Notes from a Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Packwood to Long Beach
Before we left this area completely the next day, I commandeered the SUV to take us up to Mount St. Helen’s. Apparently, there was a viewing platform from which to best see the sleeping beauty, and I wanted to see it as clearly as possible.
Up and up and up and up and up – around and around and around and around – you get the idea – we wound to the viewing platform. Even in the thickness of the woods, up steep inclines, down sharp hills, and around eye-watering blind corners, it was still a 30 mile drive to the viewing place. The road began to lose itself, turning into a perpetually potholed mess with more gravel and dirt than pavement. At one point, a washout had taken away some of the road, and it was like rumbling over mountainside rock.
It was at that point – still 15 miles to the viewing point – when Mom made the executive call to turn back around the next chance we had. That was difficult, as there weren’t many turn around spots, and the sides of the road went straight down into nothingness.
The conversation went like this:
“You’re mad because I made you turn around.”
“You’re mad, aren’t you?”
“I’m quiet because I’m trying not to die in a mountain driving accident.”
We made our way slowly back down to civilization, and, a few turns here and there down farm roads, we finally got a clear enough shot of Mt. St. Helen’s.
After that insanity, it was on to the Washington coast for an entirely different view of this ever-changing state.
For the most part, the drive from Randle (where the turn off for Mt. St. Helen’s is) to I-5, and I-5 south to Longview was pretty easy and uneventful.
But then the GPS got involved.
In Longview, it’s a bit of a mess to find Hwy 4. The road suddenly went over the bridge to Oregon, which is another way to drive the Columbia River, but the GPS kept highlighting a route under the bridge, around a massive lumber yard, and then right back to the same road we had just exited from. Then, it said to literally take the same route again, under the bridge, past the lumber yard … until I shouted at it to shut up and flew into a Starbucks parking lot to give the damn machine a piece of my mind whilst Mom got out and let me alone with it.
Once the GPS and I came to a right understanding – and I consulted an actual road atlas – I went around a few local neighborhoods trying to find the right road, finally chancing on Highway 4 when I noticed a proper sign for it. Now that we were heading west on a road that seemed to be a highway, I kept ignoring the GPS until we found a place to stop for a Slushie.
The scenery along the Lewis and Clark trail was top notch. Every now and then, the river peeked out from the trees, the shrubs gave away to the full openness of the water and the Oregon side just over the bridges. One rest stop on Highway 401 (after Hwy 4 turns off to head north) was called Dismal Nitch. Apparently, Lewis and Clark were forced to hole up there at one point thanks to superbly crap weather, and I imagine they argued about whose fault it was for not stopping the canoe to ask for directions.
Or, maybe they just had our GPS.
Lewis and Clark were stuck on the campsite for several long, dreary days before getting to travel on and finally sight the Pacific Ocean for the first time. One of the two guys called the area “worst place in the world” or something approximating that in todayspeak and so the area has retained the “Dismal Nitch” name since. The rest stop was near the long Astoria-Megler Bridge which connected Oregon and Washington instead of a one-time ferry service.
We finally landed on Long Beach peninsula, where we were staying at the historic Shelburne Inn in Seaview. A massive Victorian-style hotel, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously operating hotels west of the Mississippi, the Shelburne was Victorian and old school in all the right ways. There were plenty of antiques here and there, dark, carved wood walls, super-creaky stairwells, sloping floors, canopied beds with lots of lace, and the ubiquitous long-fringed lamps everywhere.
The charm of the building was reflected everywhere, from restaurant to the bar to the outdoor spaces with beautiful, flower-laden gardens. It was misty and salty outside, the sky rather heavy with the promise of rain, and the air was thick with sea-scent. Perfect weather for hot tea or coffee.
Before we got too cosy, though, we shuffled off to the next set of adventures – finding the lighthouses of Cape Disappointment.