Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Olympia Oyster House

      We have eaten here several times before, but not since the fire and rebuild.  I have trying to find a place to dine out with Mom due to the heat wave and seafood provides a decent alternative, plus it provides her with her meal of choice:  Crab Cakes.  Olympia Oyster House has been in existence since the turn of last century.  The restaurant is the oldest seafood restaurant in the State of Washington.  It is the old original culling house of the original Olympia Oyster Company, which was formed prior to 1900.  Here for many years the Olympia Oysters were culled after being barged in the basin immediately to the north of this building.  As far back as 1859, Olympia Oysters were sent to San Francisco where gourmets would pay $20.00 per plate for them.
Olympia Oysters
      Their menu is extensive, of course specializing in locally grown Olympia Oysters, but also providing an excellent fare of local clams, mussels, crab, and other FRESH seafood as well.  You won't survive here if your seafood isn't fresh.  It is a local landmark.
      We chose our midweek experience mostly due to the uncharacteristically warm temperatures invading the Pacific Northwest and lack of traffic.  Much of the menu will depend on 'Market Price' which is always determined by local catch rates and freshness.  The cuisine can vary from simple entrees to loaded seafood baskets, to full entrée style dinner. 
Battered Halibut
Blackened Salmon
It is only by coincidence that we all LOVE seafood and mom's recent heart procedure dictates a recipe that coincides within reason, but who the hell is complaining?  We always try to get a table near the window so we can leisurely gaze out upon the sound.
      We were seated immediately by the windows and once our large, cold drinks (to combat the hot day) were ordered as we attacked the menu.  Barb is not much of an adventurer and once she finds something she likes, she stays with it, ordering her usual 'Basket of Clam Strips'. 
      Mom has been here several times and LOVES their 'Crab Cakes'.  Not usually on her AHA diet, this was a special occasion and I let her order them as long as she got steamed veggies with them and no taters or fries.  
      I wanted something a bit different.  I have destroyed my fair share of most all kinds of seafood the past 3 1/2 months so I decided on the 'Scallops'.  The waiter did have to ask the kitchen if these were Bay or Sea Scallops, which does make a big difference.  Sea Scallops are MUCH LARGER, NEARLY MINI STEAKS.  Once they arrived I realized these were Bay Scallops and only 7, but in a wine, oil, and butter sauté they were delicious nonetheless.  My meal also came with a delicious assortment of steamed veggies.  

      The service here is very good and the food is excellent, but I do have to comment on the prices.  The seafood is fresh, but the costs are a bit higher than I thought fair.  My scallops alone were $30 and the total bill amounted to $91.  You must be paying for ambience by the water or the fact that this is peak tourist season.  Both Mom and Barb got 'to go' boxes so they will have some snacks later on or lunch tomorrow.  In the end we were treating Mom to a night out in air conditioned comfort with some of her favorite (allowed) food.  It's all worth it.  
      We depart in a few weeks and from here we head east towards our home.  We'll take several weeks getting there as we have several favorite stops enroute for prospecting, boondocking in the Rockies, friends, and fairs.  I'm not sure how the 'furbabies' will take to being OTR again. 

"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls"
                                                                                Anais Nin 
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Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Rise of BOGOYOLO

