Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Convergence of Wonders: Day 4, Cape Disappointment and Real Disappointments

I've been a desert rat for a long time, and I have managed most times to visit the Pacific Northwest during unusual climatic regimes, i.e. sunny weather. I spent four days in Seattle once when temperatures hit close to 100 degrees, and I've flown up the spine of the Cascades when not a single cloud could be seen on the horizon. Add to this that summer is when it doesn't rain on my field trips.

I really shouldn't be disappointed that it chose to rain on us on the fourth day of our trip this year. Really, it could have been far worse; it could have rained every day. But, why on St. Helens day? Oh well, it was certainly an interesting day, and if one is going to visit a temperate rainforest, one might as well do it on a temperate rainy day.
Museums and visitor centers are supposed to open at 8:00 AM, but not the one we wanted to see. We had two hours to explore a bit. We set out to hike through the forest to the North Head Lighthouse and have a look around.
It was rainy and green. Mrs. Geotripper snapped a shot of Geotripper getting soaked at the overlook. It was my wettest moment of the trip.
The mouth of the Columbia has been a treacherous region of shifting sand shoals and unpredictable currents. Hundreds of ships have found destruction here. The lighthouses at Cape Disappointment were constructed in the late 1800s to do the thing they do, warning ships of the danger.
I noted the wide beaches of the Cape in the previous post. We could make out the wide expanse of sand from the top of the cliff at the lighthouse. The existence of these beaches here is also related the danger to ships.
To make the currents at the mouth of the Columbia River more predictable, jetties were constructed between 1885 to 1917 to direct the flow of the river. They extend several miles into the Pacific (only part of the north jetty is visible in the picture below). Because they block wave action, sand moving down the coast backs up against the outside of the jetty forming the wide beaches up coast. The jetties have been weakened by a century of storms and are in danger of being breached causing serious problems for ship traffic moving up and down the river.  Many millions of dollars are being spent to shore them up.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a marvelous introduction to the 1804-06 exploration of the Pacific Northwest (and not to be mercenary about it, but it was dry inside, too!). The staff generously provided a meeting room for some of our students to do their presentations. After several hours we hit the road to Mt. St. Helens, hoping against hope that a supposed 60% chance of showers would translate into a few momentary views of the volcano.
No dice...that's the view below that we had from the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the end of Highway 504. There was no break in the storm. We checked out the very fine visitor center and watched the video, but it wasn't quite the same thing as seeing the volcano itself.
There were certainly a few close up details to enjoy; I had never seen the trilliums blooming before.
Coldwater Lake provided an idea of the power of the volcano...it didn't exist prior to the 1980 eruption. The incredible debris avalanche and ashflow blocked the flow out of Coldwater Canyon, forming a lake several miles long. We could also see the vast area of destruction in the Toutle River Valley, and the regrowth of the forest on the slopes below the volcanic cone. There are places we need to return to...
Of course, the moment we crossed the summit of the Cascades, the rain shadow effect took over, and the clouds were scattering and breaking up. By the time we arrived at our camp in Yakima, conditions were dry. That's the way it is sometimes...
My northwest associates can probably confirm this, but I think this is an outcrop of Cretaceous metasedimentary rocks near Rimrock Reservoir upstream of Yakima.
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