Kalama, WA (July 6, 2022)

Now that we are at the mouth of the river, we turned around and headed upstream stopping halfway back to Portland (where we stared). Incorporated in 1890, Kalama (Ku-lamb-uh) is served by the railroad, is one of the deepest points on the Columbia River, and is on Interstate 5 which gives it the advantage of being “where highway, rail, and water meet.” This is a plus for trade, tourism, adventure seekers, and scientists keen to better understand the volcano that permanently altered the landscape 42 years ago.

Sadly Mother Nature dropped the ball today. After an hour’s ride, a 45 minute stop at the Mount Saint Helens orientation center, and an additional hour’s ride … it was STILL foggy with clouds shrouding the object of our fascination. We traveled the only scenic byway in the United States that enters a volcanic blast zone. On the morning of May 18, 1980, after weeks of small tremors, 2,000 feet blew off the top of Mount Saint Helens when a magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered an enormous eruption. Winds reached 670 miles per hour! Temperatures of 800 degrees scorched 234 square miles of forest. A dramatic end to 123 years of hibernation. Two new lakes were formed; mud flows wiped out everything in their paths; forests were striped naked. Today we saw an eco system rebuilding itself.

Eighty-three year old Harry Truman got a lot of press leading up to the eruption when he decided not to leave his lodge which was located in the red zone. Ultimately he become one of 57 people who lost their lives, some in the red zone and others outside of it. Books and movies have made him a folk hero.

We had a fabulous tour guide who did a great job of making sense of all things related to eruptions: the shifting of tectonic plates, the friction caused by these shifts, types of volcanos, steam, red zones, super-hearted air, calderas, ash clouds, pyroclastic flow, and so much more. He used the TV monitors on the bus to show us an excellent video and slides that illustrated his various points. He mentioned that Mount Saint Helens, one of 1,500 active volcanos on the earth’s surface, is the youngest volcano in the Ring of Fire.

Our drive took us past acres and acres of felled trees, mostly Douglas fir, in lumber yards near the river. An average annual rainfall of 46 inches is surely a plus in growing these impressively straight trees. We went through eruption-devastated areas which are into year 42 of their new normal as well as dense, lush unaffected forests, clear-cut areas, and replanted forests. From all indications, lumber remains king.

We were back on board in time for lunch; Dan and I ate in the dining room and W&C ate at the grill. Then we strolled the main (and basically only) street downtown, visited the small interpretive center, enjoyed seeing the giant lollipops around town announcing the Kalama Fair this weekend, took a look at the totem poles near the dock, and got a giggle out of the one-stop shop that functions as a laundromat, coffee shop, and deli.

This afternoon’s lecture centered on Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’ Newfoundland dog that accompanied the group on their expedition. From the sounds of it, he was a much-loved, hardworking member of the group. It is safe to say Dan and Walter slept through most of it, but I was interested to learn that Seaman was a terrific alarm system when bison and bear got too close to camp; he learned how to swim after beaver, squirrels, and young antelope and deer and bring them to shore for dinner; and thankfully he was retrieved after her was stolen.

We had just enough time to get cleaned up for cocktails which is where we met Melvin and Debra, retired farmers from South Dakota. We invited them to join us for dinner and really enjoyed their company. Now I want to explore eastern South Dakota in general and the Corn Palace in particular. Debra, an avid quilter, commented that she often orders half portions of a couple offering on the menu which inspired me to have crab cakes and duck. A great idea!

Frank Chase, our resident piano player, was on top of his game tonight and had us all stomping our feet, singing along, and laughing as he entertained us with favorites from New Orleans.

… Really? …

Why were beaver pelts so sought after?
They were traded in China where the fur was made into felt and then used in top hats.
No self respecting gentleman of any social prominence would be without one.

What pelt was the most sought after? Sea otter.
It has the densest fur in the world with one million hairs per square inch.

Kalama is named after a trusted, well respected Hawaiian who arrived in 1837 and decided to stay.
He later married the daughter of an Indian chief.

The movie Twilight was filmed here.

Almost half of Oregon’s population live in the Portland metropolitan area.


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