Thursday, September 14, 2017

Steens Odyssey

On the way home from the eclipse I spent a couple days in southeastern Oregon.  This is one of the remotest areas in the US...the emptiness reminds me of the Australian outback.  It's not quite that empty, but it's fairly close.  And there's a lot of surprising country.  Here, south of Burns, hay is big.  In late August, there are fields of bales.

The big man in these parts in the last quarter of the 19th century was Pete French, who amassed large holdings into a vast ranching operation.  Pete used some spurious methods, including buying land surrounding a private inholding, then denying access to the inholding owner if he wouldn't sell to French.  This was one of French's properties...Sod House Ranch near Malheur Lake.  He stayed in this building when visiting the ranch.

Although SE Oregon is very dry, the topography...high mountains scattered here and there...catches some rain and snow which irrigates some of the flatlands.  Such is the case on the Blitzen River, which has vast wetlands that form a refuge for many thousands of birds through much of the year in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The historic Frenchglen Hotel, built in the early 1900s.  You can stay here.  This is the second time I've been in this area...first was around 2000. It's literally an oasis in the desert.  

I headed up Steens Mountain.  The road is unpaved, but the northern leg of it is well maintained so you can get up to the top with a passenger car.  The southern leg of the loop is BAD!!  I took it in 2000 and barely made it; some of the potholes were almost big enough to swallow my car.  So this time I went up the north leg and back the way I came.  This country was settled in the late 1800s by Basque sheepherders, and their descendants are still here, raising sheep.  These guys are hanging out around 8000 feet elevation.

Getting near the summit of Steens, 9000 feet up, I encountered patches of snow in shady north facing spots. 

  Kiger Gorge, a perfect U-shaped glacial valley.  The notch at the top of the wall was also cut by ice overflowing the top of the ridge.

At the top of Steens...9700 feet above sea level...the weather was dynamic.  Showers and turbulent clouds shrouded the playa a mile below.

Volcanic rocks and virga.

The Lizards do Steens!

Downbursts from the convective clouds raised dust from the Alvord Lake playa far below.

After descending Steens, I visited Pete French's round barn, some distance to the north.  This structure was built in the 1880s by the fabulously named Nimrod Comegys, Pete's architect.  It was designed to train horses indoors during the long, cold winters.

Blow up this pic and the plaque explains the barn.

The interior of the round barn features ingeniously designed symmetrical roof supports, the largest being essentially tree trunks left in their natural state, minus the bark.

Northwest Ramblings

Last month, before the eclipse, I ambled around the Pacific Northwest, going to places both familiar and new.  This is Multnomah Falls on August 20, the day before the eclipse, with the usual summer load of tourons thronging.  Less than two weeks later a huge fire developed in the Columbia Gorge, burning many beautiful areas that I have frequented for over half a century.  Fortunately the firefighters saved the historic lodge at the falls...not pictured here...and the vegetation in the immediate vicinity.
The fire was started by airheaded teenagers detonating fireworks near this area on the Eagle Creek trail, about ten miles east (upstream) from Multnomah.  

Here's the trail, with a cool tunnel of moss.  But the weather was warm and dry, and had been for a couple of months.  Fire danger was high.

A suspension bridge near the Eagle Creek trailhead.

A couple days earlier, I stopped at the Neahkanie Mountain viewpoint to admire the panorama.  Stayed at Manzanita with my friends Dave and Johnny.  Johnny now has an ocean view from his house, courtesy of a tornado (?!) that rolled through his neighborhood in October 2016, missing his place by half a block and taking out a hundred trees or so.  Bizarre!

A couple days before visiting Manzanita, my friend Ed and I took the ferry across the sound to Whidbey Island, passing a sister ferry enroute.  It was a mostly gray, calm, tranquil day.  I love such days on Puget Sound...they're peaceful and brooding, but not in a grim way.

A totem pole at Langley, on Whidbey Island.  Though I've been on the island numerous times, I'd never been to this town, which is off the main highway.  It's very pleasant and bucolic, with several nice cafes.

The beach at Langley.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Old Alum Returns to Campus

When I visited Dick and Wilma in Puyallup last month, we took the train from Sea-Tac to the UW in's a new service and we decided to avoid the choking traffic and go up the easy way.  Took an hour, but was stress free.  And the lizards came along!  I went swimming here in Drumheller Fountain during a heat wave just before summer break in 1970.  Cool and refreshing!

There have always been fine rose beds at the fountain.

This is relatively new...a sculpture of The Dawg in front of the HUB, the student union building.

Denny Hall, built in 1895.  It's been recently renovated and now looks good for another 100 years.

The Broken Obelisk in Red Square.  The square was built between 1969 and 1971 while I was a student.  It has since rusted to a genteel weathered look, which was the intention.  After our campus tour, we retired to the Northlake Tavern, which still has rich, awesome pizza that tastes the same as it did 45 years ago!  Always delicious.

Volcanic Adventures

Oregon is just chock full of interesting stuff, both natural and manmade.  I could wander around all summer every year and never run out of neat places to visit.  This is Mount Thielsen, near Crater Lake, rising through the smoke.  The pointed summit is a volcanic plug that has been exposed as the softer rock around it eroded away.

