hood River Fruit Loop at all the information stations in the Gorge.  Continuing east will bring you to The Dalles, Oregon.   Stop at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center to learn about the Columbia River and Native Americans that lived off the river until the politicians demanded electricity for every American.  This farther end of the gorge is unlike the area around Multnomah Falls.  Here in The Dalles you’ll find more arid conditions that add to the experience.

Regardless of the path you choose when you set foot out of Seattle you won’t be disappointed.  Just be sure to check for alerts on the web sites of where you’re headed.  Summer is also known as road construction time so check the ODOT and WSDOT sites before you get on the road.  Enjoy your time with nature in the Northwest and remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Mt. St. Helens – To the Crater and Back

If you’re planning a visit to the Pacific Northwest and want to see a something spectacular, don’t skip a drive to Mt. St. Helens.  Here you get to experience part of the Cascade Mountain Range and what makes it unique.  You’ll see wildlife, tall Douglas Firs, cold mountain streams, lakes, a volcano, and perhaps Bigfoot.  Easily accessible from Seattle or Portland, the road to Mt. St. Helens is only 53 miles long starting at Castle Rock, WA on I-5.  There are many visitor centers where you can stop on the way but very few gas stations so start your trip with a full tank. 

My wife asked what I wanted to do for my Birthday and I said visit the volcano.  Unfortunately the kids were sick on my birthday so I delayed our trip to Mt. St. Helens for the next clear weekend when nothing else was on the calendar.  The day finally arrived so we packed a picnic, the cameras, hiking poles, Washington State Discover Pass, and lots of water.   Check out my post for packing an easy picnic.

Our first stop was Seaquest State Park, about 5.5 miles on Hwy. 504 from I-5.  It was around noon and time for lunch.  Seaquest is essentially a camping park but is great for a picnic too.  It also has some hiking trails and one that leads to a visitor center across highway 504 where a boardwalk winds through some marshland and besides Silver Lake where we saw birds, fish, and lots of wildflowers.  The Mt. St. Helens Visitors Center at  Silver Lake contains some great displays and a video for a small fee.  Of course we first had our lunch in the shade of the tall fir trees.

As we continued down the road toward our destination we began to cross over many rivers.  The Toutle River got our attention.  We learned from the first visitor center how the river carried destructive mud flows during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.   Around mile marker 20 you’ll see a sign leading to an overview of the Sediment Retention Structure.  Here you can take a short hike for a closer look at the river and all the sediment that remains as a result of the mud flows. 

Hoffstadt Bluffs is another great place to stop and you’ll find it around mile marker 27.  They offer free yet interesting displays related to Mt. St. Helens, a restaurant, and a gift shop inside their impressive lodge styled building.  On the outside they offer a great view of the mountain in the distance and helicopter rides if you want to get up close and personal with the volcano. 

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument from Hoffstad Bluffs

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

From Hoffstadt Bluffs you’ll notice the road beginning to climb and wind more as you head east.  The Forest Learning Center is at mile marker 33 where you’ll get more awesome views of the mountain and the Elk grazing below along the Toutle River Basin.  This impressive visitor’s center is free of charge and houses an indoor forest exhibit where you’ll learn all about the forest and the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  It’s ideal for all ages.

Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center view over Toutle River Basin

Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center view over Toutle River Basin

There are more great places to stop like Elk Rock and Coldwater Lake before you reach the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  We opted to pass them on the way up.  It was getting late and we all wanted to reach our destination to look squarely into the crater of the volcano. 

Our excitement grew as we walked up the path towards the large open viewing area that was crowded with tourists from all over the world.  The views of the crater, lava dome, and the landslide deposit were captivating.  Fortunately there is a half mile walk, Eruption Trail, that leads away from the building where you can get even better views of not just the mountain but the entire surrounding area.  You’ll also see Mt. Adams and the hillsides that contain the remains of downed trees from the 1980 eruption.  Inside of the observatory you’ll find a comfortable theater and educational exhibits.  The end of the film was truly spectacular.  We were impressed by the high quality of the film and found it enjoyable as well as educational.

Mt. St. Helens Crater Lava Dome at the Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mt. St. Helens Crater Lava Dome at the Johnston Ridge Observatory – National Volcanic Monument

Driving back down to I-5 was quick and easy, although we stopped at Elk Rock for a few more pictures.  We were also on the lookout for Bigfoot since we saw him on the way up and wanted to get a picture with him. 

Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center - Big Foot
Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center with Big Foot Exhibits

We stopped at the Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center, took some pictures with Bigfoot, and looked at the merchandise.  It was actually a pleasant and unexpected surprise.  The store had unusual items that we did not see in all the other visitor centers.  Of course all the Bigfoot merchandise was unique too.   If you stop here be sure to ask about the last time Bigfoot was spotted. 

Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center Big Foot Sighting
Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center Big Foot Statue

Not once were we bored when traveling on Hwy 504 and the observatory was outstanding.  Bathroom facilities all along the road to Mt. St. Helens were acceptable to my wife and daughter, and that’s not something we’ve experienced everywhere.  The views were incredible from many different places along the way.  Overall, we had a great travel experience.   Don’t miss out on this great American treasure if you’re ever in the Northwest.  


Mt. St. Helens from Elk Rock Viewpoint