Superhero Wildflowers Jul29

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Superhero Wildflowers

On our way out of Oregon we HAD to stop at the Tillamook Factory, we were driving right by it after all. Lactose intolerance be damned, we were going to have cheese and ice cream for lunch! As we pulled into the massive, jam-packed parking lot, Ali and I felt a warm sensation of excitement and belonging. We parked Lucy with the forty other RV’s in the far end of the lot and joined the pilgrimage of fellow cheese lovers all making our way toward “dairy mecca”.

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It was a self-guided tour, free, and no real rules about where you went first. The downstairs was 6,000 square feet of retail, a gift store on one side and a cafe/food store on the other, both swarming with people. We decided to head upstairs since it seemed slightly less crowded, which is where you could look down into the production floor at the cheese packaging line and get a scoop or two of ice cream to lick while you watched.

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We shared a cup of Mudslide and Grandma’s Cake Batter and wandered around the viewing floor. Our tiny plastic spoons clicked together as we sparred for the perfect bite and shared our thoughts on the various positions on the line. I’m not exactly sure why, but I absolutely love manufacturing lines. It goes back to my early years at Aladdin when Alex, Kelley and I would jump in to help kick out mega units for big orders of boxed software. I just dig finding the most efficient way to divide the tasks on the line and honing your method to be as fast as possible at your individual piece of the assembly. Seeing the stacks and stacks of completed units grow while the stacks of parts shrink was so pleasing.

Most people would probably find it boring, the repetition, the mindlessness and it can be hard on your body, but I adored it. Of course, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that two of my favorite people were there doing it with me and we would talk and talk and talk – mouths as busy as our hands. So when I saw the two young girls working on either side of a table, talking and laughing as they plunked the blocks of cheese onto the conveyor belt, I smiled and thought of my friends. Thank god we didn’t have to wear those shower caps though!

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Downstairs, we got in line for our second course at a two-sided buffet station loaded with trays piled high with tiny cubes and cups of toothpicks. There were nine choices of cheese to sample and no limits. We each came out the other end of the line grinning, fanning out our loaded toothpicks like a Gin Rummy hand. Allison out-sassed my set of 3 Colby Jack cubes with her run of Hot Habanero Jack, Pepper Jack and Jalapeño. We managed to make it out of the store without any purchases, though we did get sacked by another free sample station of fudge.

Back on the road, we finally turned inland, leaving the ocean and Oregon, making our way toward the Columbia River in Woodland, Washington. Our RV park was great. It was right on the water, big wide spaces with lots of grass and trees as well as nightly entertainment of big commercial ships and barges that floated up and down. My only complaint was how far it was from Mount St. Helens. It took us an hour and a half to drive all the way up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, so if your intent is to visit the volcano, there are several campgrounds that are much closer.

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At 8:32 Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted and blew down or scorched 230 square miles of forest. During the eruption, a 300-mile-an-hour lateral blast of hot air and debris flattened the surrounding old-growth forest. A cloud of ash climbed to 80,000 feet in 15 minutes and circled the globe in 15 days. 30 years later, recovery at Mount St. Helens continues… Read more…

Two-hundred and thirty miles! That’s like 4 hours of driving. The sheer scope of the eruption was so hard to wrap our minds around. We had to keep reminding ourselves as we drove along Route 504 that everything we passed had regrown since. Amazing! We stopped first at the State Park at Silver Lake, the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center which was still fifty-some miles from the volcano and the National Monument, but oh so worth it. We didn’t spend anytime inside seeing the exhibits, but rather spent a half-hour walking around the one-mile loop of boardwalks that take you out and over the wetlands.

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Waterfowl and water lilies galore, out-shined only by the shimmering sun on the lake and the still snow covered mountain volcano in the distance. We’d been a little sun-starved over the previous week, only seeing it in spurts on select afternoons, so we took our time, turning our faces upward as often as we could.

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We spent another hour in the car, climbing our way through the 45,000 acres of reforested land. It was mostly Douglas Fir, thick and luscious, signs posted every so often to tell us what year they were planted, but there were also big swatches of Nobel Fir. At the tops of the tall Nobel Firs the tiers of branches were uniformly spaced, spread out along the trunk, sort of like a hoop skirt, which made the hillsides look a lot like they had crimped hair. It’s hard to explain and we don’t have a good picture, but just know that the drive, while long, offered plenty of beauty to keep us entertained. Gradually the trees thinned as we got closer and closer to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Where the green lush forest left off, the mostly grey landscape took over, exploding with spots of color.

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In the aftermath of the eruption, beneath the scorched earth, through the pile of ash on what they call the Pumice Plain, the Prairie Lupine, a purple-blue wildflower was one of the first plants to grow on the barren land. The lupine, a member of the pea family, is able to “fix” nitrogen, so it repaired the soil which allowed other plants to grow along side them. Rebirth. The power of nature to survive against all odds. These were the themes of Mount St. Helens.

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We watched two movies at the visitor’s center. Both of them culminated with the curtains scrolling aside to reveal the stunningly, dangerous crater that was left behind when half the mountain’s face blew off. It’s still an active volcano and much of the landscape around it is desert-like, speckled with the scattered dead tree trunks that have weathered to a stately, silver grey. But hiking the Boundary Trail is simply spectacular. Put it on your bucket list – this is a place where seeing is feeling. The volcano is always in view as you rise and fall over the hills and it’s hard to get enough of the colorful patches of brave, superhero wildflowers that trickle down every hillside.

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P.S. I will admit that the drive home was way less enthralling, so sick of fir trees by that point, hence the recommendation that you get a campground that is closer.