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Archive for July, 2005

near Toutle, Wash.
Visited: July 30, 2005
NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site
NF Website; VolcanoCam

Open-Faced VolcanoWHAT IS IT?
Site of, in May 1980, the continental United States’ most recent major volcanic eruption.

BEAUTY (6/10)
It is clear that a volcanic eruption happened here. The land is a dusty tan. Downed trees still stand where they collapsed in 1980. They now make wonderful homes to woodpeckers and assorted insects. Lakes created by the blast shimmer in bright blues. The earth undulates below in odd configuration created by the landslide and the mud floes.

Then there is the volcano. She stands with a pugnacious spirit, smaller and much less majestic than her Cascade mountain cousins. She is asymmetrical, without glaciers, angry, agitated and hard at work.

In 1980, she ejected thousands of tons of ash and smoke sideways through her northern face, then an unknown phenomenon. She now stands without a top, 2000 feet shorter than she was in 1979. She is exposed and not too happy about it. The exposed crater is ever-changing, billowing smoke and dispensing magma.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
Mount St. Helens is alive. We arrived at the Site just hours after some 3.3 scale earthquakes that made the national news. Steady smoke puffed out of its open crater. The Ranger explained that one theory is that the volcano is rebuilding its cone right before our eyes. She is working at such a fast pace that she might grow back her top in less than 50 years.

The 1980 event was unique among all of history’s continental United States eruptions in that it was broadcasted live throughout our nation. The two-month saga of will she or won’t she blow occurred before our eyes. We immediately saw the pictures, listened to the first-hand accounts and understood the unbelievable destruction of nature’s forces.

Everybody living in the Pacific Northwest at the time has a Mount St. Helens story – you should hear my cousin’s. It involves hundreds of rattlesnakes, ash fall and steep cliff sides. Mount St. Helens is 20th century United States’ understanding of volcanoes. She is the benchmark. Er…at least until the next one.

CROWDS (7/10)
Whenever Mount St. Helens makes the news, the crowds come. We beat the rush by a day but still toured with thousands of others. There is ample parking at the Visitor Centers but do not expect to be alone. Get in line a few minutes ahead of time for the introductory films; all showings were standing room only.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Portland, Oregon residents know that the volatile Mount St. Helens is only 100 miles away by car and less than 70 miles away as the crow flies.

Route 504 is the only way into and out of the volcano. The road, which begins at Interstate 5, Exit 49, has been newly repaved and makes for a smooth driving experience.

All three Visitor Centers are located on Washington Route 504. The Mount St. Helens VC is just 5 miles east of I-5. The Coldwater Ridge VC sits at Route 504 mile marker 43. The incredible Johnston Ridge Visitor Center, which allows head-on, close-up look into the volcano views, is at mile marker 52. The road ends here.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The bookstore carries a paltry selection of Mount St. Helens books, approximately 20. On the plus side, there are two different build-your-own volcano kits and plenty of Smokey the Bear dolls.

Busy SeismographCOSTS (1/5)
Mount St. Helens NVM is sneakily expensive. Entry is $3 per person if you visit only one VC. For $6 per person, you can visit all the VC’s. That is $24 for a family of four. Ouch.

The Park is not a part of the National Park System, so your Parks Pass is not honored here. For $15, you can get a Golden Eagle sticker for your Park’s Pass. This sticker allows for entry into all U.S. Forest Service Sites, Mount St. Helens included. Our Golden Eagle sticker has already paid for itself; it is also necessary just to park at most National Forest Sites in the Pacific Northwest.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
The crowds were so large that any Ranger to tourist ratio is bound to be uneven. Still, the Forest Service Rangers did an incredible job of making themselves known and establishing a presence. Rangers were posted at overlooks and on pathways ready to answer questions. The frequent Ranger talks in high traffic areas were enhanced by microphone systems. They did a wonderful job.

TOURS/CLASSES (10/10)
The Ranger talks and walks, which occur at least every hour, are especially helpful because the story of Mount St. Helens is not static. Earthquakes and eruptions happen every day and the volcano is changing at a rapid pace before our eyes. If the Museum relied only on displays and not on Rangers, the lessons taught would soon become dated by the volcano’s constant transformation.

Nonetheless, the National Forest Service operates three tremendous museums at Mount St. Helens NVM. All three contain completely different content and each merit a visit. The Mount St. Helens VC is located the furthest from the volcano. It portrays the story of the 1980 eruption from the perspective of the outside world, relying on newspaper recaps and magazine articles of the events preceding and following the natural disaster. The Museum is a perfect introduction or reintroduction, depending on your knowledge, to the events that shook the United States.

The Coldwater Ridge Museum focuses on the areas wildlife through interactive displays, frequent Ranger talks and multi-media exhibits. You learn what settled in the area post-eruption and how life has returned and thrived.

The final museum is at Johnston Ridge. It examines the geology of the eruption with an exciting film, an electric map, a seismograph and Ranger talks aided by a microphone and speakers. The Museum also tells the dramatic stories of the handful of people who were trapped in the area during the May 1980 events.

