The road trip south

“California here I come”, Al Jolson

The road trip to San Francisco was an awesome trip. The road trip was started with some trepidation and it required considerable concentration to make sure I stayed on the right side of the road and wondering how the hell 4 way stop signs work. I decided that the rule of thumb was if you get to the stop sign first, you have right of way (after stopping). seemed to work and nobody got irritated. Actually, drivgers are very courteous in these here woods….

Seeing Mount St Helens and the redwood forests of California was amazing. We originally decided to make a quick stop at the MSH visitor centre a few miles from the I5 South highway to California, knowing that travel time to MSH would take at least 2 hours out of our travel south. But when we arrived at the visitor centre, looked at the displays and watched the film, coupled with seeing the old girl in the distance, we decided that we would take the time and drive to the north face, which was blown away when she erupted in 1980. 

The Toule River bed was raised by an average of 25 metres as a result of the volcanic mudflows after the eruption. 

The volcano is still active to this day and scientists are constantly measuring and monitoring her activity. But the devastation was incredible – even today, the mountains surrounding MSH from the north face are barren, such was the heat from the eruption and the pyroclastic flow. It is almost as if the ground has been sterilised. There are still remnants of 5 metre or so diameter trees that were severed about 1 metre above ground level, snapped like twigs. The landscape, when compared to that of the eastern face, is stark. We were glad we spent the time to detour to the old girl. This is something that we both remember quite well.

Entering the blast zone…as you continue to travel closer to the old girl, you enter what is classified as the blast zone – from here the scenery changes dramatically from green treed wilderness to lunar landscape.

The tree below was a graceful pine with a 4 metre diameter trunk, snapped by the force of the blast.  The parks service has not tried to remediate this area.


The journey continued through Washington State and into Oregon, passing Portland, Olympia and over the great Columbia River. In the distance, you see the great peak of Mt Hood, which stands out like a beacon giving you a sense of its height, seen from over 100 kms away.

The scenery is quite spectacular and ever changing. You constantly see the Olympic and Cascade Mountains on either side in the distance as you head south. The scenery does change from rolling hills in Washington to plains in northern Oregan and then driving through and across mountain chases as we venture further into Oregan. The hills here in Oregan are covered in pine trees…go figure. We pass several saw mills which have piles of logs standing four stories high and covering several hundred hectares.


In many ways, the drive through these forests is reminiscent of the old Pacific Highway through the mid north NSW coast, except the trees are over 100 metres tall with a 50 metre girth…let’s just say that all the Green members and senators with linked arms could nit hug these suckers!!!

A redwood forest experience is an eventful memory. The majestic giant redwood trees have stood for centuries and are a WOW experience. Pictures and movies don’t do them justice. You have to stand by the giants, breath the air, and experience the silence to appreciate the redwoods. This is serenity….


Now, driving the interstate highways and bi-ways of this great land is a doddle, except when you want to get something to eat. We are graced with such fine contemporary establishments as Dennys, Applebees, Jack in the Box, Popeyes as well as the usual suspects of Taco Bell, Burger King and in some cases MickeyDs. They offer the ususal culinary delights of burgers, fries, fried chicken (actually, anything and everything can be fried), more burgers and an assortment of salads, like caesar, garden and….but they have a variety of dressings. Finding something that was not classified as fast food, or drowned in gravy was a challenge, a challenge that we conquered a couple of times. We did stumble into a nice cafe in a small town some 2 hours from San Francisco, but that took some driving off the highway and into the town centre.

The countryside in this part of California is a lot like any region in the central tablelands of NSW or through parts of Victoria, with dry rolling hills.  The wine region of Mendocino was like the Barossa.

As you get closer to the city of San Francisco, you experience a significant increase in traffic volume and lanes….and each lane is clogged with cars, moving freely though. One of the most ‘I can’t believe I am seeing this’ moment is when you approach San Francisco and above the hills in front you see the towers of the Golden gate Bridge, which is a teaser as they disappear as quick as you register what you had just seen. As you come around the hills, the bridge looms large and you are about to drive over what is probably the most photographed bridge in the US…I survived the GGB!! After this experience, the streets of San Francisco were a doddle.

 …and now for the Hills…

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