Monday, May 21, 2018

Mima Mounds

Parts of the prairie landscape south of Olympia are bumpy - quite regularly so. Theories range from gophers to earthquakes to soil processes to wind and vegetation. The debate has kept some geologists busy and kept many others entertained for most of a century.

During the last ice age, the Puget Lobe reached almost this far south - suggesting some connection between the glacier and this landscape, although I don't think anyone thinks it was the ice itself. It's something about the dirt in this area of glacial outwash that lends itself to pimples.

It turns out Mima Mounds are not just found here; they also occur in a variety of other places around the world. In those places they're typically called something else and there are additional hypotheses. And then there all sorts of patterned ground (self-organization of soils in cold and/or arid regions) and bioturbation features that have similarities, but take on significantly different appearances.

I like the idea that they represent an emergent landscape process that happens when the right combination of plants, animals and soils are left alone for a few thousand years. Complexity leads to regularity.

Japanese Garden

Portland's Japanese Garden is perched in the hills just west of town and the garden itself is topographically challenging. I think that sort of adds to its appeal, since it provides hiding places and surprise vistas.

Japanese Gardens appeal to me for the same reasons they do to many - the created landscapes, the structures, the water features, and the pathways. The trees and the flowers are great, but it's really more about story telling.


Northwest Portland

Portland, like any city, is more than just a downtown core. And I suspect we're like many tourists in recent years - we've found that the neighborhoods aren't just for locals. The locals, I suppose, see this as a mixed blessing.

I'm sure it's been aided by the spread of great restaurants to less traveled parts of town, the growth of short-term rentals and small boutique hotels, and ultimately, the internet. Which makes finding these places much easier and less uncertain.

This is the second year we've stayed in the northwest part of Portland. It's not that we didn't explore other neighborhoods by car and transit, but it was nice making our base somewhere other than downtown. 23rd is thriving. And the old industrial Slabtown area is sprouting housing and restaurants. We stay right on the street car line, so it's easy to get around, even into downtown if we want.

One of my favorite spots is the Dragonfly Coffee House. Good coffee, great atmosphere, and a sense that I'm visiting someone else's neighborhood, but that they don't seem to mind.

I associate this place with Ursula Le Guin, who had contributed to a neighborhood history that I found on a table here last year -- I guess she was part of this neighborhood. Maybe that's what had prompted me to reread Left Hand of Darkness this past January - which I was just finishing when she died.  I'm not sure if there's a connection or not, but "Dragonfly" is also a reference to a Tale of Earthsea.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Beacon Rock

Beacon Rock is an 800' rock monolith standing on the north bank of the Columbia just downstream of Bonneville Dam. It's also a State Park and there is an amazing trail that zigzags its way up to the top.

We had detoured east from the I-5 Corridor to visit the Columbia Gorge on our way down to Portland - it was the first time in a very long time (maybe ever?) that we had driven the Washington side of the river through this section. After Beacon Rock, we passed the dam and crossed the Bridge of the Gods to Oregon. Where most slopes were charred from last year's fires.

The gorge is carved through Columbia River Basalts, which flowed this way to reach the sea before much of the modern Cascades formed. The lava flows are many millions of years old, whereas Beacon Rock is a basalt plug that formed the core of a small volcano a little more than 50,000 years ago. Very different stories.

This section of the Columbia Gorge has a rich geologic history. Besides its volcanic features, the canyon is significant in that the Columbia is the only river between the Fraser and the Klamath that cuts through the Cascade Range, which otherwise forms a stark drainage divide between the damp coast and the dry interior. At the end of the last ice age (less than 20,000 years ago), as many as 100 catastrophic floods rushed through the Gorge as Lake Missoula repeatedly emptied out from behind its ice dam in northern Idaho. And then, just a few hundred years ago, a huge landslide occurred on this side of the river just above Bonneville, pushing the river to the south side of valley. Interestingly, the dam right is built right at the toe of this large slide.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cama Beach

There's no one place on Puget Sound I seem to come back to more often than Cama Beach. It's convenient - not too far and no ferry. I've been involved with the place in a number of ways, both through work and on my own. And the more I get to know it, the more I enjoy coming back. This year I've been here with colleagues, with classes of adults, and with a bunch of high schoolers, and usually for work. This time, I had come up to the island to help with a workshop in the morning, but now I was on my own time.

The weather was far from ideal, but there was plenty of activity. Both among the guests and the volunteers down at the Center for Wooden Boats. I wandered down the beach to check out a couple of new landslides, along with a couple of old ones. But then came back to the boathouse. I love working with wood, but I find it easier to stick to straight lines and safer to stick to projects that can't sink. I suppose I could try to learn.

