Monday, September 14, 2009
Vancouver, WA

After just three days at the RV Park in Vancouver we joined a small Vancouver-family group for a camping weekend in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Unsure if we'd be able to get the too-big bus-house into a NF campground, I took a solo tour of the proposed camps on Wednesday the 9th to evaluate the situation. I drove a loop from (all in Washington) Vancouver to Woodland to Cougar to Carson (via Wind River Road) and back to Vancouver. I stopped at three NFGCs and eliminated two. The survivor, by default, happened to be one of Gage & Andrea's favorites, so plans were made to head on up the next day, Thursday.

Grandson Ryan joined Dar and me in the bus-house for the 65 mile drive to Paradise Creek CG. From Vancouver we took US-14 east to Carson. This is not an easy road to drive as it carries you deeper into the Columbia River Gorge... the road is often just a narrow flat-ish path carved from near-vertical cliffs in a number of places... 25mph curves, steep ups and downs... and it's used heavily by large trucks too. Ryan watched from the co-pilot's seat and Dar, holding her breath most of the way, took the jump seat. At Carson we head north and follow the Wind River up and out of the Gorge, into the high country of the National Forest, about 20 miles to the campground.

On a map, we'd be almost smack-dab between Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams in an area of old growth forest. Never having been logged off, there are many trees that were a hundred years or more old when Lewis & Clark floated down the Columbia 205 years ago. These grand old cedar and fir trees can be over 200 feet high and more than 20 feet in circumference at the base. They're just immense.

A mature forest like this is littered with trees that have toppled over by wind or just old age. The ground that hold their roots is rocky and shallow, and a tree sometimes grows too heavy for it's support system, at which point a wind storm or other falling trees take a toll. But a mature forest, left in a natural state, is a mixture of the old and the young. The holes created by fallen trees in the forest canopy allow sunlight to reach lower and strengthen struggling younger trees, which then grow to fill the hole. Downed trees rot and become a perfect growing medium for seeds and it's common to see examples of fairly large trees growing from the downed remains of big trees. Camping right next to giants like this can give one pause -- to think about what could happen if one of these old growth monsters decided to tip over hit the camper. But there are some things that you can't do anything about, and therefore, you shouldn't worry about. If your time is up, it's up.

National Forest Campgrounds are really not designed for too-big campers like the bus-house. Paradise Creek can accommodate big rigs on some sites but there are compromises. As we've found in other NFCG's it's common for branches and brush to encroach into the roadway from the sides and above. Light stuff isn't much of a problem, but we prefer to keep it to a minimum. Bigger limbs and branches have to be cleared. So after we selected the site we wanted, we used our telescoping tree trimmer to cut a high-clearance path to it. When we leave we'll simply reverse the route -- going against the one-way flow of traffic... wait a minute... there won't be any traffic on Monday when we leave. We'll probably be the only ones in the campground at that point.

Joining us at Paradise Creek CG was Gage & Andrea & Evan, and Gage's Mom & Dad, Shirleen & Duane. Friends of G&A's, Dan & Kris, replaced Shirleen and Duane on Saturday when they left to attend a wedding.

We had a big old campfire every night, and cooked on the fire when we could. During the day we'd hike, find firewood, relax, read, chat, or just soak in the surroundings. The kids had a ball in the forest and along the banks of the creek which bordered their campsite. The weather was perfect, warm really for this time of year. The only downside for me was that I came down with a cold on Friday and had to deal with it the rest of the weekend.

Earlier today, Monday, we returned and settled into our spot at the RV park for the next month. I think this was the first time we've camped in true old-growth forest. It was a very rewarding experience, enhanced by having family to enjoy it with. We both look forward to doing again.



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