      Okay, suffice it to say this is more of a satirical post, written to wring empathy from any male I can.  Of course part of the process of helping Mom straighten up, clean up, and reduce the amount of clutter accumulated over the oh so many years of living in our home would be the inevitable 'Garage Sale'.  Barb and I have visited literally hundreds of these over the years, but in all honesty have never held one ourselves.  Yeah, amazing isn't it?  22 years in the Air Force, 20 more teaching, moving all over the planet and we've never 'been there, done that'. 
      We've been at Mom's for about 11 weeks now and all the 'prep' has been done.  Thanks solely to my wife Barb all the closets, spare bedrooms, workshop, garage, and storage building have been cleaned out.  The years of old documents/tax returns have been shredded, and load upon load of trash and Dad's old paint/chemicals hauled to the dump.  I watched as the pile of 'stuff' grew weekly in Dad's workshop area, spreading into 2 rooms, hoping it would eventually be the resultant end of some plan.  Little did I know that my bride was very much in her element here.........Dr. Jekyl nurturing Mr. Hyde right before my eyes.  The beast began to stir.....
      Admittedly this has been a bit hard on Mom.  Her home for so many years, yet no less so on me.......yeah, you know what I'm saying.  Even my cooking doesn't cure everything.  Barb is the best woman any man could hope for.  We are also very fortunate to have a dear friend from high school that helped us with much of this to include dump trailers, tables, pricing, setup, and general support.  Mom's friend and neighbor, Rosalie, volunteered to contribute/help out too.  For a day my faith in humanity was saved. 
     Setup occurred several days before the sale, including table setup, pricing, advertising via Craig's List, yard signs, and newspaper ads.  Rosalie and Wilma's experience and pricing skills proved invaluable.  I really appreciated her husband John who was a tremendous help loading out the rest of the stuff plus helping me price tools and 'man stuff'.  It was a little sad watching Mom walk around browsing stuff she hadn't seen for so many years.  Barb, Wilma, and Rosalie were of great comfort to her.  The beast, however, was now fully awake. It was looking for Tokyo.
In order to keep the beast somewhat under control I had even made a pretty thorough flow chart and list as what needed to be done or obtained and when.  However, since women are normally the 'Great Organizers' when it comes to lists........they didn't need mine. Uh oh.....
      We had tables spread throughout mom's patio, yard, and the garage as well.  Not that I mind, but my role throughout most of this has been 'Gofer'.  You know the drill.  I did have one pretty innovative idea about a 'full wet bar' for the shoppers, but that seemed to get shot down as quickly as a Naked Pig Roast in the Middle East.  Heck, I didn't even know a permit might be needed for this silly event.  Good thing we didn't.  When the day of the sale arrived I don't know what anyone else expected, but against all testosterone driven odds the sun did come up.  The beast, however, had already arrived......

The Three Amigos
      Well, at least for now this beast has been slain.  The damage to my man card was minimal and the screams have subsided.  Tokyo is safe.  We'll have a small service and then haul the rest of the carcass to the dump in a couple of days.  No Evergreen College protestors or Spotted Owls were harmed during this and no Safe Zones violated.                           
      In all seriousness it was a very well planned and executed sale.  I certainly did appreciate the efforts of my entire crew.  In fact Wilma's husband, John returned to help me with tool management.  That boy could sell ice to an eskimo.  Under such stressful situations my leadership skills astound me, but seem to escape the ladies.  Seriously, once again my wife continues to amaze me.  Her warm spirit and selfless heart have really risen to the top this summer.  I salute my friends for pitching in and making Mom's day less stressful and even a little more fun.  I love you all.  The weather was beautiful, in fact it was a warm summer weekend with most of the Department of Tool Sales Management (me) seeking shade and ice tea.  In the end we cleared just short of $12,174,804.  We did set our sights on making a significant impact on the National Debt, but after Mom's 99% profit margin we'll donate the remainder to our favorite charity.......Helping Rich Hilts Age a Bit More Gracefully while hauling more loads to the dump.  The Summer of Altruism continues........Joie de Vivre. 

"Anytime women come together with a collective intention, it's a powerful thing.  Whether it's sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book,  around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens."                                                                                  
       Phylicia Rashad
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Thursday, July 6, 2017

And the Oscar for BEST MOTHER goes to.......

