West Coast Report Six: Monday

The Gorge-ous Cascades


The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center did everything it could do to make the experience worthwhile. The wall graphics are well-presented and well-explained. The movie was very good; I'll say no more lest I spoil the experience for you. The walk-through model was a nice touch. The before and after shots were impressive. The no-quarters-required binoculars were well-situated for maximum advantage. The price was extremely reasonable ($3 each) and the folks even put up a non-volcanic sign describing the osprey nest visible behind the building.

What more could they do?

Install climate control between the center and the volcano! The binoculars had a great shot across open marshland, but the cloud cover completely obscured everything beyond the first range. Since that range was heavily forested, I was pretty sure it wasn't the right sight target. There are closer vantage points, of course. The best was 52 miles one way across the "narrow, winding roads" so typical of the Cascades (and every other mountain chain). Thanks to the wonders of the internet, however, I'd already been to the remote camera for the Johnston Ridge Observatory and I knew the view was entirely gray. So we didn't take that extra trip, but I still highly recommend the visit if it is anywhere near your travels. The Center alone is informative enough to be a great experience.


A hundred years ago or so, my ninth-grade geography teacher made a big point about "rivers don't cross mountains." Yet here comes the Columbia River on a path that looks very much as though it's right through the Cascade mountains. So Kathy and I headed up the Columbia Gorge to see what clues we might find.

Along the way, we encountered some places where the water from Mount Hood's glaciers came to join the Columbia on its march to the sea. Since the Columbia, however it crossed the path of the Cascades, did not actually climb the mountains to accomplish the task, that meant that the glacier water had to come down nearly to sea level and had very little time to do it. And unlike Niagara, where all the waters collect together to rush over virtually the same precipice at the same time, the Hood waters are independent (a lot like human Oregonians) and prefer their own routes. We saw four great specimens of waterfallishness.

This isn't a waterfall; I'm just admiring one.

As we traveled the scenic highway to see the waterfalls, we noticed the Interstate way below us. The folks along there were making great time, but they were missing most of the "accidental" beauty. There were occasional rest stops for special scenery, such as the double-fall at Mulnomah, but most of their view of the Columbia River was shielded by trees. And since they were nearly at water level, their vistas were limited. Oh no! It sounds like I'm justifying the Park Service in putting their scenery at the edge of cliffs!

At Multnomah Falls (the third picture), the very informative (but I've no way of checking their accuracy) guides told us that the Cascades didn't pierce the Cascades; the Cascades volcanically appeared long after the Columbia had built its watercourse. As cool as that sounds, I believe I'd be a little worried about my property in such a case. It seems that if one more volcano squeezes itself in between Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood, the Cascade will have to find a new route to the Pacific. Meanwhile, it will have to back up several hundred feet into Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon while it finds that new outlet. The guides didn't seem too worried about that theory, however.

Desert Valley

Since we were already heading east, since I-5 was likely to be too sheltered from real scenery, and since neither of us had really traveled Eastern Oregon before, we scrapped the Willamette Valley in favor of the eastern slopes of the Cascades. We turned south at The Dalles (and still don't know what that term means; I'd always figured it was a special term for a major river formation, but nothing has indicated that yet) and traveled through Kansas and New Mexico for a while.

Immediately south of The Dalles is scenery reminiscent of Kansas' scenic Flint Hills, if someone had ever bothered to cultivate them and if they soared a thousand feet rather than a couple hundred. The immediate contrast was between brown grass hills and irrigated orchards. As we got closer to the brown grass, however, we discovered tractor trails and decided this was the remnant of a recent grain harvest. When we hit an occasional plateau, the mowed wheat (or whatever it used to be) and occasional cattle pens gave the impression of Kansas, with the added thrill of a possible canyon over the next rise.

Then we hit a place where irrigation (and rain) must have stopped. Instead, we got scrub brush and trees, interlocking slopes where the descending road wended its way, and occasional oases of "regular" farms and small towns. We also saw Oregon's peaks from the "wrong side." As neat as Hood, Jefferson, and the Sisters all appeared, they were dwarfed by Mount Adams in Washington. Their heights (from our angle) were all similar, but Adams spread its snow-covered shoulders much more broadly, even at a much greater distance. But we were impressed by the cluster effect of many tall mountains visible from the same spots.

Bumper Sticker Thoughts

On our way south, we got behind an Arizonan with the thought-provoking question, "What it war were not an option?" What a concept! If they mean "For anyone, anytime," then I know they're talking about heaven. And that day is promised us, when God ends this current world and its idiocies. But He's not doing so yet, because He's still encouraging people to join His kingdom voluntarily.

Or perhaps this person just means, "For us advanced peoples." If the stupid Middle Easterners want to kill each other, or if the sub-Saharan Africans insist on starving those who disagree with them, we Americans can only use the art of gentle persuasion. And if some of the bad from other folks spills over into our territory, we just do what we can to get out of the way, until such time as they learn better.

More likely, they mean, "I'm very glad to have the wonderful materialistic life I now have thanks to the sacrifices of those in the Revolution, the Civil War, and (especially in Arizona) the Indian wars, but let's not risk it by getting involved in principled actions elsewhere. Any compromise or evasion of duty is better than risking death." To such folks, I can only say with Patrick Henry, "Is life so dear, and peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."

But that won't fit on a bumper sticker.

My brother Norm had some additional thoughts:

If war were not an option? Slavery in the USA would have not been abolished until much, much later, the Jewish race would have been further annihilated or possibly extinguished, the homosexuals and Catholics in Europe would still live in fear, Communism and Socialism would still be using their death camps, women in Afghanistan would still be wearing their burkas and existing under a dehumanizing archaic sytem of laws, people in Iraq would still have to wonder what may have happened to their loved ones if they were late coming home for dinner, kings and despots could govern without the consent of the governed, and you would not be allowed to print any asinine thing you wished to on tee shirts, placards, or bumperstickers.

To break it down to it's simplest form; would I stand idly by if someone were to assault my wife or my children? Would I attempt to dissuade by logic and compassion someone who was pointing a loaded gun at my neighbor's face? I may try, but eventually and most likely I will have to fight and in fighting, I risk my life. That's what we do as a nation committed to doing good.

But I have no strong opinion on the matter...

Anyone wishing to contribute thoughts is always welcome to do so. I ask for civility and logic; and although it is possible to get me to post something that disagrees with me, I do not even pretend to impartiality. But I do appreciate forthright discussion.

Next day