Great Ranger TalkFUN (9/10)
We had a wonderful time. A trip to Mount St. Helens makes for a long day of sightseeing. Three museums, startlingly close views, great hiking opportunities and the chance to see a live, smoking volcano. It does not get much better than that.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
Absolutely, but watch the news. If they tell you that she is going to blow, then don’t come.

TOTAL 62/80

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near Enumclaw, Wash.
Visited: July 26, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 223 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Rainier’s Wildflowers

WHAT IS IT?
Standing 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest and most imposing of the Cascade Range’s volcanic peaks.

BEAUTY (10/10)
On a clear Seattle day, she hovers omnipresent in the background like a lurking flying saucer. Her base is broad, her dome a perfectly symmetrical mound. She is cloaked by a permanent haze and appears to be a dirty yellow. Only rain and mist remove her from her keen watch over the Emerald City. When the sun returns, she does too, grander than ever.

As you drive towards her, she never disappears from view; she sees in all directions. Closeness inspires awe. There she stands with stern majesty. Glaciers and snowfields encapsulate her rounded dome. She is monolithic. She is power.

Her aura changes when you get closer and bask in her shadow. The meadows are swathed in a rainbow array of wildflowers. She is now delicate. Blues, oranges, reds and yellows stretch as far as the eye can see. She remains in the background framing every picture, providing water and life to the beauty below.

Tiny dots flicker above amidst the endless fields of white. They are hikers and climbers, every day numbering in the hundreds, aiming to scale her volatile sides and achieve personal goals. But she is unconquerable. We live with this sleeping giant, on time borrowed from her. She will not be dormant forever.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
British explorers named Mount Rainier for one of their own. Local residents have since made unsuccessful attempts at renaming the peak Mount Tahoma, its Native American moniker.

Mount Rainier became a National Park in 1899 and the first to admit cars in 1907. The National Park auto tour vacation had officially begun. The 1908 entry fee was $5 per vehicle. In almost 100 years, the fee has gone up only $5. Not too shabby.

CROWDS (8/10)
Mount Rainier easy proximity to the Seattle metropolis brings big crowds, especially in the Park’s Paradise section. If you wish to avoid the throngs and still enjoy the wildflowers and stellar mountain-view hikes, then Sunrise would be a great choice. Still, the hikers at Mount Rainier were some of the friendliest and most courteous we have found in all the National Parks.

The Park has enough trails and backcountry opportunities to make seclusion a viable choice.

We took the Nisqually Vista Hike with about 40 other people. We were the youngest by far. Everyone our age had strapped on their mountaineering boots and was heading up the snowfields. Maybe next time we will act our age and make the hike to Camp Muir.


Gab and the Volcano
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5)
Hard to believe that such a stunning and accessible wilderness mecca is within a two-hour drive for so many people. At the same time, when this volcano blows, a lot of people are going to be in trouble.

The Paradise and Sunrise sections of the Park include easy trails that take you very close to glaciers. Mt. Rainier NP’s hundreds of miles of hiking trails are mostly accessible and subsequently real to the average visitor, unlike the bloated mileage numbers of so many other National Parks. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which people have been hiking for almost 100 years, sounds too wonderful for words.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Each VC carried a small selection of books, nature guides and maps. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center split its offerings into two separate shops.

One store is dedicated to Mount Rainier captured in print, large framed photographs, video and DVD. The second store caters to all of your apparel and souvenir needs. Pretty standard NPS fare, with the exception of some cleverly named food products and “Ashware,” plates and pottery created from Mount Rainier’s more volatile neighbor, Mount St. Helens.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $10 per vehicle, free with the National Parks Pass. Campsites are priced affordably, ranging between $10 and $15 per night. A mountain climbing permit runs $30, rental gear will bring this cost up.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
Plenty of Rangers at all three Visitor Centers. Gab especially enjoyed her talks with a young female Ranger at Sunrise. The Ranger recognized Gab’s B hat, she had just graduated from Brown University! She gave us great hiking advice. The next day was her day off. Her plans: climb Mount Rainier. Wow.

TOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
Our first stop in the Park was the Sunrise Visitor Center near the Northeast entrance. We made a half-hearted attempt to browse through its wildlife displays, but Mt. Rainier in all its glory was beckoning us outside. After our chat with Gab’s fellow Brunonian, we skipped past the introductory panels and ran on the trails to experience the Park firsthand.

The Henry M. Jackson Memorial VC shows two films in a comfortable theatre. Its historical overview of the Site is more interesting than others we have seen, but we were still lured outside by the blooming meadows.

Mount Rainier recognizes that most of its guests have a hard time staying indoors and offers Ranger walks on a variety of subjects starting from each of its Visitor Centers. There are at least three daily strolls leaving from the Paradise and Sunrise VCs. We chose the Nisqually Vista Walk and were finally able to combine our quest for knowledge with the fresh mountain air.


Alpine Tundra
FUN (9/10)
Mount Rainier NP is a wonderful day trip. It makes an even better destination for a two or three day trip. Does any circuit hike sound better than the 7-14 day, 93-mile Wonderland Trek around the mountain?

This Park, as well as our other incredible outdoor experiences in the area, made us sincerely consider relocating to Seattle. Then we remembered that we had been frolicking around live volcanoes. The floods, blizzards and high humidity of Central PA suddenly do not sound that bad.

