Friday, August 31, 2007
Yep, it's time for yet another batch of flowers and berries and leaves, this time from a few spots around the Columbia Gorge. The first 5 pics are from along the trail at Hamilton Mountain, on the Washington side near Beacon Rock. The next two are from Portland Womens' Forum State Park, and the last is from the Vista House on Crown Point. All three places are most famous for their broad panoramic vistas, but we're sticking with the small stuff today, because it's always good to have a theme, or so I've heard.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Today's fun adventure takes us out to the Gorge again, this time to little-known Dry Creek Falls, just outside Cascade Locks.
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I'd never heard of this waterfall until quite recently, when I ran across a mention of it somewhere on the interwebs. I don't recall where exactly, but I was intrigued. As I've said before, I like to think I know the gorge pretty well. But I don't recall ever hearing of Dry Creek Falls. I was delighted, of course. Another really obscure place to track down and do a piece about, something I do a lot here on this humblest of humble blogs. The falls were fresh blog meat, basically.
So here are several pages describing the typical route to the falls, hiking from the Bridge of the Gods trailhead next to the bridge.
- Trimble Outdoors includes GPS coordinates for several points along the trail, which really helped in creating the fancy embedded Google map you see above here.
- A good page at PortlandHikers.com (and another page about the falls themselves)
- A brief description with photos at NWHiker.
- A longer description & slideshow at Johann & Sandra's Web
- OregonWaterfalls has good, clear directions and a photo.
- The Lake Oswego Hikers have a nice photoset of the falls and the hike there.
- Not a lot of info at Waterfalls Northwest, which is kind of unusual.
So the multiply-aforementioned hike is the usual way to get to the falls, but I'd already done Hamilton Mountain earlier in the day, and I didn't feel like another four miles just then. The trail didn't sound that fabulous, either, starting at a rather dubious parking lot next to the bridge, traipsing through a residential area, crossing under the freeway, walking along a powerline access road for a while, and finally ending up on a regular road, which you walk on the last bit of the way to the falls. When I saw that last bit, a little light went on: It doesn't sound like the journey is the reward this time around, so I'll just cut to the chase and drive to the falls on that road. It's a dirt road, but it's on the map and everything, it'll be just fine, I figured. So that's what I did, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to everyone out there. The journey is definitely not the reward this way either. Here's a typical stretch of Dry Creek Road:
Actually that's a better-than-average stretch. Most of the time I was too busy dodging large rocks and trying not to high-center the car or get stuck or break down or anything nasty to take any photos. It's your basic Forest Service type road, so if you've got a pickup or some sort of vehicle with high clearance and preferably 4wd, the road may not be any big deal for you. And feel free to mock my puny midsize sedan if you like, but I'll have you know it's been driven offroad more than most SUVs ever will. The key thing to be aware of is that there's an unmarked fork in the road part of the way up, which you can see on the map above. You want to take the left fork. Trust me on this. The right fork goes rather steeply uphill to a pair of cell phone towers surrounded by razor wire and all sorts of threatening signs, including one saying the area exceeds FCC standards for radio-frequency emissions. There's a nice view actually, and I could see the place being a local makeout spot; I imagine all that cell phone radiation has got to have some sort of contraceptive effect. The effect just might not be temporary, is the only problem. So we've established, I hope, that you want to stick to the left fork. Then you just keep driving until the road ends, a few miles further on. (He says, making it sound oh, so simple.) There's no mistaking it when you've arrived. The road ends at a small parking lot, with a sheer cliff rising behind it. Nearby there's a small, old dam of unknown age and purpose, situated on Dry Creek just downstream of the falls:
There's even a (possibly unofficial) fire pit, if you're in the mood for a party. Whoever was here obviously enjoys Coors far more than I do. In other words, it could have been just about anyone.
