Monday, August 24, 2015

Trail of Two Forests

Inside a tree cast.
Near the Ape Cave at Mt. St. Helens is the Trail of Two Forests.  The name refers to the forest that grows there today, and the forest that was growing there 2,000 years ago when a huge lava flow engulfed many massive trees.  The trees burned more slowly than the lava began to solidify, with a strange effect. Tree casts formed around the logs, so that the shapes of many trees were preserved in rock.  A boardwalk next to the parking area leads right to the tree casts.  The star attraction is a pair of connecting tree casts that visitors can crawl right through!  There are also many shallow, partially collapsed lava tubes visible in the area.  It's a must to add a quick stop there if you're exploring in the area.

A partially collapsed lava tube.
Tree cast.
Partially collapsed lava tube.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Upper Ape Cave

Ape Cave entrance.
Going through the Upper Ape Cave is a summer adventure we love.  The Ape Cave is a lava tube at Mt. St. Helens which formed about 2,000 years ago.  At the entrance, hikers have a choice to explore either the Upper Ape Cave or the Lower Ape Cave.  

The Lower Ape Cave is the obvious choice for families with young children.  The floor of the lower cave can be somewhat uneven, but that is the worst difficulty.  This trail ends at a dead end after about 3/4 mile.  

Part of the roof of the Upper Ape Cave collapsed shortly after it formed, and much of the passage is lined with boulders that must be climbed.  It ends after about 1 1/4 miles at an exit ladder.  An aboveground trail leads back to the trailhead through some lovely woods, with holes from yet more short lava tubes here and there.  Of course some like to go through the Ape Cave in the opposite direction.  I believe I'd find this less pleasant, because I don't really notice the elevation gain as I climb over the boulders.  And it's nice to have a downhill stroll on the way back.   Roughly 3/4 of the way into the passage is a ledge about 8' high.  There are a few footholds carved into it, but they are tricky.  All the fit young whippersnappers we see flying through there seem to take this in stride.  I, for one, am kind of terrified by it and I refuse to climb it unless my husband goes first and tosses a rope down to me.  I suppose going the other way it would be easy to tie the rope onto a rock first, climb down and leave the rope there. 

A Northwest Forest Pass is required at the parking areas, which you can purchase on site when their visitor center is open or online.  The cave is cold, so jackets are a good idea.  Although we see plenty of folks who rent kerosene lanterns there, caving lights are a huge advantage because you can always have both hands free. This definitely goes for the lower cave as well, especially for young kids who might lose their footing on the uneven floor.  If you linger at the cave entrance at dusk in the summer, you will surely see little brown bats leaving the cave.  If you plan to meet friends there, we've found that by the time we get to Cougar, WA there is really no cell reception.

This time I made an effort to take more photos inside the cave.  The results were kind of surprising. The flash was far brighter than our caving lights and the colors of the rocks turned out to be interesting.  
Ape Cave entrance.
The skylight is a delightful landmark that tips you off you are nearing the exit.
Exit ladder.
A snag on the trail back.
A tiny lava tube.
Another tiny lava tube.
Ripples in the rock where lava once flowed.
Mt. St. Helens ejecting an ominous wisp of steam.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A-WOL "Drop of a Hat"

A-WOL Dance Collective has an especially amazing show every summer at Mary S. Young Park in West Linn. Their aerial dance is always breathtaking, but on a summer night with their rigging hanging from the trees, the atmosphere just can't be beat.  This year's show, "Drop of a Hat", had a circus theme running through it.  Much like watching a bird in flight,  it's hard not to want to do it too!  Fortunately, they offer classes for those who dare.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bat Walk at Steigerwald

We have been on bat walks before, and they are always fun.  It's a chance to experience nature after dark when most public land is closed and observe the subtle changes that happen as day turns into night.  We attended a bat walk at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and it was by far the coolest bat walk ever!  Steigerwald, like most National Wildlife Refuges, is a magnet for bird lovers. It's 1049 acres of mostly wetlands between Washington Highway 14 and the Columbia River, near Washougal. A creek runs through it and a stand of trees lines the creek.  But unlike the other places we have gone for bat walks, the trees do not encompass the whole sky.  As the light grew dim, the bats began to emerge to feed on the plentiful insects that thrive in the wetlands.  And they were easily spotted against the sky.  At first we saw a few little brown bats.  Then we got to a part of the park where the big brown bats live, and their enormous size really knocked our socks off!  We also saw owls, hawks and herons. A bat detector translated the high frequency sounds that bats use for echolocation into sounds we could easily hear.  It was a complete surprise to me to learn that many insects also make high frequency sounds which the bat detector also picked up.  Jasper was the youngest child on our bat walk, and he said he could hear some of these without the detector.  Our guide explained that children can hear high frequency sounds to a much greater degree than adults.

I wondered if this was some strange public art...actually
they're purple martin nesting boxes.
We could just see Mt. Hood in the distance.