Last week, my boyfriend and I went on a quickie road trip up through Portland and on to Mount Saint Helens (I almost typed “Mount Rushmore”, and that’s where I said we went when the gas station attendant asked us where we were off to the morning we left. It’s a wonder I can even function).
Mount Saint Helens is an active stratovolcano located in Washington state, about 50 miles northeast of Portland (thanks, Wikipedia). It last erupted in 2008, but it’s most famous eruption was on May 18, 1980. Growing up, I heard stories of how the ash from the 1980 eruption found its way nearly 400 miles to the deck at my grandparent’s cabin on Coeur d’ Alene Lake in Idaho. My mother said the ash blocked out the sun and it looked like the end of days.
Since I always heard the stories of the eruption growing up, and I teach my students every year about the cause and effect of volcanos, it was decided that it would be our summer destination.
We left Reno around 7:30 AM, stopped in Klamath Falls for some Taco Time lunch and a Dutch Bros. coffee, and arrived in the Portland area around 5:30 PM. It was a long day of straight driving, but it was the start of our vacation, so there was no bloodshed yet.
We stayed with my aunt, who was gracious enough to host us. She had her pool ready and raring to go, so we definitely took advantage of that luxury. Our TBs (tired butts) were very grateful.
We stopped at Tom’s Pancake House to fill up, as we planned on doing some hiking (to be honest, I was really hoping there’d be less hiking and more sitting in a scenic spot, eating the “hiking” snacks we packed). When I saw that Tom’s had an option to top your waffle with Oregon marionberries, it was an easy choice! I’m not really sure what a marionberry is, but since we don’t usually see them in Nevada, I had to try them.
When we got back into the car, we used Google to get the directions to the mountain.
Before we had left Reno, we did a small amount of research and knew that there was an observatory and plenty of hiking trails to choose from on and around the mountain (I liked the sound of the 1.5 mile one and the one that had no incline).
So, back to Google. Via maps, we were given the directions to Cougar, WA. So, we merrily made our way to where we’d hoped to find a spunky grandma who’d take a picture by the town sign.
After we wound our way through a quaint rural community, the road became very twisty and turny (yes, that’s a word) underneath a thick blanket of trees. We were climbing a mountain, just not the mountain we had come to see.
The landscape was not at all what I had expected. We also saw not one sign indicating we were headed toward the mountain, an information center, or the observatory. In fact, there were some signs, but they were stangely covered up.
Eventually, we made our way to the first hiking spot. We were hoping there would be further information at the trail head that would help us glean where the heck we were. But, no such luck.
Also, the hike was an eight-miler, so that was a no-go.
We got back into the car and continued up the mountain. Not long after, we got sight of Mt. Saint Helens and it was glorious, but, worryingly, still pretty far away.
While we were admiring the volcano with our 10x magnifying binoculars, a friendly German couple came up to talk to us.
They remarked on the beauty of it all, and we asked them if they were headed to the observatory. The woman said the road to the observatory was closed due to a late winter.
(The jury is still out on that).
We felt pretty defeated and downright lost, as we had zero service on our phones and no paper maps to help guide our way.
We decided to get back into the car and continue further. Almost at the very end of the road was another spot to hike. We decided it would have to work.
I’m sure by now you’re realizing that we were lost or just completely mixed up. Well, right you are!
It wasn’t until we headed back down the mountain and to Ape Cave did we come across an information kiosk/gift shop where people with factual information could be found.
When I asked how we could get to the observatory, the young man working the gift shop said it was some three hours away, but we could still make it, as they didn’t close until six.
Three hours away.
We were on the complete opposite side of the mountain.
We had spent our entire day, dedicated to seeing Mount Saint Helens, like total dopes on the wrong side of the mountain.
So, how did two college-educated individuals mess up so royally?
It’s all Google’s fault. Yes, just like a tattletale seven-year-old, I’m blaming it on someone/something else.
When you Google, “Johnston Ridge Observatory”, Google has you go to Cougar, WA.
Notice how, in the first website under the egregious misinformation, it says, “Toutle, WA”? Yeah, that’s (closer to) where the observatory is.
Our trip wasn’t all in vain, however. The hike we took was through utterly stunning terrain (honestly, I think it was way prettier on the wrong side of the mountain). We also went in Ape Cave, and I crossed a suspension bride just like the one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was just like that one (don’t listen to my boyfriend. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about).
We hit up the world-renowned Voodoo Donut and the Deschutes Brewery.
Donuts and beer totally made up for not getting to the observatory.
So, kids, learn from Aunt Fatty. Do not rely on Google, it’s not all-knowing. Go to the actual website for the location/landmark/attraction you are going to visit. Do some damn research before you go, and don’t rely on your phone for everything-you might not have service where you’re going!
Know before you go:
Johnston Ridge Observatory, last stop on HWY 504, 52 miles from Castle Rock. NOT in Cougar, WA.