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Charlotta Richter
Nature Photography & Blog
The story of Mountains and Volcanos - The Northwest

 This summer I traveled the northwest of the US. I saw the volcano landscapes of Mount St. Helens, Crater Lake, Craters of the Moon and learned about the Yellowstone National Park. The rest of the journey I was mostly surrounded by mountains, whether the Bighorn Mountains or the Rocky Mountains.
  21 days
5841 miles
Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
4665 pictures

flight: 653€
gas: 610$
food: walmart 350$ and fast food 250$
camping: 250$
hotel: 75$
   
Stops:
Mount St. Helens
Crater Lake National Park
Antelope Island - Great Salt Lake State Park
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Bighorn National Forest

Yellowstone National Park

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve 
Glacier National Park
Horsethief Lake State Park
The Coast
Bruceport County Park
Mt. Rainier National Park
 
Our first night as well as our first stop was Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. We found a nice campspot at the Iron Creek Campground (Gifford Pinchot NF) northeast of the mountain. It’s located at the Forest Road 25, 8 miles south of Rangle (Washington). The campsite is lying in between huge trees, and you get the impression that you are in the cold rainforest of the Washington coast.
That's a list of campgrounds around Mount St. Helens:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd516228.pdf
The next morning, we followed the road to the Scenic Drive of Mount St. Helens. Entering the Monument you either have to pay 5$ at a self pay station or possess any valid National Park Pass. This volcano erupted in 1980 and the northern part of the mountain slid down. The hight of the mountain reduced from 2950m to 2539. The material of the landslide filled the Spirit Lake and increased the hight / the bottom of the lake up to 60m. The landslides also brought dead trees into the Spirit Lake and some of them still haven’t been dissolved.
Spirit Lake with dead trees in the upper right corner of the picture
The view of the mountain and the Spirit Lake is truly impressive. Additionaly the clear outlining of the areas which have been impacted and those which haven’t, as well as the succession of plants is very interesting out of a biological viewpoint.
 
After shopping for the essential camping utilities (coal, water, shampoo, Listerine) and some food at Walmart in Woodland, we headed towards Crater Lake National Park. We chose the Black Canyon Campground (Willamette National Forest, located at the Highway 58east) as our stopover. There are some campspots located directly next to the Willamette River, though it’s not easy to access it. Somewhere on the other side of the river are leading some railroad tracks. The occasional honking of the trains was a present noise during the night. Our campspot:

The next day we entered the Crater Lake National Park. The lake formed when rain water filled the Caldera of the volcano Mount Mazama.
 We drove around the lake and stopped multiple times.
Wizard Island is a cinder cone that formed within the caldera.
The National Park has an own small campground, but the sites are rather open so we decided against staying and continued driving. The rest of the day we drove all the way through Oregon and Nevada.

Taking the Highways 62south and 140east we experienced a different kind of Oregon.  In opposite of the green and moist coastal area, the backcountry of Oregon are dry, wide landscapes with only a little bit of scrub and a couple of cows.
Crossing the border between Nevada and Utah we saw an interesting setting: West Wendover (Nevada) was full of lights, casinos and bars. Wendover (Utah) lying just on the other side of the border was totally dark.

At 10pm we stopped at a rest area near the Bonneville Salt Flats and slept a little.

Antelope Island - Great Salt Lake State Park

Starting early we entered Antelope Island State Park at 7am. We got a campspot at Bridger Bay Campground.

Our campspot
One of our meals: chicken, with bread and ranch sauce
Visiting the island, you should be prepared for some strong winds. One night we additionally experienced a lightning storm with some heavy rain. And our tent withstand it.
Antelope island is very photogenic, so I'll just show some impressions:
A nice feature of the State Park is it’s free beach-shower and a couple of shower-cabins.
Driving along the few roads of the island a couple of times, we saw: Burrowing owls, a herd of pronghorn antelopes, a group of male mule deers, bisons and one coyote running through the high grass. Down at the shore I was able to take some pictures of shrikes as well as fly-chasing-seagulls.. Our highlights were:
"Catching" a group of chukars in the evening light.
As well as this mule deer:

We were also able to catch a glimpse of a coyote roaming through the gras.
We were lucky and saw burrowing owls at multiple spots like this one:
Northern Shrikes:
We also saw a lot of pronghorn antelopses (the name giving animal of Antelope Island) and bisons.






In the background there's a bison herd.

Another day activity is the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge north of Salt Lake City. The wetland areas and some part of the river were dried, but still we saw an interesting variety of birds.
Our way was blocked by a herd of cows.

