DNA-X 2014 # 10 From Sea to Scorched…
The DNA-X crew pushed west, through the lush forests of Oregon to the coast. We landed at the beach in Newport and checked into a hotel. Though the room was small the view of the beach was expansive. There’s lots to do here; start the day with a long walk on the beach then visit Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area where Oregon’s tallest lighthouse keeps watch from a volcanic outcropping. Explore Cobble Beach below the light where the rounded lava rocks make a wonderful gurgling sound with each wave. Head to town for lunch where the area’s fishing fleets bring their catch and local restaurants serve it up. Later, head to the Oregon Coast Aquarium to see first class exhibits on the Pacific Ocean’s residents.
We wandered north up the Pacific Coast Highway snaking our way between mountains and sheer cliffs detouring along the Three Capes Scenic Drive. This loop takes you through several state parks ending at Cape Meares for a spectacular view of sea stacks, pillar-like blocks of rock isolated from the land by erosion as well as some of Oregon’s last old growth forest. Unfortunately, all along this coast are large sections of clear-cut forests, bald mountaintops and no more forest giants. The enormous Sitka spruces and Douglas Furs that can grow taller than 300 feet have been extensively logged for decades. The state is trying to protect the remaining stands for future generations to enjoy.
Pip, our co-pilot who is in charge of finding a course for this adventure, got out his dart and aimed at Washington State. In a blur, the dart whizzed by us and stuck into the map on an island off the coast of Seattle. Captain Jay steered Blue on a course to Bainbridge Island. Surrounded by Puget Sound, Bainbridge is a peaceful settlement with several parks, beaches and trails wandering through tall evergreen forests. We found a bed at the Inn at Pleasant Beach conveniently located a few steps away from a great restaurant.
We could see Olympic National Park from the inn and since the weather was good we drove the two hours to have a day in the park. This is not enough time to even scratch the surface of this amazing park. Centered in the middle of the Olympic Peninsula, this park has over one million acres of just about everything! Coastline, forests, mountains, glaciers, untamed rivers and animals and plants found nowhere else. There are no roads through the park so access is via a perimeter road that circles the park with spur roads leading into various points. We drove the winding road up to the top of Hurricane Ridge to catch the view of Mt Olympus and the other glacier topped peaks. To get closer the only option is hiking in.
The next day we noticed our weather window was closing. We eyeballed the map to see if we could pull off a drive to see a special place we had long talked about. Let’s do it! It was now or never. We had to backtrack a little but the destination was worth it. Four hours later we entered a desolate landscape. On May 18th, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted with the power equal to the force of a 10-megaton nuclear explosion. The explosion triggered a massive landslide and propelled a lateral blast of searing, 400-degree hot gas, pumice and ash at a blinding 300 miles per hour. The heat melted Helen’s glaciers creating deadly mudslides flowing 90 miles per hour in all directions. Virtually every living thing within 230 square miles was destroyed. 57 people died. Spirit Lake, which sits below the volcano, was turned into a boiling broth with avalanche generated 850-foot waves dragging tens of thousands of trees into the soup. Millions of tons of ash settled over 7 states and shut down I90 for a week amongst other things. Even now, 35 years later, the landscape is just beginning to recover. Mount St. Helens remains restless, still considered the most active and dangerous volcano in the US. Inside the crater she continues to emit steam while forming a new lava dome and oddly, the world’s newest glacier. It was a sobering reminder of how powerful and unpredictable the Ring of Fire can be.
Our route to the next hotel took us north through Mount Rainier National Park. The clouds lowered and we caught a glimpse of stunning Rainier, the largest and most glaciated volcano in the Cascades. We will have to visit again when the sun shines. It’s now time to head east and say goodbye to the sleeping giants and lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. Pip? Get the dart please…