On Friday, October 7, 2016, we drove up Washington State Route 504 with a bunch of school kids.
A state highway to be known as state route number 504, hereby designated the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, is established as follows:
Beginning at a junction with state route number 5 in the vicinity north of Castle Rock, thence easterly along the north shore of Silver Lake by way of Silverlake and Toutle, past a junction with state route number 505, thence by way of Kid Valley and St. Helens to the former Spirit Lake.
In Castle Rock, here we are at the junction with I-5 below us and SR 411 behind us, ready to head east to Mount St. Helens. Do you think we'll see it?
We quickly climb away from all that, up into the forest. Back down to Silver Lake, its resorty sections and swampy sections. Welcome to Toutle Valley. Cow pasture espresso. Back into the woods. SR 505 junction with no warning.
We cross the North Fork Toutle River, roll through Kid Valley ("last gas!"), then cross the river again. The tree leaves have turned caution yellow to match the center stripe and the road signs. We are now on the new highway, built after the eruption, climbing up up up on the north side of the river. Without fanfare, we pass the section of wild forest that once was the community of St. Helens mentioned in the code above. Helicopter tours next right! We cross the highest bridge in the state, far above Hoffstadt Creek. Someone stopped their car on the long bridge to admire the mud flats of the Toutle River, sediments captured behind a dam built for that purpose. Up the mountainside into the cloud, back down briefly to serene Coldwater Lake, then back up the hill into the cloud again. Rain rain rain, viewpoints wasted. "What a pity," says Isabelle. SR 504 ends at this u-turn to the parking lot at Johnston Ridge Observatory. Spirit Lake still exists (despite the "former" in the code), a couple miles to the east, but we couldn't see it.
At Coldwater Lake and Johnston Ridge, we came across school buses full of kids from nearby middle schools. What a Friday for a field trip! Nothing but rain and gray clouds as far as the eye can see. I need to go back there one of these days, after the clouds lift.