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
For entering the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge you have to face 28miles of Gravel Road (exit Mondia I15) before arriving in Lakeview (a little village, mostly dominated by buildings of the University of Utah).
 
 
There are 2 Campgrounds: The Upper Lake CG (located next to the lake) where we had to face huge mosquitos en masse, and the Lower Lake Campground which is set between the grassland. We chose the Lower Lake Campground, because it was a little cooler and we faced way less mosquitos. Additionally, there were the cutest  pit toilets. In the morning the temperature was around 0°C (30°F).
Just when we wanted to head out for another photo-tour, the tire-warning-sign popped up. There wasn’t any visible damage on our tires, but still we decided to leave the area immediately to seek a gas station or a garage.
After reaching the Highway 20 we stopped at the first gas station and checked and refilled the tire pressure. Luckily the warning sign went off, and we continued driving with our fingers crossed.
Bighorn National Forest
We had to face some road construction when we drove up the mountains on Highway 14. The campgrounds are only reachable via gravel roads. And because of the frequent use there was a lot of dust in the air. “Drive slow, help keep the dust low”.
We got a campspot at the Dead Swede Campground. Though there are a couple of different campgrounds, most of them were full, because almost all of the sides were reserved. There were even a couple of “wild camping” RVs standing in the forest next to the gravel road.
Near the campground are two different lodges, where you can eat, buy keepsakes and even fuel your car. But there is no real food store.
We were informed by the campground host, that the fire must stay under the rim of the fire pit. Otherwise you could be punished with a 500$ fee by a forest ranger.

And don't forget to extinguish your fire.

We discovered a marmot near the gravel road.

Yellowstone
 National Park

First of all: Based on my experience I wouldn’t recommend visiting Yellowstone during the summer season!  At a more accessible point of the creek we refilled our water cans.
After entering Yellowstone, we saw a lot of wood bisons, which have longer and pointier horns than the plains bisons we have seen at Antelope Island. The road was blocked multiple times by people who stopped to take pictures of the animals. Well known landscape points like the Mammoth Hot Spring are overcrowded by visitors, so I wasn’t able to really enjoy the
breathtaking landscape (I’m very well aware of the fact that I’m part of that problem).
The streets are blocked, because either another visitor saw an animal and stopped, or because the rangers keep the road clear to protect animals.
 
The boardwalks ar blocked, becuase.. -well, humans.


All the campgrounds were full, so we chose the Crazy Creek CG in Shoshone NF. Entering the Yellowstone NP from the east, that CG is the last one on the Highway 212 where you are allowed to camp with your tent. Because of bear occurrence the last two campgrounds before entering the NP are only open to RVs and campers. We got a nice spot at the edge above a torrential creek. On the other side of the highway is a short path to a waterfall.
 
 
Still, I saw a little bit of yellowstone before we decided to move on.
For example the West-Thunb-Geyser-Basin:

 
And the Lower Falls:

Sure, the Yellowstone Yational Park - the first national park of all - is impressive. The geyseres as well as the wildlife is stunning. And the geological history of the "supervolcano" is more than interesting.
But based on my experiences during my short visit, and based on the experience of others I figured that the best time to visit Yellowstone is autumn. When the leaves turn red, the elks are bellowing during rutting season and less people are on vacation.
  
And we got lucky to see a moose.
 
 
 
On our way to the next location, the Craters of the Moon National Monument, we stopped in the Targhee NF at the Pine Creek Campground. The next morning we continued driving.
 
On the wayside of the Highway 26 we saw a lot of old barns.
 
 
But it's not only the old abandoned buildings that fascinated me. There's also an unusual beauty within abandoned or old buildings in small towns, like this one I took a picture of in Dubois (Idaho) where we stopped for gas. 
   

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve 

This National Monument presents a surreal and extraordinary landscape. The ground is made of flood basalt (a result of a giant volcanic eruption or series of eruptions). Some formation are as fine grained as sand, others massive reaching over your head and pervaded by cracks and holes. Looking around it’s easy to discover the different stages of succession. Some parts are totally bare with no plants at all, others are covered by lichen and grass. The only animals I discovered were nightjar, turkey vultures and a chipmunk.
   
The NM has one Loop Drive with multiple stops at viewpoints and interesting landmarks (such as the Inferno Cone, the Splatter Cones or the Tree Molds Trail), a visitor center and one campground. The campground contains about 30 spot, flushing toilets and water. You have to pay at a digital device (15$ per night) and then choose a spot. The spots are rather open, often overviewing the neighbour-spots. 
 Our campspot:
In this picture you can see the succession starting from rock, merging into lichen, shrubs and trees.
  At the visitor center they got a map, where you could pin your home town.
 