Yakima Canyon

After my trip to Steamboat Rock in 2011, I vowed to try to make a day trip east of the Cascades every spring. The weather isn't as hot and the hills are still a little green. But there's always something else to do or somewhere else to go. Last year I finally got back for a wonderful day in May to Frenchman and Potholes Coulees.

The Yakima River cuts through Umtanum Ridge between Ellensburg and Yakima. Canyon Road and a rail line follow the river, while I-84 takes a somewhat more direct, but awfully ambitious, route up and over the high ridge a little farther east. On a weekday morning, the traffic wasn't too bad and the weather was neither too hot nor too windy.

I parked the car at a BLM site on the river just upstream of the Roza Dam and rode upstream 18-19 miles until I cleared the north end of the canyon before turning around and heading back down. There's one tough hill in the middle where the road cuts off a bend in the river, requiring it to climb up and over a basalt spur, but overall it wasn't bad.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Whidbey Island

It was the first of two Saturday workshops - this one on Whidbey, next week's on Camano. I was able to swing by a potential restoration project on the way up - tough work on a day like this. The workshop went well and it was over by early afternoon. Once things were all wrapped up, I headed for a nearby park where I unloaded my bike and changed clothes.

The weather was a little grayer on the north end of the island and there was a cool breeze coming off the Strait, but it was good riding and I got to check out a bunch of my favorite island roads and beaches in a new way. The bike helps you discover hills you never really appreciated when in the car, but it made for a great 40-mile ride.

Monday, April 16, 2018


I signed up for my first group bike ride a month or two ago, motivated by the idea of riding on some normally forbidden stretches of highway (though very familiar ones). The 12-mile Emerald City Ride began near the stadiums, climbed to the viaduct and took 99 north through the Battery Street Tunnel and all the way across the Aurora Bridge. Then it cut across the north end of Lake Union past Gasworks, before heading back up the hill to join the I-5 Express Lanes for the trip back downtown.

Did I mention that it was was cool, wet, and very gray. But that despite the weather and the early Sunday morning hour, 6000 people turned out in in a wide variety of fluorescent colors.

They probably can't repeat this ride next year - since the viaduct should be gone by then. It sure better be.

Seattle Paramount

M found a friend willing to call while we were working and they were able to find us tickets for the last day of the show. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Not that I hadn't heard the hype, but I was still trying to wrap my head around the popularity of a historical piece using hip hop and a largely African American cast to represent some pretty archetypal old white guys. It was great!

We were in the back row of the main level, but could see pretty well and could actually understand most of the dialog. The musical genre actually made this easier and I we both preferred it to more traditional musicals.


Some nice weekends in March (yes, it's now mid-April) got me out on the bike (as opposed to inside on the bike, of which there's been quite a bit this winter). These photos include two rides a week apart - one to Carkeek and Ballard, the other to Discovery Park.

So far, the bike thing has stuck. My accident last fall cut out a month of good fall riding and left me a little squeamish about riding in the real world, where bad pavement and automobiles have consequences, but I think I've gotten beyond that. The scariest thing now is the clipless pedals I've been using since January, but so far I've usually remembered to unclip before stopping.

A bulk of my miles since the New Year have been on an pretty neat high-tech indoor setup. Maybe at some point, I'll post some pictures of my rides in Watopia!

Monday, April 02, 2018

Santa Cruz

I'm not quite sure why it's taken more than five weeks to get to this. Priority. Distraction. Sloth. Forgetfulness.

The workshop ended on Friday with a field trip to a couple of spots on the Richmond shoreline. I picked up a rental car at the airport and took on the Friday afternoon traffic over the hill from Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz. I checked out the beach, of course, somehow lost my sunglasses, and then went looking for dinner. Downtown was packed - plenty of food options, but no parking. And probably long waits to get in, too. So I found a sandwich at a neighborhood deli (The Buttery) and a bag of chips and a beer at the local grocery store and took it all back to the hotel.

Parking downtown was easier the next morning and I had a good cup of coffee at Verve before heading back to the beach. It was beautiful, clear, and just barely above freezing.

I know a little about soccer parents, and I know a lot about chess and ultimate parents, but I hadn't really thought much about surfer parents, but there they were, in their SUVs on the cliff edge, bundling up their kids as they climbed out of the ocean. There was some sort of junior surfing tournament going on.

From there, it was just one beach after another all day long, until I finally got back into San Francisco just before dinner. A walk down to Shark Fin Cove, a visit to the Pigeon Point lighthouse, mingling with the upper crust at the Ritz-Carlton south of Half Moon Bay, lunch above the riprap at Miramar Beach, and a tour from a colleague of the beaches in Pacifica.