This is Clearwater Falls, on the North Umpqua scenic route from Diamond Lake to Roseburg.  I spent most of a day on this route, hiking to several different cascades.  Blow this pic up to see the cool mossy rocks in the middle of the falls.

Watson Falls.  293 feet high.  Fairly short but serious hike up to this viewpoint.

This area, north and northwest of Crater Lake, was buried in ash by the eruption of Mount Mazama that created the lake about 6500 years ago.  This roadcut exposes a wall of the ash.  

Lots of geology hereabouts!  Toketee Falls drops through a gorge of columnar basalt, a legacy of widespread volcanism that poured lava over much of Oregon tens of millions of years ago.  The trail up here goes through fine old growth forest.

Smoky Crater Lake

I went to Crater Lake early last month...August 8 I believe.  There were then, and still are now over a month later, a lot of fires in the area.  Still, the lake was spectacular.

Love the gnarly dead trees on the lake rim.

The hot, dry summer in Oregon followed a cold, snowy winter so there were still numerous large patches of snow on the lake rim.  Blow up the pic to see the mottled snow surface caused by many days of thawing and nights of refreezing.

The lake through the trees.

Shoreline, with a tour boat far below.

This is the Rogue River gorge, between the lake and the town of Prospect, where I was staying.  

Another shot of the gorge.  Given the positioning of the logs, the Rogue obviously runs much higher than this at times...mainly in the spring.

The Eclipse

I saw the total solar eclipse on August 21 in Baker City, Oregon.  I picked that spot because I figured there would be a good chance of clear weather in Eastern Oregon, and the city is far from any large metropolitan areas so I thought it wouldn't be too congested.  Bingo!  My friends Cindy, Donna, and I watched from the main city park .  Here it's about ten minutes before totality and getting dark and notably cooler.  

And here it is!  I was speechless.  Totallly gobsmacked.  It was awesome!  

Another total shot.

During totality, the street lights came on.  It was almost pitch dark.  But around the horizon, outside the area of totality, it was still light.  Very eerie.  For a couple minutes I felt like I was in another world.  

After the eclipse, I roamed around the countryside and visited the nearby Oregon Trail museum.  These are actual wagon ruts dug by the covered wagons over 150 years ago.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Redwood Splendor in Humboldt

I've been hanging out in Humboldt County for the past two days, traipsing around in the redwood forests.  This is as close as I come to going to church...and it's very close indeed.  The redwoods are both tranquil and awesome, two vibes only occasionally triggered by the same setting.  The virgin redwood forests of NW Cali do the trick.  This redwood in Humboldt Redwoods SP is named...Big Tree.  Not much of a's 363 feet high!  I'm privileged to be visiting the redwoods only nine days after roaming among the sequoias...both magnificent.  The redwoods are taller...the sequoias are more massive.  Both live for millennia...the sequoias can survive for three thousand years, the redwoods for about 2K.

The root network of a downed redwood.  Like the sequoias, redwood roots are extensive but shallow...going down only about ten feet.

The Bull Creek redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods SP make up the largest old growth grove on the planet, and they have some of the largest trees.  The grove is sheltered from coastal winds by the King Range, protecting the trees from windfall or at least losing their tops to the gusts.  The inland location means these trees get more warm sunshine than their counterparts closer to the ocean.  And the rich alluvial soil in the creek floodplain makes the trees happy.  I should also mention that old growth redwood forests have the most biomass per acre of any ecosystem on the planet.  As may be obvious from the many massive trees in the vicinity.

A tributary stream gurgles into Bull Creek.  A lot of these tributaries usually dry up during the summer, but last winter was very wet and there's more water in the forest than usual.

Another fine group of trees.

On the coast north of Eureka, I visited Stone Lagoon.  The ocean was behind me as I took this picture.  The decaying driftwood log is far from the lagoon, even farther from the open sea, and a good ten feet above high tide.  How did it get here, and when?  A guess might be the 1963 tsunami, triggered by the Good Friday earthquake in Alaska.  The tsunami wiped out much of downtown Crescent City.

Fern Canyon, between the redwood forest and the beach in Redwood NP, is a symphony of greenery.  This is a canyon wall.

Going up the canyon, you pass through a gauntlet of ferns on each side, and may have to do a bit of wading.

A wall of ferns rises above the creek.

This bridge over Prairie Creek in Redwood NP is slowly being swallowed by the lush forest.  Notice the moss draping the branches.  It's amazing to me that this scene...and the stark desert landscape of Death Valley, are not only both in California, but are well within the state!  I live in one of the most diverse areas on earth.

I found what looked like an old bench hewn from a log, reverting to forest.  I could lay back on the seat and look straight up.  This is what I saw.

And what would a visit to a rainforest be without...a nurse log?  This one, several centuries old, has nurtured a substantial tree at least 100 feet tall.  The tree got its start taking root in the nutrients of the decaying log.  As the new plant grew, it sought out more substantial soil, and spread its roots down the nurse log to the ground.