Sunday, October 11, 2020

Bliss Dance

You may have heard me grumble about my Drafts folder before here. Truth be told, a lot of these drafts are just a photoset and maybe a link or two, serving as more of a todo list reminder than an actual draft. Which is fine in theory, but the drafts I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about are the ones I tend to forget all about.

A weird side effect of this situation is that untouched drafts from a few years ago start to feel like they're from a different lifetime, or another parallel timeline, like the one here. We used to go to Las Vegas every now and then as a quick break from Portland: Stay in a swanky hotel for a few nights, see a show or two, maybe order room service, maybe feed a few dollars into a slot machine, and generally wander around staring at the sheer weirdness of the place, which was usually good for a fresh post or two here. Haven't been there since September 2016, though, which is when these photos were taken. Mostly the place just wasn't as interesting anymore, and it kind of felt like the point of diminishing returns had been reached for a while. It also didn't help that there'd been a spate of high-profile random shootings along the Strip -- this was before the big Mandalay Bay mass shooting in October 2017 -- plus it was becoming clear that roughly 100% of the local casino owners (i.e. the ones that weren't vast Wall Street conglomerates) were longtime Trump cronies and generous supporters of his campaign. If they were just mobsters it would be fine; bit of local color and all that. But if someone like Trump isn't an instant pariah in your industry, it makes me not want to give you another penny, at least not while he's anywhere near the levers of power.

So anyway, pivoting awkwardly from that to the actual subject of the post, here are a few photos of Bliss Dance, a ginormous sculpture by artist Marco Cochrane, which has a cool light show at night that I unfortunately have no photos of. It's currently located at the new-as-of-2016 "The Park" entertainment district, between the Park MGM (the former Monte Carlo) and the New York New York casinos. Before it was here, it spent a few years at Treasure Island -- not the casino, but the island in San Francisco Bay -- but it started to rust in the sea air and was removed in 2015. And prior to that it appeared at Burning Man 2010. Burning Man to Vegas is an unusual journey, but there are only so many places you can put a 40' statue that comes with a lightshow. New York or Miami might work, except for the sea air problem. Too big and flashy for the Northwest, too risqué for Texas, too everything for the Midwest, but it seems right at home in Vegas. For now, at least; at some point in the future the vast megacorp that owns the whole area is bound to want to "reimagine the space" based on whatever current trends happen to be, and I suppose the statue will need another new home at that point. Maybe by then the Smithsonian will be interested -- maybe they'll be tasked with adding a "What The Early 21st Century Was Really Like" wing to the American History Museum, and they realize Bliss Dance would be a perfect centerpiece for the new grand rotunda, similar to the taxidermied elephant in the Natural History Museum next door, or the battling dinosaur skeletons at the AMNH in New York. Who knows.

Kalakaua Ave. Bridge

So here's a photoset of Honolulu's Kalakaua Avenue Bridge, a 1929 Art Deco structure over the Ala Wai Canal at the ewa end of Waikiki. Hawaii is famous for a lot of things, but an abundance of interesting bridges to look at is not really one of them. On O'ahu there's the one here, and the Rainbow Bridge up in Haleiwa on the north shore, and... that's about it. BridgeHunter has a whole page of links for the island, but most of the others are either small and utilitarian, or aren't bridges at all; there are a few tunnels listed (like this one for example), which is not unusual for the site, but they also list the Koko Crater Trail, an abandoned railway that -- as cool and fun as it is -- is in no way a bridge or a tunnel.

In 2014 the state conducted a fairly exhaustive study of potentially-historic bridges around the state, because -- as the introduction chapter explains -- federal transportation money is tied to having done an evaluation like this, and a previous attempt in 2008 was incomplete and had not been done correctly, and an earlier effort in 1983-1990 was now outdated and its results had been inconsistent between islands. And this was at a time when the state was trying to lock down a few extra billion dollars from the feds for Honolulu's upcoming light rail system, so there was a lot riding on getting the job done properly this time. So the O'ahu chapter of the study comes to 451 pages (although this number again includes a few tunnels along with the bridges; no Koko Crater Trail though). The Kalakaua Avenue Bridge part starts on page 338 and explains that this overly-swanky bridge helped persuade people that Waikiki -- which had been a swamp a few short years earlier -- was now highly desirable real estate. We're told that the bridge originally had globe-shaped street lights at either end, but these had been removed at some unknown date, and despite this alteration the bridge had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.

