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Hoffstadt Bridge
mount st. helens clouds
mount st. helens snow
mount st. helens snow
mount st. helens tree
mount st. helens
patty's place
patty's place dog
visitors center
voodoo doughnut
voodoo doughnut
voodoo doughnut art car
voodoo doughnut
voodoo doughnut
voodoo doughnut
voodoo doughnut
powell's books

Mount St. Helen’s, Washington

Mount St. Helens, WashingtonThe autumn morning was sunny and bright — so uncharacteristic for the Pacific Northwest. We drove south from Seattle to see the volcano that caused so much death and destruction in 1980 and, I remember, even left its mark on my Pennsylvania hometown 2,500 miles away with a coating of ash on cars.

The Mount St. Helens Visitors Center at Silver Lake off Interstate 5 gave us our first clear view of the mountain via a webcam, but an up-close sighting was still an hour’s drive away — about 45 miles along Spirit Lake Highway. The Johnston Ridge Observatory, perched on a higher overlook near the blast site at 4,314 feet, was already closed for the season because of the fickle mountain weather, though its observation platforms and trails remained accessible.

Clouds closed in as we drove closer, swallowing the sun and giving us our last glimpse of it for this weekend. Even 30 years later, the blast zone was apparent. The remains of flattened trees littered the landscape, even as new forests grew in other places. Landslides and mud flows scarred the land closer to the volcano.

mount st. helens plantThe temperature fell as we drove to the higher elevation. A few other people were parked at the observatory, braving the biting wind for a closer look at the ruined mountain from viewpoints above the main building. A memorial is there, too, with the names of the 57 people killed in the blast.

Clouds had now swallowed the top of the mountain, and the wind strengthened. And then one of the first snows of the season began to fall. In a few minutes, flakes collected on grass and leaves, though the roads stayed clear. This is why the observatory closes in the fall — the weather will only get worse until spring. We hadn’t dressed for a full-on storm, so we retreated to the rental car, cranked the heater, and headed back down the mountain road.

Patty's PlaceOn our way back to the interstate, we stopped at Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House, a restaurant with a mouthful of a name known for its fresh, homemade cobbler. We had a few mouthfuls of cobbler after chowing down on gourmet burgers. Our Ford Fusion looked out of place amid the muddy, four-wheel-drive pickups of camouflaged elk hunters stopping in to warm up. The occasional snap of gunfire sounded in the distance. We lucked out again — this was the diner’s final weekend of the season. It, too, would soon be shuttered until spring.

A dog wandered the grounds looking to make new friends. We played tag for a few minutes on the front lawn — him mimicking my side-to-side leaps before sprinting off to run in a circle, then smashing against my legs and waiting for me to jump again.

Portland, Ore.

Voodoo DoughnutThen it was off to spend a night in Portland, Ore., to see friends and get taken on a pub crawl, followed by a sugar high the next morning at the famous Voodoo Doughnut. How many pubs did we crawl through? That’s sort of fuzzy. How many beers did I drink? Lost count. How long did we wait in line for doughnuts? About 45 minutes. How many doughnuts did we eat? Too many.

A cold downpour followed us on the drive back to Seattle. This is the weather we expected.

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