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Cheese, Blues and Volcanoes

Wednesday, 8 October 2003
written by Teresa

Evacuation Route You'll be relieved to hear that there is no correlation between the items in the title of this entry, the fact that that they appear here together is more an accident of timing.

Cheese always features heavily in our lives and if we can't actually be in the home state of the tasty comestible, Oregon is not a bad substitute. In the space of one morning, in the town of Tillamook, we visited two cheese establishments. The Blue Heron French Cheese Company specializes in making various flavours of Brie and we bought the garlic and herb variety that was creamy, not overly ripe, delightfully mild and tasty. Down the road, the Tillamook Cheese Factory is an altogether different enterprise and although it is a farmer owned dairy co-operative, it is a huge factory churning out enormous amounts of Sterling's favorite foodstuff and there was a broad smile on his face and an eagerness to his manner throughout our entire visit. We left with both the beloved curds and an Oregon fridge magnet: a very satisfactory visit.

Logging is big business in both Oregon and Washington. Swathes of mountainside are clear-cut leaving ugly scars on the land. On the other hand the industry feeds wood to the rest of the country and provides employment in many small communities that are dependent on the lumber processing mills. Packwood is an aptly named village sitting within sight of Mount Rainier and may not have particularly attracted our attention were it not for the notice outside the community hall announcing that John Mayall was playing at the Mill that coming Saturday. What a veteran English blues musician was doing in the depths of rural Washington was initially a mystery; we heard later that half of the mill had been closed leaving the town destitute and the concert was a benefit to ease the transition. Whatever the catalyst, the experience was wonderful. The town had turned out in force and along with the many visitors created a mixed and varied audience from the bikers to the grannies. The empty warehouse somewhat dwarfed the small crowd and the 'bring your own chair' necessity created an impromptu and casual feel to the whole affair. The music was classic Mayall blues produced in that inimitable Bluesbreakers fashion. It was a great evening and another glimpse into small town America.

Geohazards The Park Service disowns any responsibility for your safety whilst camping in Mount Rainier National Park. Warnings regarding cataclysmic geological hazards abound in the campgrounds and as Sterling observed, merely being here rated 2 on the Adventurometer. Given this is an active volcano not far from the infamous Mount St Helens; there is some argument for taking serious note of these signs. In the event of hearing a noise like an oncoming train, one is instructed to run up the valley side to a height of at least one hundred and sixty feet, without delay. This isn't you understand the volcano erupting but just one of the minor hazards such as a twenty foot wall of water and rock hurtling down the valley at frightening speeds, the result of glacial melt. Picture the scene: we're warm and toasty in our bed, oblivious to the world except for dreams of dogs wearing flip-flops. Through the layers of consciousness comes the sound of a freight train bearing down on the yelping hound whose progress is hindered by his foot-ware.

In spite of the potential dangers, at White River, we camped on the bank by the white glacial melt water looking up towards the monolith. The characteristic volcano shaped mountain towers above the surrounding Cascades and on a clear day is visible from Seattle, sixty miles away. It is the most glaciated mountain in the lower forty-eight but the icy cloak belies the mountains true nature. Obscured by Clouds The heat is never far away and the ice-free crater and steam caves are a testament to its fiery entrails.

Wispy clouds swirl playfully around the peak, hiding and revealing various slopes and creating shadows in an ever-changing dance. In other moods, thick banks of cover roll in engulfing the peak and obliterating it from view or alternatively evaporate, to reveal the sharp white slopes against a storybook blue sky in a breathtaking majesty that stops you in your tracks.

This is a Park of many faces. The Old Growth Forests are a mysterious world of fungi, nursery logs, standing snags, old trees and a sense of quiet and stillness mixed with the rich smell of humus. Greenery Sunlight filters through the thick canopy; steam rises from the damp debris and small sunlit dells where the fairies live can be glimpsed off the trails. Wrapped in this reality it is easy to forget the Parks namesake smoldering quietly just out of view.

There are some wonderful trails here, leaving the waters in the valley bottoms climbing up through the forest and emerging in the open beauty of a landscape sculpted by glaciers, not another soul in sight, the steep walls of Glacial Basin surrounding the high meadow, the mountain eerily in and out of the fast moving clouds and cold air sweeping down off the broad expanses of ice, high above. Marmots sit and watch and then continue about their business as we rest on a log eating lunch and absorbing the place.

On the other side of the Park at Paradise, the trails are a strange business with miles of paved path circling the mountain presumably in an attempt to prevent the erosion that would otherwise be caused by the numerous visitors to this popular spot. We found this slightly off-putting but stumbled across an unpaved side trail leading out to the backcountry which took us up to Nisqually Moraine, overlooking the glacier of the same name. Nisqually Glacier Here the ice is clearly visible, it's deep peaks and crevices obvious, sections blackened with the rock gouged out by the ferocious power of its inexorable movement. More amazingly, the sounds of the ice cracking as it inches forward are clearly audible as are the numerous melt streams emerging at the leading edge.

The melt water streams are fascinating. They vary in colour from white water to distinctly pink. Scooping a handful out of the fast moving waters and allowing it to drip slowly trough my fingers leaves an incredibly fine black residue resting in the creases of the skin on the palms of my hands. The glacial erosion washes the volcanic rock down into the surrounding land producing a rich dark soil, ideal for dairy farming and the production of those delicious curds.

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