Last weekend found Theresa and I in the Mt. St. Helen area, specifically Riffe Lake. Normally I would stay away from heading out on a holiday weekend, but we were anxious to try out our new hardsided popup trailer. Ok. I can hear the breath intake now. Yes, I’ve made the leap to ‘soften’ my travels but that’s another story. The upside was we’d be close to Spirit Lake. Ever since seeing my first documentary on the St. Helens explosion I’ve wanted to see the lake for myself.

Mossyrock Dam

Due to the holiday weekend and the short notice every site in Washington was ‘booked’. The only exception was the Mossyrock Park, a campground operated by the Tacoma Power Company. The campsite is beautiful but wide open; you’re not only seeing your neighbor but the twenty or so around you. Not exactly the backcountry but it is right on the shores of Riffe Lake. The lake was formed when the Mossyrock Dam was completed in 1968.

He refused to leave his lodge claiming that, “The mountain ain’t gonna hurt me…boy.”

The dam is the tallest in the state reaching 606’ from it’s base to the top. It was purely by accident that we came out on a service road at its base. From this perspective it’s an impressive structure. Still it has some controversy and it’s original construction was opposed by the State Legislature which enacted the Cowlitz River as a fish sanctuary. It took three visits to the U.S. Supreme Court before the dam was approved. Hmm….having a skeptic nature I can’t wonder how much ‘skid money’ was spent for that approval!

Mossyrock Dam
Mossyrock Dam, at 606′ the highest in WA state. Photograph by Steve Weileman (

Still worth a quick peek and one done correctly probably one of the more environmentally friendly forms of energy.

Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake received its notoriety during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helen. The most poignant story was that of Harry Truman owner and operator of the Mount St. Helens Lodge. He refused to leave his lodge claiming that, “The mountain ain’t gonna hurt me…boy.” Despite his colorful and defiant character the mountain did more then hurt him. He perished during the blast when his lodge was buried under more than a 150’ of debris.

What interest me was the fact that as a result of the ash and gases bubbling up after the eruption the lake became highly toxic and devoid of oxygen killing all life in its waters. However, just three short years later, phytoplankton started to restore oxygen levels. It wasn’t long before frogs and other amphibians started to recolonize the lake. Fish are now thriving after having been release by fisherman.

Unfortunately, my plans to see the lake where cut short by a ‘road closed’ barricade placed on the last turn off before the trail that leads to the lake. Fortunately, despite my eyeing the banks on either side of the barricade, good sense prevailed and I decided to leave it for another day.

Bonus – Iron Creek Waterfalls

All wasn’t lost. Having over half the day left, Theresa and I started exploring the many double tracks leading off main road. One lead to above the snow line and a breathtaking view of the valleys below.

Riffe Lake
Sunset over Riffe Lake. Photograph by Steve Weileman (

Another to Ircon Creek Waterfalls. I hope to have the best photo processed in time for this weeks, “Wallpaper Wednesday”. Once I do I’ll add a link at the end of this article. Check back.



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