Clark County: best place in the world
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Here’s proof that calendars lie: Wednesday will mark one month since spring officially arrived on March 20. Yeah, right. And again this year, I urge readers to stop cursing spring for its tardiness and look on the bright side of our local weather. That bright side should arrive any day now.
In 2003, I fled the desert (after breaking Moses’ wandering record by 14 years) and sought asylum in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, one of my friends back in the badlands told me it hasn’t rained there in 70 days. Grass fires are consuming the prickly pear. I also know winters here are milder than in many parts of America. So you won’t hear me complain about spring arriving late — no, sir. No amount of moss and mildew will make me forget that — from Easter to Thanksgiving — Clark County serves up seven months of super weather and spectacular sights.
Sadly, some people I meet here don’t feel the need to get out and enjoy nature’s gifts. Many of these folks are longtime local residents, which suggests they simply take these outdoor treasures for granted. For them and others, here are my recommended adventures for the next several months. (Feel free to add your own in letters to the editor or online comments.)
Regional day trips — Of course, the most exciting regional attraction — especially for friends and relatives who visit here — is Mount St. Helens to the north (Castle Rock on Interstate 5 is where Spirit Lake Memorial Highway begins) and to the east (did you know the volcano is in Skamania County?). The road to Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed for the winter. Reopening of the observatory is set for May 15.
To the east there are myriad glories in the Gorge. Starting in Hood River, Ore., motorists should drive the Fruit Loop (http://www.hoodriverfruitloop.com). Train buffs, try the Mount Hood Railroad (http://www.mthoodrr.com).
To the west is the coast. My favorite spot on the ocean is Oswald West State Park south of Cannon Beach, Ore. The bay there will have you singing about Bali Ha’i in “South Pacific.”
To the south is the lush and historic Willamette Valley. At Silver Falls State Park east of Salem, Ore., you can hike a 9-mile trail that showcases 10 waterfalls, four of which you walk behind.
Local drives — The Clark County Scenic Tour (http://www.co.clark.wa.us/ScenicDrive.html) is a 70-mile wonderland excursion featuring Lucia Falls (my vote for No. 1 spot in Clark County), Cedar Creek Grist Mill, the Cathlapotle Plankhouse and other must-see destinations. The unofficial drive I’ve described before is the “Laird Loop.” From Hockinson, drive south to Northeast 139th Street, then east onto Rawson Road into the Cascade foothills, north past Larch Correctional Center, through pastoral Dole Valley to Sunset Falls Road, past Lucia Falls, then across Heisson Bridge to Battle Ground.
Local stress-relieving hikes — At least 15 superb trails are described at http://www.ci.vancouver.wa.us/parks-recreation. The best day-trip hike is the 2½-mile trail from near Lucia Falls to Moulton Falls, starting at Hantwick Road Trailhead. This barrier-free trail is a magical journey for people with disabilities. But many local hikes don’t require a day off and can be enjoyed on your lunch break. If you work in east Vancouver or Camas, try the 3½-mile Lacamas Heritage Trail. You can peek into backyards of mansions near Camas Meadows Golf Club, then mosey along beside tranquil Lacamas Lake.
If you work downtown, sneak off northward to the 2-mile Stewart Glen portion of Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway, between Fruit Valley Road and Hazel Dell Avenue. If you have lunch at a waterfront restaurant, walk off the calories on the Waterfront Renaissance Trail east of the Interstate 5 Bridge.
If you work at WSUV, Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center or around that area, escape to the 3-mile Salmon Creek Trail from Felida Bridge at Northwest 36th Avenue to Salmon Creek Park near Interstate 5.
The best part of falling in love with nature in Clark County is the freedom. If you want to script out an elaborate series of weekend hikes, go for it. But if you just want to sneak off on the spur of the moment, that works, too.
Spring weather will be here, soon. Trust me, I’m a journalist. And you don’t have to wait until it arrives to get a head start on your multiple marches through paradise.
John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.