Michael thinks Mount Rainier is going to erupt before the Seahawks or Mariners win a World Championship. Will anyone give him odds?

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
Wholeheartedly. Mount Rainier is an accessible mountain, free of ski lifts and full of tremendous hiking opportunities and easy scenic walks. Heavy snowfall closes the Park down to casual tourists for much of the year. We recommend coming in July so that you can experience the vibrant shades of its countless wildflowers.

TOTAL 62/80

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San Juan Island, Wash.
Visited: July 18, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 218 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

American CampWHAT IS IT?
Site of a prolonged bloodless border conflict, 1853-72, between the United States and Great Britain.

BEAUTY (9/10)
The deep blue waters of the Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca surround the Island with a glorious shimmer, Canada’s Vancouver Island makes a beautiful western horizon. While driving on a breathtaking coastline road to the American Camp, we saw a gathering of boats on the water and a crowd of people on land. Piercing through the water were the tall sharp black fins of killer whales. We stared as dozens frolicked below, some in large groups some solitary.

The rocky cliff’s along road linking the two Camps is the best spot in the continental U.S. to spot orcas. We were not disappointed. While at the American Camp, another majestic sea animal appeared overhead: a soaring juvenile bald eagle; its nest is located just across from the Visitor Center.

The American Camp’s stark Strait-bordering yellow landscape is in sharp contrast to the lush Harbor-bordering green Eden of the British Camp. Trees bloom and a manicured ceremonial garden bursts with all the colors of the rainbow.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
The British Hudson Bay Trading Company, the venerable fur powerhouse, effectively controlled the Pacific Northwest for much of the early 1800’s but by the 1840’s the feisty American people, swept up in the fever of Manifest Destiny, marched westward claiming the land to be theirs. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 gave the U.S. the land south of the 49th parallel (the current U.S.-Canada border) but was unclear as to who owned the string of islands west of mainland Washington, collectively known as the San Juans.

In June of 1859, an American settler on San Juan Island shot a Hudson Bay Company pig. The swine was trespassing, you see. Cooler heads did not prevail. By August, the Americans had brought 461 soldiers and 14 cannons while the British countered with 2,140 troops and five warships. No one wanted to start a war so both countries remained entrenched, 13 miles apart on a small island, until 1872 when Germany’s Kaiser Wilhem independently interpreted the Oregon Treaty, giving the land to the U.S. Yes, good work Kaiser!

During their stay on the Island the opposing soldiers often interacted, establishing friendships, racing horses against each other and attending weddings. We find it unlikely that a third U.S.-Great Britain war could have occurred over a pig but stranger things have happened. On the other hand, we did win the first two wars and everyone says British Columbia is very beautiful. Hmmmm, what if?

CROWDS (7/10)
Both camps were modestly full with browsing tourists. No one seemed particularly interested in the Site’s history; they were just looking for something touristy to do.

Looking for Orcas EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The Park is on an island, accessible from the United States only via the Washington State Ferry that leaves from Anacortes, Wash. Since the two Camps are 13 miles apart, you need transportation. $47 gets you and your car from Anacortes to Friday Harbor and back to Anacortes. Each additional passenger is $12. Prices change. Thankfully, the Washington State Ferries website has a helpful fare calculator.

There are not many roads on San Juan Island and only one sizable town. American Camp is at the Island’s southeastern tip and English camp in the northwest. Pick up a map in Friday Harbor and you will be fine.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The Site carries only three books and one pamphlet, entitled The Pig That Loved Potatoes, which revolve around the border dispute. Most of the titles discuss San Juan Islands wildlife, specifically killer whales. The bookstore also sells stuffed animal dolls; Gab especially liked the stuffed elk back pack and the furry orca.

COSTS (1/5)
Entry into both the American and English Camps is free. The ferry is not.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
No Rangers at either Camp, just helpful volunteers.

TOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
We missed the Ranger-led programs; they take place only on summer weekends. Both Camps show the same intro video. The British Camp’s theater sits in the restored barracks building has ample seating and a large projection screen. The American Camp shows the video on a 15” TV wedged in a corner of its small visitor center. Watch the video at the British Camp; you will not be able to concentrate at the American Camp.

The Visitor Centers at both camps provide handy self-guided walking tour booklets. Use and return the booklet or purchase it as a memento for $1. Pick one up. While they may be a little dry, they do explain the Camps’ history.

Kayak SunsetFUN (9/10)
Admittedly, the Historical Park is not what makes San Juan Island fun, that would be the orcas. And, oh my, did we have a great time spotting those intelligent black and white beasts. Our hearts raced when we saw just one spire-like fin. The more we saw the more uncontrollable our giddiness. Dozens swam in front of our perfect cliff side perch.

Michael’s naturalist cousin confirmed that the best place to the San Juan’s killer whales is from the cliffs and not from the myriad tourist boats. “You see them all,” he explained “and you do not stress them. One of these days, I think, the orcas are going to leave those waters so they can swim in peace.”