And just steps from the road, the falls themselves:
I'm sure the falls would be much more popular if the road was paved, and I'm kind of surprised they haven't paved it. Cascade Locks could sure use any extra tourist dollars that might bring in. The town's a bit of blue-collar "Old Oregon", historically dependent on the river and the timber industry, not so much on the tourist trade. Even today there's nary an upscale boutique in sight, and all the rich Portlanders drive right by on I-84 on their way out to Hood River. That's not entirely a bad thing, mind you. In recent years downtown Hood River's become sort of like a miniature Pearl District tilted at a 45 degree angle. I'd hate to see the whole state get Pearlified, and it pleases me to no end that the East Wind Drive-In remains the big fast food joint in town. If there are any national chain restaurants in town at all, I haven't noticed them. People in the know usually think of the East Wind as the ice cream place in town, but they also do a great classic bacon burger, and -- most importantly -- they fry up a mean tater tot. And they aren't doing it just to be hipster-retro-ironic, either. Besides, tater tots count as carbo loading, right? So I don't really want to see the place change dramatically, but the town's traditional industries have had a rough last few years, well, last few decades really, and the town could use a little extra revenue coming in. Cascade Locks has been trying to bring in an Indian casino for the last few years, so clearly they aren't entirely opposed to having a few extra tourists in town.
I'm no economic development guru, and I'm not sure how many more people you'd reel in from I-84 with a civilized road to the falls and a few signs indicating how to get there. And generally speaking I don't advocate putting in paved roads to every possible point of interest. But, you know, they've got a possible tourist attraction right there on their doorstep, and they could use the cash, so it just seems like a shame. I suppose that as a working class sort of town, people tend to drive pickups, not front wheel drive import sedans, and maybe it just hasn't occurred to anyone that the road's a bit on the iffy side. To be honest, my bottom line here is that I didn't enjoy the drive too much, and I'm trying to make a solid case that somebody ought to do something about it, dammit. Well, that, or I suppose I could just park at the Bridge of the Gods trailhead next time, and hoof it to the falls like everyone else does.
In any case, here are a few more photos of the falls, and the rather antique water works just downstream. I'm guessing they were built no later than the 1940s, probably earlier than that. Since I'm just a software geek and not a real engineer, I'm not sure what the mini-dam is for. It looks like it diverts water out of the creek into a pipe, but whether the water goes to hydropower, drinking water, irrigation, flood control, or the remains of an old log flume, I really couldn't say. Everyone says it hasn't been used in years, in any event.
Using my powers of Google-fu, I did manage to track down a corporate history page mentioning the former ARMCO Metal Products Division -- which now exists under a different name, with a different parent company. The ARMCO firm still exists too, under the new name AK Steel. But it looks like the first link is the company you'd want to talk to in the unlikely event you needed spare parts for this contraption.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
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A small batch of pics from Ainsworth & McLoughlin State Parks [map], out in the Gorge at the east end of the Gorge Highway, around the tiny town of Dodson.
You might not have heard of either of the two parks, since they don't have waterfalls. Ainsworth is the only state park in the western Columbia Gorge with overnight camping, so that's it's claim to fame. There's a trail or two you can take while you're there (and the photos are from one of them), but camping out is the main deal. Since there aren't any waterfalls nearby, the trails are uncrowded, so they've got that going for them at least.
McLoughlin State Park or more properly "State Natural Area" (below) is even more obscure. The state parks website doesn't even offer an info page about the place, although they do mention it in passing here and there (here for example). In its heyday, all it offered was a convenient trailhead to the Gorge Trail #400 and a chunk of forest, so it was never really a crown jewel of the system, I gather. Then in 1996, several miles of the trail were destroyed by flooding, and still haven't been rebuilt, over a decade later. So there's still a trailhead, I suppose, but it doesn't really go anywhere anymore.
There used to be an elementary school next to the trailhead, but it closed in 1996 as well, and Bonneville School is someone's private property now. Very private property. All sorts of "No Trespassing" and "Monitored 24 Hours" signs. So whoever, or whatever, owns the land now isn't keen on visitors. This transition from a school to some sort of paranoid Y2K bunker is probably a metaphor for modern society or something.