      How can I be home for an entire summer and not celebrate the woman I love the most on her special day?  One of the best, yet most unexpected parts of my own growing older is the onslaught of memories I would begin to experience as my mother grew older.  This summer has been a personal enigma all it's own.  I have experienced the gamut of emotions throughout this visit and I DO MEAN the gamut.  This is not to infer anything selfish because I am sure this is the same gamut Mom has used when describing dealing with me her entire life.  Ok, I have used the word 'gamut' enough.  Moving on.  I have always thought my Mom was stunningly beautiful at a young age.  The older black and white photography really brings out the best in people.  Over the many years later wisdom has made her just perfect. 
     We have spent so much time this summer downsizing Mom and ferrying her to the numerous medical appointments it was time for a celebration.  Barb had an idea for the meal so when my sister Deb decided she would come up from Oregon the party just kind of took on a life of it's own.  In fact we got a 'late surprise' when my youngest sister, Mary, traveled all the way from Iowa for the celebration as well.  This would be the first time all of us have been together for many, many years.  I had high hopes yet fingers crossed.   
      Barb has been wanting to make her famous lasagna and this met with hearty approval from the rest of us.  She wanted to make enough to feed all of us and plenty of leftovers for Mom's freezer as well.  In case the garrisoned troops at Fort Lewis showed up we still might not be hurting.  I'm not posting the recipe for the lasagna as it is already the topic of a blog entry on January 12, 2014.  Nor will it take a DeLorean or Marty McFly to get there, just address the Blog Contents Bar on the right side. 
      This year Mom turns an indiscriminate chronological age that if I post......well ok, I won't.  Let's just say she has more accumulated knowledge and experience than the rest of us at the table combined, probably due to dealing with the rest of us at the table.  Mom didn't want a big cake with SO MANY candles flaming;  just a table full of family and friends celebrating.  Mom did decide on two smaller cakes which we had made for us.  I realize that Barb has made this dish many times before, but forgot that the grocery shopping alone is a saga in itself.  Just the right Kielbasa, Pepperoni, Smoked Sausage, Burger, Roll Sausage, Tomato Sauce and Paste, Swiss, Cottage, Mozzarella, and Cheddar Cheeses, and of course.......fresh lasagna noodles (not the dry ready to bake crap as the chef herself states).  Yes, this is Meat Lovers Lasagna.  Barb made two large dishes (and one small one for Mom to freeze) of lasagna.  Plenty to eat and plenty of leftovers as well. 
It was a wonderful dinner on quite a warm day.  Lasagna, Garlic Bread, Salad, friends, and family.  Is there anything better?  The summer of altruism continues.  Joie de Vivre 

"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in
life to celebrate"                                                                              
       Oprah Winfrey

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The King of Salads....Do the Louie!

      What's the cure for REALLY HOT summer weather?  A great seafood salad.  By salad I mean the King of Salads, the Crab Louie. This incredible dish combines the best of fresh ingredients, creamy scrumptious dressing, and the 'Star of the Show'....fresh Dungeness Crab. 
      We came back from the beach several days ago with the local temps creeping into the 90s and beyond.  Unless we wanted to dine out every night we had to come up with an alternative.  I suggested salads which are cold, delicious, and not uncomfortably filling.  Our first night we did a fresh shrimp salad with shrimp we got on our previous trip up Hood Canal.  The second night I decided to go 'all in' per Texas Hold 'Em parlance and do the Louie!  I did not bring any crab home from our trip to the coast (bad fisherman, me) so I went to the local seafood market and bought a pound of fresh.  Sit down and prepare yourselves.........REAL fresh crab shelled is $34.99 a pound! Who cares....YOLO!  It is for Mom and my bride. 

Rolling chilled crab into mounds...
      This provides a brief history and the ingredients/recipe for Crab Louie.  Although I substituted Romaine, Arugula, and Spinach the rest remains per the original.   We also like a few spears of fresh steamed, yet crisp asparagus.

Building them plates
Diggin' that Louie
Life is good when Ricky is home...
      This proved to be a very good idea as the day I prepared this it was 104.  We enjoyed the air conditioning, each other's company, and dining on this delicious salad as well as the Tillamook Marionberry Pie Ice Cream for dessert.  In the end I'm just grateful that Mom never moved the couch in the living room.   

"Washington is gripped by crab-in-the-bucket syndrome.  And there's no cure in sight.  Put a single crab in an uncovered bucket and it will find a way to climb up and out on it's own.  Put a dozen crabs in a bucket and 11 will fight with all their might to pull down the striver who attempts to escape"  
Michelle Malkin
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Changing Face of Western Washington


      "Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn off the lights" This billboard quote is from the original Boeing Crisis of the 60s.  It has resurfaced several times since.  This is the place of my birth, where I lived for 18 years.  My mother and two of my children still do. However, nigh on 50+ years (hell, even just 30 years) ago this became a different state, a different culture, a different demographic altogether.  True, it is a different world we live in today, but has society come so far as to completely abandon any semblance of civility.  First of all it's much more populated now and with that comes the inevitable traffic, higher costs, rudeness, arrogance, and dog eat dog mentality of any big city; it's everywhere.  Modern society was founded on the concept of rules that would provide/ensure safety.  Laws were enacted to protect the majority of us all.  Keynesian Economics also states that in the short run, and especially during recessions, economic output is strongly influenced by aggregate demand (total spending in the economy).  Western Washington and especially the Seattle area has taken this to a whole other level.  Can the average working person still survive?  Where do all the homeless come from?  Is governmental assistance fueled by ever increasing taxes the only answer?  For anyone about to say that the rich need to pay their fair share, double check your fact checker.  The Top 1% of Americans pay 50% and the Top 20% pay 84% of all the ($$$) income taxes today. 
      Things have so very much changed that I find it somewhat uncomfortable to accept what has become acceptable here.  I am awestruck as I listen to my friend's stories of high costs, dwindling jobs, obscene taxes, and the increasingly limited health care debacle.  Compiled from experiences during my recent stay here this is but a sample of unbelievable changes to the now 'so very far left' Pacific Northwest:

>There really isn't any need for Seattle (let alone the entire western half of the state) to be a 'sanctuary city' as no matter what law you disregard you can always claim 'profiling, racism, or non-resident status.  As long as it is a federal issue, the local King County Barney Fifes ain't gonna hassle you. 

>You've heard of water rights, mineral about view rights?  The local TV station reported today that you can now mortgage the view rights from your house in the greater King County area.  That's correct, you can now own the rights to your view which cannot be infringed upon by new construction, trees, etc.  It will cost you anywhere from $10K-several hundred thousand dollars to do this and you can even keep them when and if you sell your house.  What? 

>Seattle wants to pass legislation to provide 'safe spaces' for heroin addicts to shoot up.  Yet, the news reported recently that opioids kill more people in the state each year than traffic accidents.  Unfortunately, they're not spectacular drivers either.  Yeah, opioids are still a controlled substance and heroin is illegal. 

>An Oak Harbor legislator has introduced legislation to prohibit airlines from removing any passengers no matter what (unless for legitimate security concerns), even when they are overbooked. 

>We were checked (for personal ID, script ID, and receipt) a total of 3 times at Wal Mart or COSTCO each time from the moment we picked up our (or Mom's) prescriptions till the moment we walked out the front door.  Here, the professional consult is NOT an option. 

>Good thing we have our own cloth grocery bags......if you don't get ready to pay 5 cents a bag here.

>Seattle has legislation pending for their own county income tax. 

>The average price of a home in Seattle is $638,000.  This isn't even a fabulous home.  Even though Washington's property tax rate ranks 28th lowest in the nation at 1.08%, that house in Seattle will still pay $6872 per year.  In Thurston County (home) it's even higher. 

>My home town of Tumwater can't seem to do anything to sell the Olympia Brewery buildings and property as their zoning conditions and control over the artesian water rights are a stranglehold to any deal.  The property is already an eyesore and very nearly a point of shame.

>It is not unusual to walk downtown Olympia and see wooden power poles with several  hypodermic injection syringes stuck in them.  Apparently there are no safe zones here.  The amount of homeless really saddens me.

>Although a bit further south, the owners of Kooks Burritos in Portland were forced to shut down their shop due to a barrage of criticism and bad reviews due to what is being termed 'Cultural Appropriation'.  They discovered their unique style of cooking when traveling to Mexico and when interviewed commenters accused them of stealing their recipes and techniques from Mexican women.  One publication, the Portland Mercury, even said the women were predatory and colonized this food style. 

>The unions have such a chokehold on industry that even with layoffs Boeing has begun to move a significant amount of their operations out of state. 

>Seattle Commissioner Kshama Sawant (pictured above) is an active member of the American Socialist Movement and Socialist Alternative Party.  Some of her campaigns have been the $15/hr minimum wage, the condemnation of Israel and their survival, the proposed nationalization of Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon, and promotes airport and freeway disruptions by whatever means necessary.  They even published a Guide to Mayday Protests in Seattle     Recently she came out in favor of the Seahawks acquiring (NOT LOCAL FAVORITE) Colin Kaepernick as a backup QB so she's got that going for her. 

>The Pacific Northwest’s nascent independence movement (secession from the union) – Cascadia – is gaining momentum and actually believes it can survive without federal governmental help.  Of course it can, their astronomical taxes can provide anything that only socialism can fix.

>Evergreen State College professor Bret Weinstein is under fire after refusing to leave his office, as well as criticizing a "White Privilege" demonstration recently as oppression in and of itself.  The protestors rationale?  Racism, of course.  Demonstrators stormed his office, threatened him and stopped campus police from entering the building when they attempted to escort him out.  In the end he was allowed to leave, but then the demonstrators stormed the President's Office demanding Prof. Weinstein's firing.  He relented stating that he would investigate fully and police WERE NOT to react to the demonstrators due to the fact they threatened violence unless the professor was fired. Oh yeah, this is a state taxpayer funded university. 