Let’s hope not, but until then whale watching on San Juan Island makes for a perfect day. Did we mention the ideal summer climate, the bald eagles and the inspirational scenery? Learning about the silly Pig War is a pleasant way to spend a few hours between whale watching and dining in Friday Harbor.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
Would you believe we almost didn’t go? For some reason, we convinced ourselves that the ferry crossing was much more expensive than it actually was, and that services on San Juan Island were primitive at best. A quick trip to the ferry terminal and a glance at one of several Visit San Juan! tourist magazines that filled our Anacortes motel’s lobby proved us wrong.

Although the San Juan Island NHP was not the highlight of our overnight trip, had it not been our destination, we may have never ventured on to San Juan Island. That would have been a shame.

TOTAL 48/80

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Olympic Peninsula, Wash.
Visited: July 14, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 216 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Temperate Rain ForestWHAT IS IT?
Nearly 1 million acres of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. The Park boasts a tremendous ecological diversity that includes the United States’ only temperate rain forest, over 60 miles of Pacific coastline and the towering peaks of the Olympic Mountains.

BEAUTY (9/10)
Within Olympic NP’s vast boundaries lie many distinct ecological zones each astoundingly beautiful in their own right: four types of forests, rugged coastline and snowy mountains. It seems impossible that such different places stand side by side but here the amazing is the expected.

The imagination envisions Olympic NP as a stiflingly dense green forest where it always rains. The Park’s temperate rain forests, Hoh and Quinault, fulfill that vision. The cool air and permanent hanging mist mocks your senses; you see a jungle but you do not feel the warmth, you do not sweat, you do not see monkeys, you do not hear tropical birds, you do not taste the air’s stickiness.

The forests change as the elevation increases. The heavy rains, over 250 inches per year, allow the lowland and montane forest trees to thrive. The trees, Firs, Spruces, Cedars and Maples grow to monstrous proportions. The trees gradually thin out as they rise to subalpine elevations. The meadows come alive with colorful wildflowers, glacial lakes and sweeping vistas. The forests’ claustrophobia disappears and you are on top of the world.

The Olympic Mountains rise to heights above the forests effectively blocking the copious amounts of rain from all in their eastern shadow. The mountains are not particularly tall, they do not reach 8,000 feet, but they are steep and snowy. The isolated Olympics are the world’s snowiest mountain range.

The northern Washington Pacific Ocean whips onto jagged coastal cliffs depositing an endless stream of heavy driftwood and other debris; the moody tides envelope much of the coast as they swim in and out of huge rocks and smooth sand.

Olympic NP’s beauty has but one spoiler: the hundreds of miles of clear-cut forests and harvested trees that surround its pristine interior.

Dramatic SunsetHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (2/10)
We learned little in the Park’s VCs about its history. It is the modern-day history though that tainted our trip mostly through unsubstantiated thought processes and word association. Let us explain.

When we hear the word rain forest, we think about the mass deforestation in the Amazon. The entire drive along Olympic NP’s western stretch, the 150 or so miles from Aberdeen to Port Angeles is bordered by tree farms. Of course, the Washington loggers replant their trees and advertise their positive economic effects but it still difficult to appreciate the natural wonder and beauty of trees when your journey in passes rows of harvested wood and hundreds of logging trucks. At the same time, we know that replanted logging forests are much different ecologically from old growth forests. We are just glad that are still able to appreciate Olympia NP’s dense arboreal life.

CROWDS (3/10)
The crowds we camped around at Olympic NP were the worst of our trip. The first night we stayed at a beautiful Pacific Ocean beach campground at Kalaloch. Radios blared from the time we arrived, 5:00 p.m., until 1:00 a.m. At 12:30 a raccoon, presumably spooked by the partying college students, jumped onto our tent. Michael did his best pinball bumper impression and knocked him off. Thankfully, the wily bandit quickly scurried away. We think he tripped on our black tent anchoring rope. The night before, at 1:30 a.m., a man across from us had his cooler’s contents stolen by rowdy kids.

The next night we stayed at what a Ranger described as the most peaceful car campground. No dice. The catchy melodies of Fleetwood Mac still haunt our waking hours. Our car camping at Olympic NP was devoid of natural sounds. No singing birds, no rustling trees, no serenity, no sleep.

We left the Park prematurely because of the unruly crowds. Why did we car camp and not go backcountry? Good question. We had aimed to hike into the rain forest but wanted to wait out the two days of heavy rain. The four-day forecast was looking good; we just had to make it through to Monday. We left by Saturday but things turned out well. Anacortes, Washington is a wonderful town.

 Beauty at Hurricane Ridge EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
U.S. Route 101 nearly circumnavigates the Park. From Quinault in the southwest the road travels 70 miles north to Beaver where leaves the Pacific Coast trajectory and turns eastward. 70 miles later, after passing Port Angeles, Sequim and Gardiner, the road nears Port Townsend. Before reaching this wonderful small town, Route 101 turns southward and goes 70 miles to the town of Hoodsport, the gateway to Olympic NP’s southeastern tip.

Eight spur roads branch off Route 101 and into the Park’s interior zone. One from the southwest, one from the west, four from the north and one from the east, and one from the southeast. The western entries take you to the temperate rain forests, the others into mountainous terrain.