The photo was taken at the end of McLoughlin Parkway (once named after the park, I figure), next to the closed gate to the school property. The trail into the park proper starts somewhere nearby, and skirts the ex-school property. It's not marked now. I think it was at one time, but it isn't anymore. I'm not sure if there's any reason to go there at present.
I had these sitting around in iPhoto, and I thought they looked ok, so enjoy, or not. I semi-promise not to whine about invasive species and the like this time around.
I continue to maintain that taking halfway-decent photos of Raindrops On Stuff in midsummer is, by definition, unnatural. This year the weather begs to differ, I'm afraid.
Monday, August 27, 2007
[This post is about the 2007 race. For the 2008 criterium, you want to go here.]
A few photos and a video clip from last Friday's Portland Twilight Criterium, a pro cycling event held this year in the North Park Blocks. We'd never been to a criterium race before, and it was really fun to watch. 80 or so guys on bikes careening around a half-mile course at 30mph for 40 or 60 minutes, trying not to crash into anything -- and not always succeeding There's a pace motorcycle leading the pack, and when it catches up to stragglers, poof, they're out of the race. They've failed to meet the minimum criterium to stay in, hence the name of the event, I suppose.
Results of the evening's two races here. As you can see, in both races only about half the starting field made it to the finish. The others abandoned, were eliminated, or crashed. Now that's what I call racing.
As a bonus, over the weekend Versus carried some highlights of the shiny new Tour of Ireland. It doesn't exactly make up for Le Tour's ugly meltdown this year, but I never complain when there's cycling on TV.
Another bit of excitement was watching idiot spectators scurry back and forth across the course whenever they thought (often mistakenly) that there weren't any bikes coming. Sometimes they even jogged across after the motorbike, just in front of the race leaders. I don't know what was so important on the other side of the street that couldn't wait until the race was over, but it must've been awfully serious the way they put themselves on the line like that. And the ones pushing strollers... I don't know where to begin about them. And since this is Portland, nobody will really run across the street top speed. It's always this self-conscious slacker-ironic bouncy half-jog, like they'd rather be hit by a pack of 30mph bicycles than have a few perfect strangers think they were trying too hard at something. I guess that's one way to achieve glorious hipster martyrdom, if you're into that sort of thing.
In fairness, it's true you see people doing the same thing during the Tour de France too, often right on the edge of a thousand foot cliff, and the people doing it are wearing chicken costumes, and they're roaring drunk. And despite all that, they're still better at it than people are here.
One fun sociological bit was observing the gap between bike racing culture and our local bike scene where you're supposed to do it for ideological reasons. I don't think the motorcycles or any of the team vans ran on biodiesel, organic or otherwise. If anyone who scored a podium finish was a proper Portland raw-food vegan fundamentalist, it would surprise me greatly. I also don't expect your typical racer spends a lot of time torching Starbucks stores (although I'm sure they could get away quickly if they did), and if you spend all your waking hours training for the next race, I doubt you have any spare time to play in a few shoegazing indierock bands nobody's ever heard of. I suppose that, for all I know, the occasional rider might go home to one of those super-sustainable "cob" (i.e. mud and straw) hovels we're all supposed to want to live in, the way our medieval ancestors did. But I'd be willing to bet it's the exception to the rule. There were a few activist types at the race, some with booths, some just wandering around, and they looked a bit mystified, as if it had never occurred to them that one can go really fast on a bike, and some people get extremely competitive, even -- gasp -- macho about it. Deep down they probably found it a little troubling, although they wouldn't admit to it in a million years, of course. So that was kind of entertaining to see.
In a couple of recent posts I was complaining that my dinky little camera isn't ideally suited to wildlife photos. Seems it's also not that great at sports photos either. It's not because of the zoom, this time, or the shutter speed, or even noise at low light / high ISO levels. It's just that it takes too freakin' long after you take a shot before it's ready to take another. By the time it feels up to taking another photo, the entire peloton's whizzed past by then. At least they're on a closed course, so you can wait another minute and catch them on the next lap. So I'm carping, but really, I don't do a lot of sports photos. Almost never, in fact. Besides, I noticed a good number of people walking around with chunky pro dSLRs, and they all looked like dorks. I don't mean that as an insult, exactly; I'm a tech geek, and I've spent way more than my fair share of time over the years walking around looking like a total dork. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you I wouldn't go around looking like a dork in the future, if I had a good reason to. I'm just saying there are certain image quality vs. dorkage tradeoffs to consider. It's a complicated issue, I guess is the point I'm trying to make here.