The study mentions elsewhere that there's another NRHP bridge over on the windward side of the island: The He'eia Viaduct (near He'eia State Park) dates to 1921, is 892 feet long, and (according to a 1986 history paper) was the longest bridge in the state for decades afterward. And I've been over it any number of times on a bus without noticing it. Was I really staring at my phone every single time passing through here? Or am I really that unobservant? Or both? In any case, it's on one of my many todo lists now, so I may pay it a visit at some point if the global pandemic ever goes away.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Whaling Wall, Waikiki

Here are a few photos of Earth Day Hawaii, a 16-story whale mural on the side of a condo tower in Waikiki. This was painted for Earth Day 1995 by artist Robert Wyland, part of his Whaling Walls series of 100 murals painted between 1981 and 2008, including several others on O'ahu and elsewhere around the state. That weirdly comprehensive Wikipedia page notes that this one is #67 of 100, and classifies the murals that no longer exist as "EXTINCT" in all caps, including the short-lived one in Portland (1993-97), which was demolished along with the whole city block it was on to make way for today's Fox Tower. The one in Portland, Maine was at risk from redevelopment around 2014 but has survived so far, while one painted in Mexico City as part of the deal to free Keiko -- the famous orca from Free Willy -- apparently has not. The Waikiki one is only at risk from the hot tropical sun, and the mural was repainted in 2018 so it should be around for a few more decades at least.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020


So one of the less fun things about having a blog -- or really any sort of website -- for almost 15 years is having to deal with bit rot periodically, which I just did again over the weekend. You might have seen that Adobe Flash will be officially dead, really most sincerely dead, on December 31st, unsupported by both Adobe and all major browsers. I absolutly approve of this given that Flash was a truly endless source of CVEs over the years; the problem was that there was stil a bunch of old Flash here for me to deal with. Back in the early years of this humble blog, if you needed to embed anything beyond a simple <img>, Flash was almost unavoidable. HTML5 didn't exist, Javascript wasn't up to the job yet, and building it with a Java applet or ActiveX control would have been even worse.

I've always tended to take more photos than will fit comfortably in a blog post, so it was a huge step forward when Flickr added an embeddable slideshow widget; I could just paste that in at the top of a post, embed a map below it, and voila, a long-running formula was born. And of course this new widget was Flash-based. They later replaced that widget with an iframe-based one in 2014, after Flash became nonessential and unpopular, and a couple of years after that they switched to a JS solution for better mobile support. Over time, Chrome and other browsers started turning Flash off by default, in anticipation of killing it off entirely someday, but I never quite got around to going back and un-Flash-ifying all my old Flickr slideshows. I had updated a few when I bumped into them, but were still about 200 of them left on posts in the 2006-2014 timeframe, and it just seemed like a huge hassle and I never got around to it. But like I said, Flash goes away entirely at the end of the year, and I gave myself a TODO item a few months ago to go rescue my poor decaying vintage content before then. I finally made some time over a much-needed staycation that wrapped up last weekend, so I think this long-running corner of the interwebs is now 100% Flash-free.

I figured I needed a way to at least semi-automate this update process so it wouldn't be quite as tedious, and I remembered a little tool I put together some years ago to help generate an embeddable Google map with placemarks for geotagged blog posts. The Map page for this humble log explains in more detail how that process works, which is still sadly not automatic after all these years. Speaking of which, I should probably update that map again while I'm thinking of it. Anyway, since I already had a tool that spoke Blogger's GeoRSS dialect, I figured I'd just adapt it to my new problem. The fastest & most automated way would have been to emit an updated GeoRSS file that I could just re-import over top of the existing blog. I couldn't quite persuade myself to trust that, though, so instead I just had it create a CSV file listing the posts with offending slideshows, along with some generated html for a non-flash replacement slideshow. So at least I only had to open each offending post, paste the new html onto the old slideshow, save, wash, rinse, repeat.

While I was doing that over the course of a few hours, it occurred to me that a lot of those old posts were kind of fun to go back and read, so I added an "unflashed" tag to all those posts I updated, as an easy way to go back and look at a bunch of them at a time. I dunno, I kind of like reminders from thatt distant pre-pandemic era when you could just go outside whenever you wanted, unmasked, and the president was not a malignant orange lunatic who still might kill us all sometime between now and Inauguration Day next year. I also figured this update was worth a blog post, partly due to the trouble I'd gone to, but mostly just to pat myself on the back for finally fixing something I'd been procrastinating over for years. Anyway, have fun & enjoy the old posts if you're interested, or morbidly curious, or whatever.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020


flower mural, sw 3rd

A mural in downtown Portland on the old Postal Building on SW 3rd, between Washington & Alder, created by Swiss artist Mona Caron. Her page about the mural mentions there's another mural of a different PNW plant in the building's lobby, which I don't have any photos of. As the name suggests, fireweed is one of the first plants to reappear on burned-over land after a forest fire, so we'll be seeing a lot of these next spring.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Waikiki Sunsets, March 2020

Here's a photoset from six months ago, just before the Plague Year(s) began. It was just a quick, pre-planned break between work projects, but now it feels like it happened a billion years ago, on the far side of the galaxy. Posting the photos now as a little memory of what the world used to be like.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Pup Creek Falls

Next up, here are some recent (for once) photos from Pup Creek Falls and the Clackamas River Trail #715, about 16 miles east of Estacada. I had never been here before, or really anywhere along the Clackamas past Estacada. I'd heard there were trails and waterfalls in the area -- there's an entire website devoted just to waterfalls in the Clackamas watershed, with pages about Pup Creek Falls & the trail -- but I'd never gotten around to checking it out myself. But I wanted to get outside, and -- the key part -- do it safely during the ongoing pandemic, and the Columbia Gorge is still largely closed to the public, so I figured it was it was a good time for a visit.