Olympic NP’s 60 miles of Pacific Coastline are also accessed from Route 101. The Olympic Peninsula is a world unto itself. It is close to the Seattle-Tacoma metropolis but somehow very far away. The Park is easy to get into but so big, so dense, so steep and so hard to see.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
The Park has at least eight bookstores, none of which carries many books. The clothing, poster, book and knickknack selection is not commensurate with Olympic NP’s status as a classic American National Park destination.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $10 per vehicle. Most campgrounds charge an affordable $10 per campsite. Backcountry permits are $5 plus $2 per person per night.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
We lost count of Olympic NP’s many visitor centers at eight. The eight that we visited all had at least one Ranger on staff and were very busy; Olympic NP gets a lot of tourists.

Morning DewTOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
By the end of our journey through the park, we had collected a series of helpful handouts outlining hiking and camping possibilities and describing flora and fauna. Sometimes these coincided with the region of the park we were visiting; sometimes they didn’t. Thing is, all of these informational gems seem to be behind the Ranger desks. Ask the right questions and you will be rewarded with the paper you seek.

Olympic NP’s newspaper The Bugler, lists summer park programs. During our visit, Kodak was offering Photo Walks and Demonstrations at various times and locations. None of which coincided with when and where we were. There are campfire programs at each of the developed campgrounds, but not daily. Check The Bugler to find your nearest Ranger-led learning opportunity.

Backcountry camping at Olympic NP is no joke. Weather conditions are as variable as the tides. Both phenomenons must be watched diligently, especially if you are hiking along the miles of the Park’s rugged coastline. The Olympic Wilderness Trip Planner is a free and very helpful newspaper that we found at the USFS/NPS Information Station in Forks, Wash. Float logs and magnetic declination are terms that we had not known before coming to Olympic. The park literature probably doesn’t intend to intimidate would-be hikers, but it did. Do you know the ten essentials? You will by the time you leave Olympic NP.

Here is a puzzler: The most recent version of the Olympic NP Park Pamphlet is much less helpful than an older one that we picked up before entering the Park. Our 2003 pamphlet noted the mileage and some of the more popular backcountry camps along most of the Park’s interior trails. It also had a photographic explanation of each of the Park’s ecosystems, from Coast to Glaciers.

The 2004 edition eliminates the mileage and camp markers from its map and opts for a cartoon rendition of the Park’s best features. We have no idea why.

SunraysFUN (5/10)
We hope that our disappointing Olympic NP was the exception rather than the rule. We began our trip intimidated by the Park’s size and unsure of what we could do. Our aim: spend a night at a beautiful beach campsite, gather our thoughts and go from there. Instead, the raucous crowd kept us up for most of the night and we emerged from our tent with lasting headaches and irritable demeanors.

The misty, dark, cool weather should have come as no surprise. Had we forgotten its geographic uniqueness, names like Storm King Information Center, Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center should have reminded us of the depressing weather. But somehow we were fooled by sunny Aberdeen weather forecasts; that micro climate has nothing to do with the nearby Olympic NP.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10)
We are idiots. Our false expectations and lack of preparedness (everyone else hiking had gaiters and ponchos) diminished our fun.

If you are coming to Olympic NP, do your research ahead of time. Know where you want to go and what you want to do and bring all the right gear. If you are hiking, plan out a backcountry route, make those reservations ahead of time and enjoy the dense rain forest for yourself. If you are driving, plan a route that includes Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rain Forest and do not be surprised at how far apart they are.

The Olympic peninsula is a big place and requires a multi-day visit. The massive National Park is not the only draw. The quaint downtown of Port Townsend is reminiscent of a New England main street and boasts a slew of restaurants. Two reliable sources recommended the Makah Museum, located on the Makah Indian Reservation on the peninsula’s northwestern most tip. It explores Native American life on the peninsula, a topic forgotten by the National Park Service. The ferry to Victoria, BC leaves from Port Angeles; we regret not visiting that grand Canadian city.

TOTAL 43/80

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Astoria, Ore.
Visited: July 13, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 215 of 353
NPS Website

Lewis and Clark River

WHAT IS IT?
The Site formerly known as Fort Clatsop N MEM. Fort Clatsop was the makeshift fort where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the wet 1805-1806 winter, the western-most and halfway point of their legendary journey.

In November 2004, President Bush signed into law a “plan to create the new Lewis & Clark National Historical Park by incorporating state parks in Washington and Oregon along with the current Fort Clatsop National Memorial Park.” As of July 2005, those State Parks are still operating with State Park rules, bureaucracy and entry fees while the federal Fort Clatsop N MEM chugs along as it always has.

The “New Park” is presently, for visitors, just a name change. Fort Clatsop N MEM is now the more recognizable, Lewis and Clark NHP. This Site review covers only Fort Clatsop, not the Washington and Oregon State Park Sites.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The tiny reconstructed Fort Clatsop stands in a peaceful wooden clearing surrounded by soaring pine trees. It is hard to believe that 30 men lived for three months in this 50-foot-by-50-foot abode. We can only imagine the tensions and arguments that resulted from such a cramped space, especially given their winter’s relentlessly rainy weather.

The meandering marshy Lewis and Clark River that borders the Site emits striking blue-green shades and offers some terrific birding opportunities. We overheard another tourist say, “it is a shame they weren’t here during the summer, this place is really beautiful.” We completely agree.

