Stranded In The Southland

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Ape Cave, Volcanic Canyons, And Yakima

After an extra day in Portland (we had to hit Powells, right!?), we were a little unsure about what else to take on. M. had mentioned a desire to see more of Washington, and I was kind of interested in checking out more volcanoes, but we didn't really know what to do.

We finally decided to trek on up to Mt. St. Helens and check it out from the south and east. The roads got smaller and smaller and quieter and quieter, until we finally wound up in the National Forest south of the mountain, and stopped off at the Ape Cave. This is a fabulous lava tube extending down the mountain, first explored by a youth group who called themselves the "St. Helen Apes."

The Forest Service rented us a big-ass Coleman lantern for $5 or so, we pulled on our warm clothes and headlamps, and headed down. You can either head up-hill on a long hike with boulders to climb and all sorts of rough stuff (which M. was quite reasonably opposed to) or you can head down on a nice short hike (which is what we settled on).

I'd never been in a lava tube before, and I was totally blown away. This thing was 20 feet high in places (even in the lowest places, I could barely touch the ceiling!), and probably 30 feet wide in places (and again, never less than about 10 feet wide). It seemed like you could take a freight train through there.

After a short stroll, the cave eventually runs into a big plug of silt, so that it just disappears into the floor, getting shorter and shorter. I started to crawl the last little bit, but once I banged my head hard enough to draw blood, I figured enough was enough.

On the way back out, we turned off the big-ass lantern and just used our headlamps, which were more than enough for our dark-adjusted eyes. In fact, it was pretty cool to spend some time with all the lights off, just looking around at nothing at all, in the cool, quiet, dark.

Strangely enough, the cave was pretty cold, at around 42 degrees. I'm used to caves that are in the mid-50s, and I couldn't find a really good answer about why the cave was so cold. (It was suggested that basalt is such a dense rock that it's a great insulator, and further suggested that cold air falls into the tube and warm air can rise out of it, since the cave slopes up. I'm still interested in learning more.)

Anyway, after a pleasant little hike in the dark, we decided to head on up to the western side of the mountain, skipping the nearby Lava Canyon because our park service map indicated that it was washed out. Naturally, 40 miles up the road we discovered that not only was the Lava Canyon road not washed out, but that the road to Windy Ridge, the lookout point on the west side of the mountain, was closed for construction.

Bummer. We were running a little late, anyway, though, so we had a chance to check out the mountain from Bear Meadow, and then haul ass for Yakima. We wound up driving down a great volcanic canyon with amazingly textured walls, and dropped out into the high plains of central Washington, arriving in Yakima shortly before dark.

Yakima is a town of only around 90,000, but their proximity to wine-making regions apparently means that they get a fair number of tourist looking for fine dining. We had a pretty solid meal (by LA standards), although after a month or two I can't remember the name of the restaurant or find the receipt. Anyway, it was another great day on the road.


Post a Comment

<< Home