     This is home and it saddens me to the bone.  I don't like bad mouthing the place where I grew up, where I learned my values, and many of my closest friends and family still live.  Usually I really don't pay much attention to the news or current local events when I visit.  All I ever really noticed before were the skyrocketing real estate costs, which most folks blamed on all the 'transplanted Californians'.  But now the economy is such a juggernaut that when everything rises except the wages for the blue collar working man their hope diminishes.  For those who have lived here, worked here, and raised families here their entire lives they are now finding the cost of living, especially property taxes stifling.   It seems at times that the only hope perceived is government assistance, as long as it doesn't interfere with the 'haves'.  What does the average Democrat think is going to happen when the dream wishbone breaks in their favor to increase the taxes only on the rich?  JENGA!   You want to talk about 'trickle down economics'?  Taxes are already incredible and eventually this 'tower of progress' will topple (remember Keynesian Economics and the short run) and the 'haves' and 'have-nots' will find themselves on the same playing field once and for all, everyone struggling to survive.  There are so many good people still living here, but the change has been perpetual with not much hope of reversing course, but all too often what drives this area affects much of Western Washington, whether they like it or not.  My parents were both hard workers and we were on the lower end of middle class, not anywhere near rich, but wanted for nothing.  I didn't know what a homeless person was. My best memories have always been of the simple beauty of this place and what a great place it was to grow up.  This works for me. 

"So much of left wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot"
George Orwell
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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Eagan's Big Tom

      This is it, for me the penultimate foodie review.  The hangout, cruise central, the burger joint of my adolescence.  There were originally 4 of these, but over the years only the Westside and Eastside locations are still in their original locations.  The Tumwater location is further south on Capitol Way and the Tumwater Square location is gone.  Only the Tumwater location offers indoor seating. 
Westside Eagan's Big Tom
      Originally there was one Eagan’s Drive in, opened in 1948.  The Westside was where the action was, especially after a big game on Friday night.  It was the sixties and all the guys would drive in with their convertible Chevy's, top down, KJR or 8 track playing as loud as you could.  Couldn’t even get a spot to park.  Cops patrolling every few minutes.  There was rarely a fight, but sometimes a carful of greasers would show up from Lacey (North Thurston) and want to start something.
Great fact INCREDIBLE.  A regular burger in those days was about 35 cents.  But everybody just ordered the basket which was a Big Tom burger with fries and a Coke. Owner Tom Eagan was a really big guy with black hair, about 6′ and 300 pounds, undoubtedly because he ate too much of his own food.  Not sure why he started with the Westside, because he was an Olympia High School grad from an earlier day.  As business grew, Tom opened another Eagan’s on the East side.  It was on 4th Ave, at about Boulevard.  He probably called it Big Tom’s to distinguish it from the Westside Eagan’s, which was just “Eagan’s”.  The third Eagan’s Big Tom’s was soon opened closer to his old alma mater at North Street and Cleveland Ave......where there is currently a bank.
Eastside Eagan's Big Tom
      The North Street location had an outdoor seating area and was successful until he sold it for development.  It was not a drive thru, and as such, serviced mostly business people.  They always had specials.  Tom opened another location to serve the Tumwater High School kids on Capitol Boulevard by the power lines near Tumwater Sports.  In all, there were 4 Eagan’s owned restaurants.

