Laurie, before the volcano

This week’s Throwback Thursday takes us to a place that no longer exists.  Spirit Lake was spectacularly beautiful, a church summer camp smack on the top of Mount St. Helens.

Spirit Lake boats

1963, pointing out boats to my mother.


Remember Mount St. Helens?  Blew up in 1980, taking a lot of people and this lake with it? It was so beautiful…and the lake was scattered with little bits of floating lava rock.

Camping was a thing we did, every summer, a cheap week or three in the country that, although meaning tons of work for the Mom of the family, was as much of a bonding experience as a holiday.


Spirit LakeAny other former campers out there?  And, any who still cruise the campgrounds?



  1. One of my earliest memories is of camping at White Pines State Park in Illinois. Our family vacations were always camping, and I went to GS camps for all my school years. Can’t imagine summer without camp!

  2. Merrily Taylor says:

    We never camped (my father was not a Handy type, and I think my mother had no wish to sleep in a tent!). However, we did spend a lot of time doing road trips either on the way to Maine to see my grandparents (from Florida) or cross-country in connection with my father’s work. So I could tell you a lot about the 1950’s roadside motel experience, not to mention long road trips without smartphones, DVD players, Ipads/Ipods, etc.
    I bet a number of you out there remember “I see something that begins with…,” or prizes for the first person who sees a white horse, or license plate bingo…

    • Lynn Hirshman says:

      …the alphabet game, too. And “look at the scenery!” I learned my love of the mountains from a road trip with my grandparents from Chicago to coastal Virginia to see their newest granddaughter…loving the Pennsylvania Turnpike with its tunnels through the Tuscarora Mountains.

      I never could understand why my kids would prefer to read or play video games (or in one case, build a model airplane) while on our road trips (I seem to have inherited my father’s steering wheel-shaped gene). Of course, the fact that we lived in Saskatchewan much of that time(flat__________) may have had something to do with it, too.

      • Merrily Taylor says:

        Lynn, funny, I just did that route on the Penn Turnpike, driving between Philadelphia and Johnstown!
        I too remember being entranced by the mountains and the rolling landscape in Virginia as we drove north – you can imagine, growing up in Florida where everything is completely flat. Also, in that day we weren’t on interstates for the most part (hello, Route 301) and you would pass lots of interesting little towns, tiny old cemeteries, men driving mule wagons full of cotton, and of course, Burmashave signs!
        Oddly, as a child I was able to read in the car and would spend a lot of the trip glued to a book or comic book. I guess scenery did pall after awhile! Of course, as an adult I can’t so much as open a book in the car or I get carsick! Go figure.

  3. Back in the 1950’s our family went camping – once – to Promised Land Lake in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania. Dad wasn’t the camping type, but he thought it would be a good place to fish, so he bought the tent and all that went with it.

    One afternoon he decided to rent a canoe and out on the lake we went. In the middle of the deep lake, Dad got a look of panic on his face and asked Mom how well she could swim. I’ll never forget it. He was terrified when he realized he was surrounded with water. It’s funny now.

  4. I, too, camped with my family back in the 1950s at Promised Land Lake. We rented a cabin every summer in one of the Pennsylvania State Parks, and Promised Land was one of our favorites. I still have fond memories of playing in the lake and watching my father swimming way out for an hour. Later in life when I transmogrified into an RVer, my wife and I visited Mt. St. Helens about 15 years after the big blow off, and even with this decade and a half of recovery the devastation was still breathtaking.

  5. My partner and I each camped in Algonquin Park (Ontario) starting 1958 with our respective families (we didn’t meet and start canoing together until 1989). We still go there. At our age, we seek out shorter and fewer portages. But always at least ONE portage, to leave the motor craft behind.

  6. I just wanted to say what a great picture that is of you and your mother, Laurie!

  7. I like your observation that the camping trips were tons of work for your mom but as much a bonding experience as a holiday. Your mother had her eye on what was most important–what made the work worthwhile. I imagine you may or many not remember specific details about the trips, but the effect on how you feel about your family, yourself, and living in the world have lasted. Russell’s trips to the lodge must have had a similar result.