Passing the TimeHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
Lewis and Clark’s intrepid Corps of Discovery lived here from early December of 1805 through late March of 1806. Their time on the Oregon coast consists of a string of misfortunes and lacks the adventure found on much of the Trail.

For starters, it rained for 94 of their 106 days here. The salmon the men ate was too rich for their intestinal composition. Everybody got very sick. Clothes, bedding and hides all rotted in the damp air. While here, the men made salt from the seawater, serviced their weapons and saw a dead whale. Clark explored the flora and fauna, updated his journals and worked on the maps. Not necessarily the stuff of epic tales.

Nonetheless, the Fort marks an important stage of the journey, the place near where they first viewed the Pacific Ocean and spent three months of the trip.

CROWDS (7/10)
We are not the only ones with Lewis and Clark fever. We love seeing other people excited about history but be forewarned. Even on a midweek morning, the Fort Clatsop adjunct parking lot neared capacity. From there, a shuttle takes you to the Park site. On weekends, the Park literature suggests public transit. If you plan on driving to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in nearby Ilwaco, Washington get there early. Its parking lot was almost full at 9:30 a.m., a half hour before the Museum even opened.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
Fort Clatsop N MEM is located near Astoria, Ore. at the northwestern most tip of the Beaver State. The Site is about 100 miles northwest of Portland, Ore. Signs for the Site are everywhere; Lewis and Clark is a big deal.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
The store’s book selection is very good if not exceptional and takes a backseat to the L&C high-end merchandise and memorabilia. Displayed in a glass case for sale are ceremonial wooden oars, L&C botanical scarves, cowhide explorers’ journals, hand-carved figurines and limited edition Pendleton blankets. The bookstore is very nice but lacks the whimsy, affordability and kitsch that we really enjoy.

COSTS (2/5)
Entry into Fort Clatsop is $5 per person, free with the National Parks Pass. Your entry ticket also includes a 3-day regional bus pass, tickets for the historic Astoria Riverfront Trolley (ask your L&C shuttle driver) and free rides on the Lewis and Clark Explorer Shuttle.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
There are plenty of Rangers ready to take on the large L&C bicentennial crowds. Two Rangers greet visitors in the makeshift parking lot, two Rangers answer question in the VC and two costumed Rangers ramble around the Fort itself. Our favorite Ranger was a beautiful 10-year old Newfoundland. She posed for pictures doing her best Seaman impression.

Gab and Our Favorite RangerTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
The Museum does not seem to have received the bicentennial facelift enjoyed at other L&C Sites. As a result, it lacks the interactivity and fun we enjoyed elsewhere. The Site counters with helpful roaming Rangers who can fill you in on the epic story. The film is a truncated version of the Ken Burns documentary.

FUN (5/10)
We find Lewis and Clark’s winter at Fort Clatsop (and the corresponding Park Site) anticlimactic. L&C turned around here after realizing that their search for a Northwest Passage was a failure. We are turning around as well; like L&C, the rest of our trip will be moving eastward. The Fort itself is tiny and the Museum is nothing spectacular. We nearly spent more time parking the car and riding the shuttle than in the small self-contained Park. Our day was pleasant if not eventful.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10)
Fort Clatsop and the surrounding state parks are your best opportunity on the west coast to participate in the L&C 200-year remembrance. The northwestern Oregon coast might make a good day trip or weekend destination from Portland.

TOTAL 47/80

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Vancouver, Wash.
Visited: July 11, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 214 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Fort VancouverWHAT IS IT?
A reconstructed Hudson Bay Company Trading Fort. This British frontier outpost was the center of the Northwestern fur trade in the early 19th century and was, in that time, arguably the most important city in the modern-day western United States.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Visitors pass a fenced garden en route to the Fort’s intimidating palisade. A path splits several square garden plots, some bursting with summer blooms, others cultivating heirloom vegetable and some, sadly, left to the weeds since there aren’t enough staff to hold them back. The garden provides a multicolored foreground to the Fort’s imposing, but otherwise drab, exterior.

Inside the 15-foot palisade, several buildings are reconstructed on their original locations. While not beautiful in themselves, we find beauty in the uniform geometry of the structures and their orderly and linear placement. We really like forts.

The interior of the Chief Factor’s Residence is dressed as if a large dinner party were about to arrive. The Blacksmith Shop and the Bakehouse are completely functional. Fort Vancouver NHS eases the visitor into the 19th century in the Pacific Northwest. No stretches of the imagination are necessary here.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10)
The Hudson Bay Company opened Fort Vancouver in 1818, making it the logistical center of their northwestern fur empire. They intended to consolidate British control of the Oregon Territory and claim the land theirs. Dr. John McLoughlin, a Quebecois, ably ran the business but ultimately was unable to possess the land for the British. The flood of American pioneers foiled the Company’s plans.

The reconstructed Fort presents a perfect opportunity to learn about the fur trade, the business settled the American west. All the buildings have been exactingly furnished and stocked. Fort Vancouver NHS offers the chance, unique to National Park Sites, to watch active archeological digs. You see the hard jobs of digging and sifting and get to talk to the busy workers. In addition, a portion of the Fort’s fur warehouse now houses the archeologists’ offices. A clear plastic panel allows you to watch them work (labeling, typing, writing, thinking) as if they were zoo animals. They must love it.

