So, our trip to a higher elevation was a success! We kind of started off a little shaky with some bad info. Since we had never been to the Ape Caves, I called a 1-800 for the parks service and asked which campgrounds close to the Ape Caves they recommended. When we got to our Campgrounds near Castle Rock, we looked at a map of St. Helens and realized that we were on the opposite side of the mountain from our destination. Oops! It was actually kind of a lucky mistake, though. The side of the mountain we were on was awesome!
We spent all day Monday visiting the six visitors centers on the North side of the mountain, which is the side that had the most devistation from the eruption. You can get a state parks day pass for $8.00 and that gets your whole family into all of the visitors centers which in my opinion, is a deal, as the view was worth more than that at each place. Each one of the visitors centers had a different theme. While one of them focused mainly on the eruption of 1980, the next one focused on the landscape, and another was more centered on the animals in the area. The kids liked the earthquake simulator and the IMAX movies.
The only one of the kids that was less than thrilled was Tatton. We discovered that he has an extreme fear of heights. He went back and forth between screaming at the top of his lungs that we were all gonna die to chanting "There is no place like home. There is no place like home." and wishing he could teleport back to sea level. We all learned a lot and had fun together as a family, so we were glad that we had ended up on the wrong side of the mountain.
We had told the kids that we were going to the Ape Caves, though, so on Tuesday we packed up camp and drove a little under two hours to the South side. I have to say that while the other side had much cooler panoramic views of the crater, this side was more beautiful. Armed with warm clothes and flashlights, we became spelunkers. The cave was dark, freezing, smelly, and AWESOME! The kids were anxiously awaiting bats, but they remained in hiding. We all agreed that the extra drive was definitely worth it. I was really impressed by how well all of the kids did navigating around in this tunnel that felt like it went on forever. Brooke was cute at dinner. She announced, "Hey! I'm NOT scared of the dark anymore. If I can go in the Ape Caves, then I'm not scared of my closet!"
My favorite part of the trip is pretty silly. I love hiking. My kids don't as much. So, to motivate them, I told them about the bigfoot debate and that there had been recorded sasquatch sightings in the Mt. St. Helens area. We became "official yelpie hunters" and the kids were willing to hike for miles. I enjoyed hearing exclamations of "Hey! I think this is a footprint!" and "Did you hear that?" instead of complaints. It's funny how normal things we would usually ignore came to life in the kids' active imaginations.
I would really recommend a trip out to Mt. St. Helens if you haven't been yet. It was our first time, even though it's practically in our backyard. Although, living in Washington there are so many amazing places to visit, I think we could travel all summer if we had the time and still not see everything. We're already planning on going back to the Ape Caves again next summer. Then again, I noticed that they had some neat snow parks on the drive there. I was particularly intrigued by the log cabins that you can rent next to the gorgeous Swift Reservoir. So, maybe we'll be back sooner.