  8. Janis Kiehl Harrison says:

    Camping was just about the only sort of vacation we had, from the mid-50’s to the late 60’s or so. Five people and one very happy little dog plus about 1/4 ton of gear (this was pre-nylon, pop-up tents, etc) In a big old 1950’s Chrysler sedan. We were in sleeping bags atop air mattresses in a 9 x 9 tent, with the dog happily hopping from one spot to another. We traveled from Seattle to eastern Washington State, into Oregon and British Columbia — not all on the same trip. Our trips were frugal, meals cooked and eaten “in camp,” recreation mostly whatever didn’t cost anything (usually involved swimming), and lots of sight-seeing from the back seat of the car. After I reached adulthood I did some traveling, via car is still preferred, and a little camping. But now the ground is too hard, and I don’t deal with having “the facilities” down a path, in the dark. Not to mention that camping is primarily done in large metal pods nowadays.

  9. Deborah Taylor says:

    I like that Church Camp was part of your upbringing, mine was too. I was lucky enough to grow up in California with parents that road tripped and car camped all over our State and the US. At 60 I still love backpacking and camping whenever I can, I’m glad to be living in the beautiful Washington State.

  10. Becky Andreasen says:

    My family camped every year from the time I was 4 in 1956 until into my college years. It was a lot of work for Mom, but as we kids grew older we were all assigned camp tasks to complete, which made it easier for her. Every other year we would spend a few weeks in northern Minnesota in one National Forest campground or another. The opposite years we would do camping road trips. I had visited every state in the US by the time I was 30, mostly because of these trips. By the time my brothers and I were in our teens the family was able to set up or break camp in under 30 minutes!

    I still love to camp, but no longer have anyone who is interested in camping in a tent and sleeping on the ground. They are all spoiled!

  11. Our favorite camping area always was – and still is the Olympic Rainforest on Washington state’s Olympic Penninsula. Ancient, huge cedar, hemlock and fir trees draped with thick, heavy blankets of moss; sparkling streams and glacial rivers; sword ferns growing 6 feet tall; elusive and beautiful wildlife; and magnificent, jagged, soaring Olympic Mountains. We spent most of our honey moon there – 45 years ago – and were back again this past summer. Unforgettable place…..

    • Laurie King says:

      Ooh, I really didn’t like the Olympic Peninsula (as I think is obvious in Keeping Watch!)–but then I’m more than a little claustrophobic…

      • Yes, I noticed that in Keeping Watch. And it can be bit creepy with those long dripping panels of moss. But the open meadows, views of the mountains and the lovely and definitely haunted Quinault Lake are breathtaking. And the Lodge at Quinault Lake makes the best Blackberry Pie I’ve ever tasted.

  12. Pam Lyons says:

    I am 66 years old and still a camping nut! Our family didn’t camp, it was something that I got involved in when my son was young. I am retiring in a couple of months and my plan is to continue camping. I am giving up my stick house and will be traveling with my 2 Briards in my van and hoping to find a small trailer to accommodate our life on the road.

    • Good luck Pam. I too did extensive traveling after retiring and selling my non-mobile home. I wonder how many Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes fans there are traveling about the country in their vans, campers, trailers, fifth-wheels, and motor homes. Enough for an on-the-road RV fan club?

  13. Susan Saul says:

    Like many others commenting here, I grew up car camping with my family at various places around the Pacific Northwest. Our favorite campgrounds were Scott Lake on Oregon’s McKenzie Pass Highway (just outside the Three Sisters Wilderness) and Siuslaw on the Oregon Coast (now part of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area). In the 1950s and 1960s, camping was a cheap way to take family vacations for the working class. I loved camping and would beg my parents to take us on more trips. When I became a teenager, I started backpacking as well as car camping, and I still do both today, more than 45 years later. Like Pam Lyons, I still am a camping nut!

    In the mid-1970s, I moved to Washington State and was introduced to Mount St. Helens. I joined the Mount St. Helens Hiking Club, which had a lodge on the north shore of Spirit Lake until it was destroyed in the 1980 eruption. Spirit Lake still is there, but in a different form than in Laurie’s childhood and now dedicated to scientific research. I do lots of hiking around Mount St. Helens, observing the changes as nature restores the landscape. The wildflower displays in the blast zone are stunning.

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