Portal to the PastCROWDS (8/10)
Lucky us. We arrived on a weekday that coincided with an Elderhostel trip. As a result, every one of the Fort’s buildings was staffed with period costumed historical interpreters. The Elderhostel group seemed to be a tourist magnet. Hundreds of other visitor ambled from room to room sopping up the wonderful educational afternoon.

Michael had fond memories of his grandmother’s tales of her Elderhostel trip to Tombstone, Arizona. The Elderhostel travelers at Fort Vancouver looked to be having the same terrific time. We were thankful to ride their Ranger-bringing wake.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5)
Your Pacific Northwest Map is full of things named Vancouver, all named after the same British explorer. This Park is in the United States, in Washington State; its walls overlook the state’s southern boundary, the Columbia River. The bustling city of Portland, Oregon lies just across the water, its downtown only 10 miles from the Fort.

The Park is less than a mile from Interstate 5. Take the Mill Plain Boulevard Exit and either head east (the River will be on your right) or follow the many signs. From Oregon, the Mill Plain Blvd. is the second exit once you enter into Washington. If you are coming from Washington just remember: if you have crossed the Columbia River, you have gone too far.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The Rangers’ welcome desk at the Visitor Center doubles as a mock Trading Post. The selection is light but includes dishware, felt hats, bookends and Voyageurs’ cologne. The book selection, too, is a bit sparse, carrying only a few titles concerning the local history.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $3 per person or $5 per family. The Site is free with the National Parks Pass. On a Ranger’s suggestion, upon entry we marched straight to the Blacksmith Shop. We watched the smithy twist and turn a piece of pig iron molding it into a neat looking closet hook…, which he gave to Gab! The only thing we need now is a closet.

Archeology is FunRANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
We were fortunate to experience eleven (!) period-costumed Rangers manning all of the Fort’s buildings. The educators did not stop there. Archeologists, archeology students and more Rangers answered everything we could think up. What a wonderful way to learn. We know that Elderhostel groups do not show up everyday (their trip was a test run at Fort Vancouver) but we were assured that Rangers always staff at least a few buildings during the summer.

TOURS/CLASSES (9/10)
Thank you, Elderhostel! Because of you, we received top-notch treatment on our tour of the Site. Some of the costumed Rangers, like “Mrs. McLoughlin,” spoke in first person, escorted us around “her” home and spoke lovingly of her husband, the Chief Factor. Others, like the very well informed manager of the fur warehouse gave each group that walked through his wares a thorough history of beaver trapping and trading of skins that extended beyond the timeframe of the fort.

Each building we entered gave us a different yet interlocking perspective of 1845 life in what is now Washington State.

Outside the Fort, university students and non-costumed Rangers were busy sifting through some excavated earth. They were not too busy to explain the excavation process and share with onlookers the bits and pieces of history that they had found that day. On the day of our visit, they unearthed what they thought to be a cistern. All kinds of pottery shards and historical flotsam were emerging from the piles. Exciting stuff for archeology buffs. And kids. And Elderhostel folks. And us.

The Visitor Center, just a short drive (or walk) up the hill from the Fort offers three slide shows shown on request and a small exhibit area. The Fort is where all the fun is.

FUN (8/10)
What is it about forts? The ones that we have visited thus far have all done a superb job at conveying the local history, the larger historical implications of events in and around the fort and engaged us as visitors to ask questions, to learn more.

We thought we knew a lot about Mr. McLoughlin since we visited his house the day before and that we were knowledgeable about the beaver fur trade from our forays into trading forts and voyageur sites back east. Fort Vancouver NHS taught us even more. Learning is fun.

Busy BeeWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
Our entire afternoon was spent at the Fort Vancouver NHS. We left with a better understanding of Oregon’s ancestors, the role of the Hudson Bay Company in developing the Pacific Northwest and John McLoughlin’s role in facilitating American settlement. Oh yes, and an iron coat hook.

Fort Vancouver NHS is just a short drive from the heart of Portland, a fun city filled with parks. If you find yourself in the northwest corner of the U.S., both merit a visit.

TOTAL 59/80

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Part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Oregon City, Ore.
Visited: July 10, 2005
NPS Site Visited: Not an Official Site
NPS Affiliate Site Visited: 11 of 26
NPS Website; Local Website


Final Resting Place?
WHAT IS IT?
The final home of Hudson Bay Company fur trader John McLoughlin who the 1957 Oregon Legislature honored officially, 100 years after his death, as the “Father of Oregon”.

BEAUTY (3/10)
The McLoughlin’s two-story, Georgian-style retirement house is not a looker. Its drab gray exterior and stifling rectangular shape marks an architectural period that has thankfully been passed over. The House’s interior displays many original furnishings, which includes a beaded purse, made by a local Indian tribe for the Doctor, for his Naturalization Ceremony, adorned with a bald eagle and the title, “Greatest American”.

The McLoughlin House’s current neighbor, the 1849, Classic Revival style Barclay House, is much more visually appealing with its steep roof, subtle white pillars and beckoning entryway. The quaint old houses across the street, painted in bright colors and bursting with elaborate gardens, slightly overshadow both NPS properties.

