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Plans for holiday travels smothered by fog of ash

Memorial Day weekend travel plans have been reduced to ash for many Washingtonians.

Volcanic fallout from Sunday's eruption of Mount St. Helens has smothered Eastern Washington travel, turning routine shipments of food, supplies and mail into ordeals through volcanic blizzards.

And in Western Washington, where residents still are reeling from the weekend's disaster, the AAA expects an influx of tourists anxious to view the mountain - despite the pending doom behind a mud dam nearly a mile wide, where Spirit Lake once was.

"It's a moment-to-moment thing with the roads in southwestern Washington, " said Jeff Kimalehto of the AAA in Portland. "The best place to see the volcano without getting in the way is Amboy, Washington."

Amboy is on state route 503 about 30 miles north of Vancouver. Highway 14 from Kennewick to Vancouver is open, as well as Interstate 84 to Portland.

But Kimalehto said tourists will find few accommodations in tiny Amboy, where camping facilities are nonexistent. "The nearest campsites to the mountain are at Mt. Rainier," he said.

The entire Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, where the volcano lies, is closed, according to the U.S. Forest Service. And all camping and picnic areas on the Lewis River south of Mount St. Helens are off limits to travelers.

A spokesman for the AAA in Kennewick said most people who had planned to visit the volcano are too scared to attempt the trip now.

"We don't advise them to go," the spokesman said. "The people who have planned vacations there are changing them, staying close to home."

Reservations for campsites in three state parks have been canceled because .of the eruption, according to the Washington Parks and Recreation Department.

A department spokesman said Tuesday those with reservations between May 23 and June 16 for Ike Kinswa, Steamboat Rock and Potholes state parks have been sent letters of cancellation.

All three are in areas where driving has been made difficult by ash fallout.