Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Mountains, Lakes and Volcanoes

Monday we spent most of the day driving up into the mountains of southern Washington to visit a spot that Mary believes is the most beautiful in the world.

Lake Merwin is really a chain of man-made lakes located on the Lewis River east of Woodland, WA. The lakes were created by damning the river for the purpose of hydroelectricity production. The area is now owned by Pacific Power and the company maintains several access points to the lakes allowing boating, picnicking and some camping.

The region is south and west of the famed Mount St. Helens, the active volcano that “blew” in 1980 and caused significant death and destruction. I was last here in 1982, a short time after the eruption and at that time the ground was still littered with inches of dark grey ash and the fallen trees. Trees up to three feet in diameter were mowed down by the pyroclastic explosion. In 1982 we were only able to get within 30 miles of the epicenter, but the destruction even that far away was massive.

The area we are traveling this day is south and west of the blast zone, and although affected by the eruption, did not apparently see the devastation that occurred just to the north. I’ve posted some pictures of the Speelyai Bay Recreation Area which can do more than any words from me.

After Speelyai Bay, we continued east on Rt 503 toward Cougar. We stopped at Yale Lake to take some close up images of Mt. St. Helens which is snow-topped and partially obscured by clouds and a small steam vent. Yale Lake is stunning and reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of the Alps in Austria; I feel like yodeling.

Just before Cougar we see a road pointing toward Merrill Lake and decide a detour is in order. We find ourselves climbing quickly from the valley floor and read some ominous road signs about watching out for logging trucks. We are soon looking down on Yale Lake and surrounding countryside from an altitude that must be in the thousands of feet. This is a partially developed paved road, but there are no guardrails and it is quite spooky.

Soon the road turns more to the north and deep into a high growth forest. We start to wind down again and are rewarded with a sight of Merrill Lake. There are some camp sites in the area and a small boat launch. We watch as a father and son team of fishermen launch what looks like a dory. They tell us that this is the time of the year when a particular fly is abundant and the fishing is hot. There are several other small kayaks and canoes on the lake.

Merrill Lake is apparently one of the few lakes on Mt. St. Helens that was spared her violence. The lake was probably affected in some way, but looks clean and vibrant now.

We retrace our route down the winding forest road and to Rt 503. Now heading north we return to Woodland, the interstate and eventually to Portland. Mary is tired from the busy day and we have an early evening.

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