The nearest city is Arco, “the first city to be lighted with atomic power”. It offers a family dollar store, a grocery store and a lot of bedraggled motels. I experienced it is as a rather sad city. 
 
In Butte we visited the “Piccadilly Transportation Memorabila Museum”. They display street signs, old cars, a gas pump and lots of different license plates. It’s definitely worth a visit.

 
On our way to the Glacier NP we stopped for the night at the Lake Alva Campground. (H 83 north, north of Seeley Lake) . The campground lies on the brinks of a lovely lake surrounded by trees. The swimming section is separated.North of Seeley Lake is a ranger station where you can ask about the situation on the campgrounds or for other informations.
Lake Alva

Glacier NP
The most known street of the Glacier NP is the “Going to the Sun Road”. A mountain pass  with a lot of viewpoint stops.  At the visitor center we saw bighorn sheep. They are so used to humans and cars that the park uses a dog to dispel the wild animals from those crowded places.
 
  Since all the campgrounds were full we found a free campspot for one night at Johns Point CG in the Hungry Horse Reservoir Recreation Area. Within the recreation area the campspots are reservable, so you must be lucky to find a free spot.

All around the city of Kallispell are a lot of different antique stores.

Heading back to the Coast we were driving along the Columbia River. There are a lot of State Parks. Some of them are oriented to day use (with picnic areas and boat ramps).
  In the evening we found a nice campspot in the Horsethief Lake State Park. The regular spots are very close to each other. There are two special spots designated to hikers and bikers (they pay only 10$ per night), which are offside the normal campground between some trees with a nice view of a meadow and dead water of the Columbia River. Because there were no bikers or hikers we decided to take one of those campspots. In the evening we kept watching the lights of the passing cars on the Highway 14 upon the other side of the dead water.


 
The Coast
On the Highway 22 east we experienced the huge difference of 38°C (100° F) and burning sun 30 miles into the backcountry and 16°C (60° F) with a lot of mist at the coast. We continued taking the 101 north. After crossing the Columbia via the Astoria bridge we stopped at the visitor center for the night. And we weren’t alone: At the parking spot stood approximately 10 campers and 15 normal cars during the night. The next morning we found a campspot in the Bruceport County Park one hour north of the bridge. All in all we didn’t do much at the coast. We went to different beaches, threw stones so they bounce on the water, visited Forks (a lot of twilight references) and La Push (a lot of people). We didn’t make our way into Olympic NP, since all the campgrounds were full and the line of waiting cars was long.
We discovered the best organized antique store in the antique city of Aurora. It's a small town north of Woodburn near the I5. The whole city is  dedicated to antique stores, with the whole city center made of antique shop next to antique shop next to antique shop. But still  Aurora Mills Antique and Vintage Houseparts is the best organized antique store I’ve ever seen.
The rest area near the Astoria Bridge:
 
 Our campspot at Bruceport County Park
 
   
One of the beach access for cars:
 
But don't overestimate your car like those people did:

 
Smoked salmon bought at a Shell gas station (too salty)

 
Much tastier salmon from a private booth

A sunken ship near Markham (WA) 
The queue in front of the entrance of the Olympic National Park:
 
 
 Arriving at Mt. Rainier at Sunday noon we faced a 2 mile long line of cars in front of the south east entrance, where we waited over a hour to enter the park. (On Monday afternoon we only had three cars in front of us.)
The general store near the entrance offers everything from post cards, fridge magnets and t-shirts to ice and basic hiking food. A lot of hiking trails start at Paradise (paradise visitor center), where some trails go up high further up the mountain. Another hiking specialty is the Wonderland Trail: A loop trail which goes all around the mountain. I only hiked a short fraction of it, but here’s my experience. The signing is adequate and helpful, the trail itself is in a really good condition and the nature you experience is amazing. I really recommend at least doing some part of the trail. 
A nice view of Mount Rainier:
 
Bridges along the Wonderland Trail:

 
 
Reflection Lake:
 
Firewood we collected on other abandoned campspots:
Cooking on our campfire:
 
 
At the Cougar Rock Campground we attended some lovely live music by Bill and Cedar Compher who played a mix of folk, irish ballads, blues and self-written music. Bill Compher is also known for building awesome treehouses in the area.
Our last day we spent in Tacoma, where we cleaned our rental-car from all the dust and packed our stuff. The next morning we returned the car and took the bus shuttle to the airport. We left with 3 bags (all perfectly packed with 23kg of stuff) and a some wonderful memories.