Eagan's Big Tom Tumwater
      Barb and I eat at the Tumwater location several times when we visit here.  A taste of home, still great food with visions of the old days.  She says she indulges me.  I think she really does love a good burger, but this isn't her hometown.  It's a pride thing, Barb is from Missouri.  EVERYBODY loves a good burger!
      Eagan's offers a pretty standard menu at all their locations, but the difference is the food.  It hasn't changed one bit far as I can tell.......DELICIOUS!  The closest I have ever been able to compare to homemade.  The Tumwater location still has the old menu on it's wall as well as many pictures for nostalgia sake.  It is your standard 'drive in' fare........burgers of every conceivable design, hot dogs, chili dogs, corn dogs, chicken sandwiches, strips, fries, onion rings, and of course since it is the Pacific Northwest there are baskets with halibut, shrimp, and clam strips as well.  You can even get a Veggie Garden Burger.  They have a full array of soda products as well as designer coffee and lattes.  My favorite has always been their shakes, the best.  I always get a Mountain Blackberry shake with my burger.  I love the fact that they also offer tater tots as well as fries because it is the perfect Romeo to my Juliet......and of course the timeless favorite, GOOP.  It is their trademark product.  Essentially mayo, mustard, pickle relish with a secret salad dressing mixed in it is often copied, but seldom duplicated. 
A little known fact is that Eastside Big Tom’s is very environmentally friendly–they use solar panels to heat hot water and recycle everything they possibly can.  In fact the used oil from the fryers is filtered and used directly in a vehicle. 
Big Tom, Tater Tots, & GOOP
3 piece Halibut, Fries, & Coleslaw
      I always have my usual, but Barb went with the fish this time around.  They do have very good Clam Strip Baskets, but she wanted a change.   The food is still just as good as ever.  Lunch cost:  $24 and some change.  The costs have certainly gone up, but the quality is certainly still worth it.  I think Five Guys Burgers are much more $$$ and not nearly as good. 
      If you're ever traveling through this area it is a NO BRAINER!   You simply must stop and give this burger a try.  If you're from this area you are already asking yourself how come it has been so damned long since you've had one?  We have been here for just over 6 weeks now and this is only our 2nd visit.........MY BAD.  The movie "American Graffiti comes as close to any resemblance of those days and although the music was rapidly evolving, I still remember the Beach Boys.......those endless summers.  I often talk about my Top List of Burgers from our travels;  In and Out, Whataburger, TXBurger, and Five Guys.   I don't know what it is about a Big Tom Burger with Tater Tots and GOOP, but they will always be #1 in my heart and soul.


"Anybody who doesn't think that the best hamburger place in the world is in their hometown is a sissy"
Calvin Trillin
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Friday, June 9, 2017

The Legend of Bigfoot and Spelunking the Ape Caves

      This was another opportunity for Barb and I to get away for a bit between Mom's schedule.  She's doing very well thus far.  We try to stay within 2 hours on these short jaunts.  This trip we ventured south to the small town of Cougar, deep in the Cascade Mountains in Cowlitz County.  We ended up on a detour road we hadn't planned on the last 39 miles and it was very UPHILL and lots of 15-25 mph turns.  Gas mileage pretty much bit it.......ate a bunch of diesel. 
      I brought us here as Barb is fascinated with the legend of Bigfoot.  Well, this is the place to be.  The legend of Sasquatch or Bigfoot goes back as far as I can remember.  It is some of the best of local PNW lore. 
      This is the original home to the legend, deep within the woods of the Pacific Northwest in the close proximity of Mt. St. Helens, a mere 13 miles north.  This is very wild country, thousands of acres of wilderness rarely seeing a footprint let alone an RV.  The volcanic eruption changed a large part of the landscape, but much remains pristine.  Although we did no real searching for the neo-human I treated Barb to some of the local beauty, solitude, and culture of the area.  We even got in some spelunking, rock hounding and geocaching as well. 
      Barb and I set up camp near the town of Cougar at Lone Fir Campground with a 'bit on the steep side' price of  $42.50 @ day with no veteran/retiree/senior discounts.  It is a nice enough park with all the facilities, but there aren't but two in the area to choose from.  The other park is pretty much 'full time residents' such as workers, loggers, etc.  We have been boondocking at Mom's for 28 days thus far and decided to 'go for it' this week.  It is a nice park with lots of shade and the staff is very nice.  We got an entire greenhouse wagon load of split firewood delivered for only $13.  Roux and Bones loved all the room with the grass and "lounging aplenty was the rule for the week".  There are 2 other camping parks near Yale Lake and Swift Creek Reservoir, but they are a bit too small for our rig.  Smaller RVs or tents probably work the best their.  They run $20. 

