Thursday, August 30th. Sad farewells all around as we departed our cozy nest in Paradise Bay. We left a day earlier than planned to avoid a long, possibly congested drive on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. We headed south and over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge through steadily moving traffic with only a couple of slowdowns as we passed Tacoma and Olympia. Then it was smooth sailing to our destination, Paradise Point State Park in Ridgefield, WA.
This is a small campground right next to I-5, so it’s very convenient but also very noisy. No matter: We just wanted a place to stay at the halfway point between Paradise Bay and our next stop, 4 days at the Schwarz Park Army Corps of Engineers campground near Cottage Grove, OR. So we had no high expectations for this place.
But! Another good example of serendipitous, unexpected beauty and wonder so often to be found if you venture off the interstate! We happened to see Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on the map just southwest of our campground, so after we unhitched the trailer, set up and had lunch and a rest, we drove 10 miles to the pretty little town of Ridgefield. Near I-5, there are new mushrooming housing developments, probably suburbs for Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR commuters. But the town itself is surrounded by farmland that slopes down to the confluence of the Columbia and the Lewis Rivers, and the NWR is a 5200+ acre wonderland that preserves “a lush mixture of seasonal… wetlands, Grasslands, riparian corridors, and forests of Douglas fir and Oregon white oak. These habitats, combined with a mild, rainy winter climate, provide an ideal environment for migrating birds and wintering waterfowl.” We learned that the 1964 major earthquake in southern Alaska instantly elevated the Copper River Delta by six feet. This marshy coastal wetland had been the primary nesting area for dusky Canada geese, and the change in elevation resulted in the growth of willows and alders, providing cover for bears and coyotes, increasing predation and greatly reducing the dusky Canada goose population almost to the point of extinction. The Ridgefield NWR was established in 1965 to secure a wintering habitat for the geese.
Here is Scott:
A good trip involves some balance between orderly planning, and the joy that comes from experiencing the unexpected. We had decided to reduce Labor Day traffic issues by inserting an additional stop between the Angellic Paradise Bay and Cottage Grove, in Oregon. The Paradise Point State Park campground is situated perfectly, if you love I-5 traffic and want to be near a large and immensely popular casino.
The park is actually very well designed, and right next to the east fork of the Lewis river. Too bad about the road noise. BUT… H. had noticed that the Ridgefield NWR is just one exit South, so we take advantage of our mid afternoon arrival to check it out!
Part of the planning for this trip was to extend the second half into September and October, missing some of the summer traffic, fires, heat and above all, the hordes of families with swarms of screaming kids. And, yes we could sense the shift in seasons over the past few days. At the NWR, it seemed more pronounced, with the cool breezes, truly astonishing cloudscapes in vast skies, and very dry seasonal wetlands. This NWR is located within the floodplain of the Columbia River, a relatively flat Valley with low mountains all around. The town of Ridgefield, surprisingly charming, sits above the refuge and many of the homes have expansive views. Zillow says: $$$. We register — hooray for senior pass!! and start the 4.2 mile driving loop, which is very well designed, with many curves through aspen, ash and oak, and a trailhead for the 1.5 mile loop Kiwa Trail. The dried wetlands were just mowed, except for small patches of water at the very bottom. Too early for migration flocks, but we see resident blue herons, many ducks, northern flickers, red tailed hawks, nutria, both brown and white, mink (or maybe they were river otters), small flocks of fast moving insect eaters, white egrets, and the endangered and local black tailed deer. The walk was magical… the sky was filled with an ever changing show of clouds and shafts of sunlight. The temperature was perfect with a soft cool breeze, expansive views across the valley, and mostly, quiet. It felt great to move around and to take it in. This was the River ‘S’ Unit of the Refuge.
Later, we travel through town to the the Carty Unit of the NWR, near the refuge office. A few yards from the Carty Unit parking lot is an impressive footbridge over some RR tracks and wetlands leading to the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Site. This is a full-scale modern day representation of a traditional cedar dwelling of the Native Americans who once lived here. The Plankhouse was constructed to resemble the houses described by Lewis & Clark when they visited the village known as Cathlapotle in November 1805. The expedition noted 14 Plankhouses in a village of 900 inhabitants. The next spring the expedition returned and camped a mile upstream at the Wapato Portage, also located in the Refuge. Radiocarbon dating has determined that human habitation here dates back at least 2300 years, making it one of the oldest archaeological sites in the active floodplain of the Columbia.