(Though this doesn’t beat for dreaminess a trip my family took, in the middle of the night in very early ’86, to Manasses Battlefield National Park, telescope in car, to attempt to see Halley’s Comet. We didn’t, and I wasn’t really “up” for the trip, so for much of it I stretched out in our Volvo station wagon, resting though never quite falling back to sleep. We then got home, I crawled into bed, closed my eyes, and then it was like I opened them immediately and there was light. I mean, dark-blink-light, like that. Whoa. That’s deep sleep.)
I’ve been planning this as a photo-shooting excursion for a while, waiting for a weekend that’d be clear and dry enough that I’d actually be able to see the mountain from several miles away. Last night the weather forecast was promising, so I stocked up: gas for the car, film for the camera, snacks for my travellin’ self. Early to bed last night, very early to rise, and in half an hour (my target time for getting out the door) I was on my way. I actually left half an hour later than I’d first planned, but the timing worked out on the mountain end.
I ran into patchy fog around the 45-mile mark on I-5, then on Hwy 504 a.k.a. the Spirit Lake Highway, but then it was clear…and I saw the waning crescent moon very soon after moonrise, vividly orange and looking huge. I took that as a good omen.
There was enough light for me to warrant pulling off for pictures at the Elk Rock Viewpoint, from where you can see both Mt. St Helens and Mt. Adams, and I put on my Ducks ballcap to hold in my unruly unwashed hair and then opened the door slightly and WHOOOOOOOOOSH the wind was roaring out there so I closed the door quickly and put my ballcap aside. And then I put on my yellow coat for the first time on this trip, because I was going to need it. It was below freezing, as I confirmed by sliding on a patch of ice as I walked along the parking lot barrier.
By the way, being miles from any other person (I didn’t see anyone until, oh, between 6 and 6:30 as I was parked near the locked gate to Coldwater Ridge Visitors Center, and a ranger pulled up in a car, opened that gate and continued up a service road) loosens my tongue. I let myself shouuuuuuuuuuut, as well as sing Monty Python lyrics and perform Jay-and-Silent-Bob scenes that I would not perform in mixed company (or at least for my folks). I’m sure you’re shocked. (If you’re Michelle Shocked, hi!)
I knew I could not drive to the eastern end of the highway, as the nearest visitor’s center to the volcano is closed until next month, so I wandered near Coldwater Lake. A couple of my shots include my little Honda Accord, with the lake and snow-capped hills in the background. “It’s my car ad!” I said to myself, pleased and amused. Then there was the ranger, to whom I waved, and then lucking into seeing two deer on a ridge above me (I hope that shot turned out), and then actual sun in my face. After that, I headed back towards civilization, which I defined at that moment as “anywhere with a working open bathroom.”
I made my last St. Helens-related stop at 8:15, pulling off to the visitor’s center nearest I-5. It wouldn’t be open until 9, so obviously I didn’t stop. Then I took the bridge at Longview over the Columbia River and drove to the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant…one more place I wanted to photograph, while I was in the neighborhood.
Trojan was Oregon’s only nuclear power plant. It closed in 1993. Its 499-foot cooling tower is now being prepared for implosion, much like what was done to the Kingdome. The blowing-it-to-smithereens happens next month, and as it’s an icon of my youth – I once teased my Kelso cousins about living between Trojan to the west and that volcano to the east – I was eager to get near it again. I’ve been there twice before, once to visit the visitor’s center (long since closed as well) and then in 1997 on my way back to Portland from a trip to the coast. There is a pretty park around it, with lakes and opportunities to fish, with that gray curved bulk rising Devil’s Tower-like on the eastern end. It’s very striking. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten used to seeing nuclear power plants, but it will seem weird to have it gone.
Construction crews are drilling into the structure to create weak spots more easily broken by explosives. I saw dozens of what I think are painted dots marking where they’ll drill, or have drilled, or whatever; I know little about demolition. The noise from that drilling echoed from the tower’s eastern side as families and resting geese wandered around near the lakes. And I made a neat discovery: what looks like an abandoned park area with moss-covered benches, from which I followed a path through woods. The path led to a long, covered bird observation area, almost like what you’d see in a zoo but clearly unused for a long time. I walked to the end of the structure, saw a large bird take off from marshy water to the west, and got a great camera angle looking up at the Trojan tower through grass and weeds. And I’m drawn to abandoned structures; must be my post-apocalyptic leanings asserting themselves.
I drove back to Portland, stopped at Fred Meyer, dropped off the film, and reached home. Then I rested and relaxed; I was pretty tired, as well as a ltitle wind-burned (as opposed to sunburned, as I didn’t see the sun that much). I’m presentable again, after a shower and a walk. Laundry dries downstairs. On to the rest of the weekend.
P.S. This is how geeky I am: I scanned the snowy peaks near Mt. St. Helens this morning hoping to see signal fires, like in Return of the King.