Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On The Road Again

One thing about a drive through California, Oregon and Washington State (and I can’t be the first one to notice this) is that you spend a lot of time on the road. Each of us coped with the miles in a different way: Ron had his music, I had my books and maps, and Benny had his stuffed animals.

Benny brought three stuffed animals on this trip — Leopard, Sheepy and Leppy (a baby leopard) — which he kept in a little blue drawstring bag. At the Raptor Center they were joined by Baldy, the big stuffed eagle. The long hours on the road allowed Benny to conduct complicated scenarios with the animals. I sometimes wish we could rent a sibling for Benny for the longer stretches, since half the fun of road trips is bickering incessantly with your siblings:

“Mom, she keeps looking at me!”

“Mom, she’s chewing too loud!”

"Mom, now she's pretending to chew too loud!"

Benny was truly deprived, because the typical “I’m hungry”/ “We just ate”/ “I’m still hungry”/ “Stay out of the cookies”/ “When do we get to the hotel” exchanges with Mom just aren’t the same.

So Benny has the stuffed animals bicker instead about where they sit and who gets to look out the window and who has to be on the bottom of the drawstring bag. (He’s sitting on me!”) After watching the French Open on TV one morning, he fished out a tennis ball and started a series of complicated tournaments, with the animals hitting the ball back and forth. He pelted Ron with a string of tennis questions: “What’s a set? How many sets are there? What if the ball doesn’t bounce? What if it bounces twice? What if they lose the ball? How many tournaments are there? How do they choose the players?”

We all appreciated the break from the road in Portland, but on Saturday morning we were all bundled in the Fit again and headed across the Columbia River to Washington State. We could afford only a brief stopover at Mt. St. Helens that day, since I’d reserved us spots for Sunday on a riverboat cruise through the Columbia River Gorge.

The weather was dull and gloomy as we wound our way up the mountain. At the visitor center on I-5, the VolcanoCam showed only clouds at the crater, but we drove on anyway. The Cascade volcano’s 1980 eruption turned millions of acres of pristine forest into a virtual wasteland. As we drove we could still see massive mudslides, layers of ash and new forests of noble firs planted after the eruption.

When we reached the ridge, the volcano still had its big gray hoodie on, but the to Johnston Ridge Observatory was fascinating. A ranger gave a great talk detailing the eruption, holding up big color prints and jumping around the room. I half-expected him to bring out hand puppets next. The Observatory sits on a bluff 5 ½ miles from the crater and is named after volcanologist David Johnston, who was camping a few miles north of the volcano on May 18, 1980. That morning Johnston radioed his base shouting “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” The volcano’s eruption devastated its northern side and Johnston was killed.

Roof of Johnston Observatory
We came back down the mountain in a more somber mood and stayed that night in Cascade Locks, a town on the Columbia River. We were too tired and cheap to go out for dinner, so we ate peanut butter sandwiches in our hotel room. Benny turned his dinner into a map of Oregon and Washington. The sandwich is Oregon, the two Xs are Portland and Cascade Locks, the top crust is the Columbia River, the carrot is the Bridge of the Gods, the potato chip is the basalt lava flows that covered half of Oregon 17 million years ago; and the pretzels are Washington State.

Oregon for dinner.
The Bridge of the Gods (see carrot, above) has, of course, a wonderful name and a marvelous story. It was once a natural land bridge remembered in local legends by Native Americans. According to legends, the bridge was built by two brother gods who settled on opposite sides of the Columbia River so they could get together over the holidays. There was a family feud (over a woman, of course) and The Columbia River eventually broke through the land bridge and washed away most of the debris. All the gods behaved so badly they were eventually turned into mountains: Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mt. St. Helens.

A modern bridge is now built on the spot, also called the Bridge of the Gods, but fails to live up to its name. Frankly, it's one of the ugliest, ricketiest bridges I've ever seen. Ron ran across it (it's actually part of the Pacific Crest Trail) and the bridge rattles and you can see the river through the steel supports under your feet. Here's a series of gorgeous pictures of the Bridge of the Gods, which just shows that a good photographer and the Columbia River can make any man-made eyesore look good.

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