Remarkably, the two houses first became neighbors in the early 20th century, 50 years after their construction and long after their original owners had died. In 1909, the larger McLoughlin House was moved to its current location from a precarious bluff overlooking the Willamette River. A single horse pulled the house, in its entirety, up a hill and through the streets of town dispensing it at its current location.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10)
Dr. McLoughlin and his wife are both buried next to the house. They, like their retirement home, were moved from what they probably believed to be their final resting place. Hopefully the current gravesite will be their last. So, you see, nothing really ever happened at the House’s current location.

In his time, Dr. McLoughlin was an important and benevolent man whose kindness towards Americans saw to an early retirement. From 1821 to 1845, the Doctor was the chief factor (he was the man in charge) of the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trading center at Fort Vancouver, the most important trading outpost in the Pacific Coast.

McLoughlin was born in Quebec in 1784 and was a British subject. His employer, a British mega-company, controlled the western fur trade and, by proxy, claimed the Oregon Territory for the British. There were no territorial problems until the 1840’s, when American pioneers, traveling across the Oregon Trail, began to show up. The British had few settlers in Oregon and the sheer number of American travels threatened to wrest control of the land from Hudson Bay.

The Doctor was generous and good towards the incoming Americans, despite his business and national loyalties. So, in 1845, he was forced to resign. In 1851, the Doctor became both a U.S. Citizen and mayor of Oregon City. He helped to design the town and establish its many businesses. From Quebec through the Hudson Bay Company via British Territory, he became the undisputed “Father of Oregon”.

CROWDS (8/10)
On a late Sunday afternoon, the McLoughlin House was filled to near capacity with us and ten other tourists. We were the youngest of the lot by at least 20 years. Everyone is very interested in wild-haired Mr. McLoughlin. Our fellow tourists help to explain Oregon history and ask our Tour Guide many good questions. One couple is even from Philadelphia and we share our PA solidarity.

Nice TowelEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The McLoughlin House NHS is located at the corner of 7th and Center Streets in downtown Oregon City a/k/a Oregon’s First City. Take Exit 8 of Interstate 205 and travel south on Oregon Route 43 a/k/a Willamette Drive. Once you cross the Willamette River, turn left on McLoughlin Drive. In three blocks, turn right onto 10th Street. 10th Street winds up a hill and makes a sweeping left turn. You are now on 7th Street and the McLoughlin House is to your left.

Oregon City, once the territory’s most important American town, has become a part of the sprawl of its ambition neighbor, Portland. The town is easily accessible via the Interstate system and is home to two Oregon trail-themed museums: The Museum of the Oregon Trail and the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

The McLoughlin House NHS is administratively a part of the Fort Vancouver NHS. Geographically, though, the Sites are a 25 miles and an entire State apart. Do not be confused, the two are located far away from each other.

The McLoughlin House NHS is open Wednesday through Saturday 10-4. It is open on Sundays from 1-4 and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
There may be more tomes here dedicated to the Whitman Massacre than the actual Whitman Site. Dr. McLoughlin wisely advised the Whitmans against settling among the less than receptive Cayuse. They did not heed his advice.

If you would rather not dwell on the macabre, feast your eyes on the dozens of other books, handcrafted Oregon chocolates, trinkets or milk glasses. The McLoughlin Memorial Association (MMA) does a top-notch job at keeping this bookstore fully stocked, site specific and interesting.

COSTS (5/5)
The Site is completely free. Guided and self-guided tours leave from the adjacent Barclay House whenever necessary.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
NPS recently acquired the McLoughlin House and added it to the Fort Vancouver NHS. They have yet to add staff. The MMA continues to manage the bookstore and tour guide duties. They do a fine job.

TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
Our tour of the McLoughlin House was labeled, self-guided, but was anything but. We were free to roam from room to room but were accompanied by an extremely knowledgeable MMA employee/NPS volunteer. He gave us a 15-minute introduction to the Doctor’s life and pointed out interesting tidbits about the rooms’ furnishings. We entered the House knowing little about McLoughlin or Oregon History. We left with a historical understanding of where we were.

The darling town of Oregon City offers more, non NPS-related, learning opportunities if you wish to continue your learning quest. These sites include the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the Museum of the Oregon Territory and the Municipal Elevator and observation deck.


The McLoughlin House
FUN (7/10)
During our first few days in Oregon we wondered, “Why does this place feel so much like Pennsylvania?” Why do we feel eerily at home? The question rang around in our heads over our two-day long speculation. At the McLoughlin House, our Guide offered some answers. Many of Oregon’s setters were from Pennsylvania and even more were Methodists. They traveled on Conestoga Wagons, named after Lancaster PA’s Conestoga River. We should have remembered that fact. The settlers were mostly farmers and the rolling green hilly scenery is remarkably similar.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Oregon City was the State’s first town. Only recently has it become caught up in Portland’s sprawl. Portland has the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Zoo, Powell’s Books, lively nightlife and the Science and Industry Museum but Oregon City is where you will get your history lessons. Gauge your Portland priorities and go from there. The McLoughlin House does a good teaching job but is not such a blockbuster attraction to pull you away from Portland’s more famous destinations.

TOTAL 52/80

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