A pair of sandhill cranes, at the Warner Wetlands just west of Hart Mountain. Like the pronghorn, I'd never seen one of these before, insulated urbanite that I am. They were a bit larger than I expected, and if you watch them for a while it's easy to imagine they're descended from dinosaurs.
There's more to Hart Mountain than the scenery. The area's a national wildlife refuge, and the odd creature you see here is the refuge's main event.
The pronghorn is a unique and rather fascinating animal. It's not really an antelope, and isn't a deer, in fact it doesn't have any close relatives at all. It looks a lot like something you'd in the African savanna, racing along with a cheetah hot on its tail, a Discovery Channel camera crew filming it all and dreaming of carnage.
It's not that much of a stretch actually. Until the end of the last ice age, around the time humans arrived in North America, there used to be a cheetah-like big cat on this continent, and (as the theory goes) it was the pronghorn's main predator. No modern biologist has actually seen that in action, of course, but it seems like a reasonable guess given the available evidence. There's no other obvious reason a pronghorn would need to run as fast as it does.
There's a school of thought that argues for trying to restore parts of the North American ecosystem to their pre-settlement state, introducing replacement species from elsewhere as needed if the North American equivalent is now extinct. So, for example, African cheetahs could replace our extinct quasi-cheetahs, so the pronghorn would finally have something to run away from. This is known as "Pleistocene rewilding". A couple of articles in favor (both by the same author) at Slate and Nature, and the inevitable Slashdot story. And the equally inevitable freakout from the righty wingnut-o-sphere. They pretty much blow a gasket over any mention of touchy subjects like "science" or "nature". Sad. Amusing, but sad.
I'm not sure how I feel about the larger proposal, bringing in lions, elephants, camels and more. But cheetahs might be worth a try, at least on an experimental, controlled basis, within a limited range. You wouldn't need all that many cheetahs, and they'd have radio collars, of course, and the usual provisions would be in place if they go after livestock, and all that. If it doesn't work out, so be it, but for my part I think it's at least worth the attempt.
It's fortunate that "pronghorn", like "antelope", is singular as well as plural, since this is the only one I saw. I understand they're actually pretty common across the West, but not in Portland obviously, so I'd never seen a live one before.
So probably someone will show up here from eastern Oregon, or northern Nevada, or Wyoming or somewhere, going, "You saw just one, and it wasn't even running, and you took pictures and posted them on the series of intarwebs!?" To which I can only answer, well, yes, that's pretty much exactly what I did. If you ain't much impressed by that, well, I'm sorry, at least reading this post didn't cost you anything.
Make fun of digital zoom if you like -- and generally you'd be right to -- but that's the only way I got these pics. So two cheers for digital zoom.
The pronghorn ran off shortly after I took the pics. I wish I'd gotten a video clip of it running, but sadly, no such luck.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
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Some photos from Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and the adjacent Warner Wetlands [map], in SE Oregon roughly an hour's drive out of Lakeview. I took these during that mini-roadtrip back in June, and it's taken until now to sort through all the photos and pick out a semi-reasonable number to post. The area's just wayyy too beautiful.
I mentioned Hart Mountain a little in my DeGarmo Canyon post a while back. What you're seeing here is the larger setting the canyon's part of.
I also have a few wildlife photos I haven't posted yet, including some of the refuge's namesake "antelope". Don't get too excited, the pics really aren't that fabulous. I don't own a super-expensive DSLR camera with a monster telephoto lens, which I suppose is what you need if you want high quality results. But still, said photos are mine, so they'll probably show up here before too long.