The Bustling Metropolis of Cougar
Truth in Advertising Department
Just some kindling in Timber Country
3 for 3 geocaching with my favorite 'Sexy Geocacher'
Mt. St. Helens South Face
The higher roads into the backcountry are still closed

      Another part of this trip was to treat Barb to some exploration of the 'Ape Cave'.  The Ape Cave was discovered in 1947 by a logger named Lawrence Johnson. However, the cave was not explored until the early 1950's when a scout troop, led by Harry Reese, lowered a team of scouts down a 17-foot overhang to the cave floor. Leaving footprints where no one ever had, these explorers were able to travel through a pristine lava tube full of fragile formations. Ape Cave was named by the Scout Troop in honor of their sponsor, the St. Helens Apes. This local group was made up primarily of foresters. The sponsor’s name, St. Helens Apes, may have come from an old term used for foresters in the area, "brush apes," or from the legend of Bigfoot. 
      I visited these caves several times as a child growing up and one year our boy scout troop (Tumwater 333) led a large clean up effort in the caves.  This was chronicled in the Daily Olympian Parade Magazine section.  It has been about 50 years since I was last here and today the entire area has been improved.  There is a large parking area (to no doubt accommodate the cavalcade of school buses on field trips), bathrooms, information billboards, and docents to guide tours if necessary.  The cave entrance has been improved, easily accessible via a paved trail and stairs rather than the old 17' ladder.  What would a personal connection with nature be without an asphalt paved trail?  Of course there is now a $5 fee to enter as well.  Thank goodness for our Golden Access Passes. 
    At first everyone asks what are these caves?  How did they form?  About 2,000 years ago, fluid basaltic lava poured down the southern flank of the St. Helens volcano. As the lava flowed, chunks of the lava’s surface cooled, crashed and fused together creating a hardened crust. In turn, the crust insulated the molten lava beneath, allowing it to remain fluid and travel down to the Lewis River Valley. The hot flowing lava began melting into the pre-existing rock and soil. This thermal erosion deepened and widened the channel of the flow. The level of lava in the tube rose and fell as the eruption surged and slowed, contributing to the unique contours of the walls. During this eruptive period, hot fluid lava pulsed through the tube for months, possibly up to a year, until the eruption subsided. As a result of this rare eruption, a spectacular 13,042 foot (3976m) long lava tube, the third longest in North America, was created.  The underground hiking distance is 2.8 miles round trip. 
Map courtesy of US Geologic Survey
      Barb and I descended into our spelunking expedition, exploring perhaps 3/4 mile of the main cave only.  The right clothing and equipment are crucial here as the underground temps are much cooler and wetter than the surface.  Layered lightweight, yet warm clothing and headwear is recommended with good quality Vibram soled hiking shoes, and of course at least 2 sources of light per person.  There are NO other lighting systems.   You're not calling for help down there if you need it.  We also each carried our Nikons with the 10-24mm and 18-140mm lenses, monopod, and flash.  This proved to be a difficult challenge to my photographing skills.  I had to have either Barb or other spelunkers light up the area with their flashlights enough for my camera to get a decent enough light reading to work.  This still took a bit of experimentation with the settings.  Although many specimens of pumice and other volcanic rock abound, you are not allowed to remove any from the cave system.  Did you hear that, Barb? 
      We spent nearly 2 hours exploring the caves.  I spent half that time watching Barb as she was completely mesmerized.  The intricate swirl marks, evidence of flowing lava are everywhere.  Overhead are tall ceilings with parallel tubes and sometimes side chambers.  We ventured far enough to see the 'meatball', a wedged piece of lava that hangs overhead in a narrow area.  Try as she might, Barb saw none of the local indigenous species of bats.  She has visited the Merrimack Caves in Missouri as well as several other 'commercial' systems including some copper mines in Michigan, but nothing of this raw adventure.  She loved it, almost as much as I enjoyed watching her have fun.  We did try and drive further up the mountain to visit Lava Canyon, one of the newer flows since the eruption, but the road was closed halfway up due to some lingering white frozen precipitation still on the ground.  It's only early June.  Our beautiful weather lasted until Wednesday night when rain moved in for the remainder of our week.  It is, after all, Western Washington. 
      Barb and I took a considerable road trip our last day here with a 250 mile roundtrip jaunt to the other side of Mt. St. Helens.  Exploring, hiking, and photography while dodging the rain.  It remains a fascinating area even 38 years later. 

Razor Clam Bacon PoBoys w/coleslaw
      We dined on Philly Cheese Steak Casserole, Fried Rabbit w/Taters n Gravy, Razor Clam Po Boys, and even took a night out for ourselves at the local Bar n Grill.  They serve a pretty mean "Crazy Ape Cheeseburger".  We spent a week in the area, finding that connection with nature once again.  A good week for Joie de Vivre.  God bless my mother for giving me this life. 

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore" 
Andre Gide
WiFi courtesy of Lone Fir Resort