Friday, September 10, 2010

Seeing not clearly

the sea at the Devil's Punchbowl
The weather on this trip had been pretty co-operative, up until yesterday. Even the fog and drizzle in Oregon, rather than interfering with our enjoyment of the dramatic coastline, enhanced it, as that's the sort of weather us Southern Boys expect to find up here. There was a nip in the air -- I'd call it "wintry" but I know my Nawthun friends would scoff -- and the dampness was just enough to give the whole experience an alien sort of feel. Fog came in lines that, more often than not, stayed somewhat distant, to emphasize the collision of land and sea without interfering with our view of it.

Astoria Column
Yesterday, though, that changed. We woke up in Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River, and after a pointless early-morning drive to Lewis and Clark National Park, which doesn't open until nine, we went back to town and climbed up the Astoria Column, a tower on a hilltop above the port. By this time, the sky seemed to be clearing, though it was still hard to get a decent picture, from either the bottom or top of the column, of the big river bridge a couple of miles west. Still, the improving weather boded well, we thought, for the day's trip.

Originally, the plan for yesterday was to drive up the Columbia River Gorge, between Portland and The Dalles, then up to Mount St. Helens, passing by Mount Rainier on the way to Sea-Tac, where (I thought) we had reservations. (Turns out we didn't, but that's not important; plenty of hotels around the airport; the reservations I was thinking of were for parking -- I plan to leave the car at Sea-Tac while we go up to the condo for the next week.) By yesterday morning, however, I had decided that that was too ambitious a plan, so we debated which side-trip to drop. Sherry said she particularly wanted to see Mt St Helens, so we skipped the Columbia River Gorge and headed into Washington.

There is a Visitors' Center a few miles off the freeway, about 20 miles from Mt St Helens National Park. They have a monitor there that shows a live feed from the Visitors' Center at Johnson Observatory, the closest approach to the mountain for the public. It was a fog bank. We were about 20 minutes in the gift shop, during which time there was no change in the view, so we decided to head on to Mt Rainier. The road that takes us there passes about 20 miles north of Mt St Helens, so we thought we'd have another chance to see the remnant of the mountain, which exploded 30 years ago. 

our best view of Mt St Helens
There was a viewpoint indicated along the road, but (a) the trees had grown up alongside so that nothing else was visible from the road, and (2) if you walk down the nearby gravel road, all you can see is the reservoir which, it turns out, is the intended view for the spot. Later on there's a sign for a Mt St Helens Viewpoint a quarter-mile farther on, but someone has apparently taken the marker indicating where that viewpoint is. In any case, it was still foggy.

At the base of Mt Rainier it was cloudy and damp. By the time we got halfway up to the Visitors' Center at Paradise, it was drizzle and fog. At Paradise it was fog and rain and about 40°. We went into the Visitors' Center, looked through the exhibits and the gift shop, and left. It's a loooooong, slow, scary drive up the mountain to the Visitors' Center; it's even longer, slower, and scarier on the way down. But we stopped at a couple of waterfalls on the return trip.

Cristina Falls
After that, it's a fairly straightforward drive into the urban blight of Tacoma. I stopped at a tire shop to put air in the right front tire that's been losing pressure regularly for the last four or five months; the guy there swore he could stop it losing air, which the guy at the service station back home said couldn't be done (the wheels are chromed, and apparently everyone in the Northwest knows what people in the South don't, that road chemicals cause it to corrode, and all you have to do is run a wire-brush drillbit around it a few times to smooth it out, then put sealant on it. On the other hand, the tread on that tire was so worn along the edges from driving on 15 pounds of pressure, that I went ahead and had him mount a used tire, with better tread, on the wheel, to get me the 3,000 miles home. That cost all of $32 and change. I think I need to find another tire guy back home, though in fairness, I've talked to probably six different shops about the problem, and none had any solution other than new wheels -- which, according to the guy at the tire shop I stopped at in Lincoln City, Oregon, would have to be made specifically for Jaguars, as Jaguar uses a different sized hub than other manufacturers. I'll have to look into that.... Anyway, the new tire rode fine on the horribly bumpy, rough and noisy freeways they seem to favour up here.

We got to Sea-Tac (which, apparently, is an actual municipality, not just the name of the local airport), found we had no reservations, and checked into a hotel on the main road by the airport. We have a lovely view of Mount Rainier out our sixth-floor window ... or would have, except for the fog.