Monday, July 19, 2010

Exploring Washington State And Mount St. Helens - July 15th - 17th

We’ve been staying at Toutle River RV Park here in Castle Rock, Washington for the past several days. It is a fabulous RV park – and suites our needs perfectly. It’s positively HUGE…and appears to be brand new. All the streets through the whole park are nicely paved and we’ve delayed leaving by a day so we could just spend the day here. The girls have spent a few hours in the pool each day – Jessica swimming tirelessly and Sophia fully decked out in snorkel gear with a pool noodle tied around her waist in a knot – for extra buoyancy. She looks soooo very cute in her mask and snorkel - she reminds me of my own childhood. I think my sister and I spent more time under water than above the surface when we were kids….often with masks and snorkels.

Thanks to the great roads, when not touring about, our focus while at this lovely park has been to help the girls get more comfortable on their bikes. Sophia on training wheels (an upgrade from a much smaller bicycle she’s outgrown) and Jessica on a 2-wheeler. Jess was riding when we left Pickering at the end of June, but she certainly couldn’t start or stop on her own….and there were accidents aplenty!

Despite the nice weather, Sunita has been dressing her in long pants and sleeves to offer some extra skin protection on the occasions when she drives “into the weeds”. She hasn’t hit anything solidly immovable lately, so things are looking good! To be honest, over the past 3 days her cycling skills have improved DRAMATICALLY – to the point that she can stop in a designated spot (a box drawn in chalk on the asphalt) and knows to keep to the side of the road. Now we can finally cycle together! Sophia is up next and might even shed her training wheels this year if I can handle a few more sessions running after her for all I'm worth!

We spent all day Friday, July 16 exploring Mount St. Helens as a family. We started the day by touring the beautiful Visitor’s Centre near our campground in Castle Rock, WA. Sophia and Jessica got their “Junior Geologist” packages to work on throughout the day. We watched a 15 min movie of the eruption in 1980 and the events during the 7 weeks leading up to it. We had a helicopter tour booked for 11am at Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Centre which is 26 miles further up highway 504, so we ended up having to rush out of the National Park Service Visitor Centre to get ourselves up to Hoffstadt Bluffs. The helicopter tour was a complete luxury and I have to say that it was completely worth it. What an amazing and awe inspiring experience for the entire family to be flown up the Toutle Valley right up to the mountain peak. The sheer volume of material that flowed down into Toutle Valley is nothing short of incredible. The valley floor was raised about 200 feet from where it was originally and Spirit Lake was completely changed – in every way. The lake was dramatically filled in – so much so that while the depth of the lake was cut in half – it’s surface area almost doubled…and the surface of the water was raised over 150 feet from where it was originally! The huge landslide also created two new lakes where none previously existed. I remember the Mount St. Helens eruption from my childhood, and the effects 30 years later are still very apparent. The power of nature is truly fantastic.

After our amazing and fun helicopter trip, we enjoyed a delicious lunch together and then made are way up the scenic highway 504 to the outlook and Visitor Centre that offers another stunning view of the mountain and crater. We listed to a Park Ranger presentation – Once he had finished, Ranger Dylan also signed Jessica and Sophia’s Jr. Geologist workbooks since attendance at a presentation was one of the requirements to earn their badges. They had been working on their workbooks all through the day – even in the car.

Once done, we made our way back to the first Visitor Centre (and thankfully arrived JUST before closing) to allow Jessica and Sophia to have their work checked by a ranger. They were awarded their badges and have now completed their 3rd Junior Ranger program. What an experience for the girls. The programs (particularly the Junior Ranger programs) by the USA National Park Service are truly second to none. They have helped make this summer a learning, not to mention a much more meaningful experience for both our girls. They have been given a better understanding of nature and the need to protect the wonders around us by picking up garbage, ensuring that animals are not disturbed or harmed, and understand the need to leave things as they are – not picking wildflowers and taking home rocks, fossils, etc. I realized this when Jessica asked me how many people visit Yellowstone every year (it’s approximately 3 million). She responded to me “if everyone took flowers, there wouldn’t be many left, would there?"

Sunday, July will be a driving day of sorts. We are leaving Washington and heading southward down the Oregon coast. We’ve changed our itinerary a bit to give us extra unplanned time which will result in a shorter stay at Redwood National Park later in the week.

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