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

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