Short Stories by Pat Nelson

Getting Away From It All ... Close to Woodland


July 2013
By Pat Nelson - Reprinted with permission

With so much nearby beauty to explore, my husband, Bob, and I decided to save gas and take a camping trip close to home. My first stop, a couple of days in advance, was the Woodland Tourist Information Center located on the corner of Goerig Street and Lakeshore Drive, just west of I-5's southbound on ramp. There, Virginia Wilkerson provided me with maps and brochures, as well as her personal knowledge of the area.

Click to enlargeWe left our Woodland home on a sunny Sunday and drove east on Lewis River Road, State Route 503. Two miles down the road, we made a short stop at Come to Life Espresso. As my husband drove east on Lewis River Road, my job as I sipped a steaming-hot mocha was to watch for RV parks so we could decide on one for our night's stay. Our first stop was the Lewis River Country Store and RV Park. When our grandchildren were young, we used to rent a campsite there just so that we could swim in the pool. Now, according to the clerk, swimming passes are available at either monthly or daily rates.

Our next stop was the Merwin Day Use Park on Lake Merwin, a 4040-acre impoundment created by the Merwin Dam. The park is ADA friendly and has two covered picnic shelters, a kids' playground and a trail to a waterfall.

At Ariel, we followed the Lewis River, curving through forests with an occasional splash of Scotch Broom, daisies, foxgloves, rhododendrons and salmonberries.

Speelyai Bay, also on Lake Merwin, offers a recreation area with an RV park and a day- use area, plus a boat launch. We saw a pen in the water that holds fish to be planted in area lakes.

We soon came to Yale Park, with a day use area and boat launch, and we then stopped at the Cougar Bar and Grill for lunch. I was happy to find a book-and-movie-lending library there, where I picked up a book for the trip.

Click to enlargeAfter lunch, we visited Beaver Bay Campground on Yale Lake. Then, at the Pine Creek Ranger Station, we stopped for a map of nearby waterfalls to visit another day. Soon, we crossed a bridge where we had a great view of Mount St. Helens. Next, we drove to the Ape Caves, the third-longest lava tube in North America, where I took pictures for a couple who wanted to be photographed at the cave entrance. You can go either of two directions to explore the cave, one more difficult than the other. I went back to the motor home and woke my husband from his nap, and then drove to the Trail of Two Forests where we walked through a 2000-year-old basalt lava flow from Mount St. Helens. Here, we saw casts of old-growth trees devoured by hot lava, leaving tree-shaped holes, even one through which visitors can crawl.

Click to enlargeBack on the road again, we explored Swift Reservoir, where I fished as a child, and then we headed back the way we had come, turning left onto 503 South toward Amboy. Three miles farther, we stopped at the Cresap Bay campground, where we chose a beautiful campsite with a water view. As I sat at the picnic table reading my borrowed book, a Jet Ski slapped the water. Someone chopped firewood. Birds called to each other. Ferns waved in a gentle breeze. The sun released sweet forest fragrances.

Click to enlargeThe next morning, we continued toward Amboy. At the Chelatchie Prairie General Store, we turned left and drove past the old International Paper mill site. We continued on, not knowing what we would find ahead. About four and a half miles from the store, we came to a bridge over beautiful Canyon Creek. Looking to our right, we saw fast-flowing water and beautiful cliffs. To our left, beyond Canyon Creek, we saw Mount Tumtum, a 70,000-year-old cinder cone. The view was well worth the short side trip.

We turned around and headed for Amboy where we had a delicious hamburger at Nick's Bar and Grill before continuing on, back to Woodland. We had taken a camping trip close to home and had experienced the beauty of nature, in our own backyard.

Bio: Pat Nelson, writer and editor, is co-creator of three humorous and sometimes edgy anthologies: Not Your Mother's Books: On Parenting (publication date September 10, 2013), On Grandparenting and On Working for a Living (both still accepting stories at Nelson blogs at and her stories appear at

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