If you squint at the first photo in the photoset, you can see a pair of tiny people just atop the lowest tier of the falls, for scale. One of them later made it up to the upper bench where the upper tier hits the rock face and flexed his biceps for anyone watching, while his lady friend stayed put and tried out a couple of yoga poses right at the edge of the cliff; I didn't get a photo of that part because I was too busy leaving so I wouldn't have to watch, just in case that played out the way I thought it might. Anyway, the Pup Creek Falls page at Waterfalls Northwest compares it to Winter Falls at Silver Falls State Park and has it as 237 feet high. So this is often said to be the tallest waterfall along the Clackamas River, though the Clackamas River Waterfalls site says Whale Creek Falls is taller at 261 feet. I'm just going to take his word for it, since getting to Whale Creek Falls is said to be highly technical and dangerous, per two threads at Oregon Hikers, while pages at Canyoneering Northwest and Ropewiki indicate it's also really hard if you start at the top (via rugged Forest Service roads) and rappel down and head downstream from there. So I think it's fair to say Pup Creek is the tallest waterfall in the area accessible to mere mortals like me.

Anyway, our trail runs for 8 miles along the south bank of the river between the Fish Creek and Indian Henry campgrounds. Pup Creek Falls is nearly halfway between the two trailheads and up an easy 0.2 mile side trail, so that an out-and-back trip from the Fish Creek trailhead (which is what I did) comes to 7.8 miles. The Oregon Hikers page linked above rates it as "moderate", I think because of both the total distance and the fact that the trail isn't flat. You're at river level at a few points along the trail, and at others you're a few hundred feet above the river, and fun part is that the grades are moderate enough that you don't always realize you're going from one to the other. You come around a corner and the river is right there next to you, and you could swear that just 5-10 minutes ago you just looking straight down at it from a sheer cliff. On the outbound (and upstream) leg of the hike I figured that it was partly due to the river dropping in elevation, since you'll see a lot of rapids on the river over the course of the hike. But it was like that on the way back too, so I concluded it was either weird forest magic, or (more likely) good trail design.

Actually I'm positive it's the trail design. A June 27th 1982 Oregonian article "A Treasure of a Trail" described the then-new trail, which had opened the previous spring, and interviewed one of the designers. Seems the design goals were to stay low enough that the trail could be open 95% of the year, outside of major winter storms, and provide river access for fishing, while hitting as many scenic highlights as they could squeeze in along the way, and also avoiding any grades they thought would be too steep. This involved several years of repeatedly hiking the 8 mile stretch, trying out different alternatives until they had a route they were happy with. The trail was their baby, they were proud of it, and wanted the world (or at least the greater Portland metro area) to come check it out. I dunno, I always love to see stuff like this. Incidentally, the US Forest Service job title for someone who does this is "recreation technician"; the Glassdoor reviews seem generally positive: Great location, great benefits, usually great coworkers, upper management not so much, and more cleaning toilets than they had expected. Some occasional fighting of forest fires.

All of that said, I'm currently a bit out of shape due to all the sheltering in place because of the stupid coronavirus. So the last 1.5 miles or so of the return trip were... not my favorite, and I was sore for a couple of days afterward, and happy that I hadn't tried doing the whole trail as a ~16 mile out-and-back. My thoughts inevitably turned to ways of shaving off part or all of the return trip. The 1982 article suggests a car shuttle, which works great if you're a party of at least two people, which I typically am not. The Oregon Hikers page also suggests taking a bike with you -- I imagine one of those folding travel bikes -- and riding back to the Fish Creek trailhead on OR 224. Which is downhill the whole way, but 224 is a moderately busy state highway with the occasional semi or log truck, so I don't know how fun or relaxing that would actually be.

So then I wondered about the river. The lower Clackamas river is famous as a place to bring an inner tube and have a lazy float down the river for a few hours, and it's infamous as a place to do this while polishing off a six pack or a couple of edibles and occasionally drowning. Turns out the upper Clackamas is a whole other story, as I should have guessed from all the whitewater and several kayakers I noticed along the way. Pages at American Whitewater, Whitewater Guidebook, & Oregon Kayaking explain that there are multiple Class III ("Intermediate") rapids along this stretch of the river, and overall it's supposed to be really fun if you know what you're doing, which I unfortunately don't. Show up with an inner tube and no prior experience, with or without a six pack, and your mileage is going to vary. I didn't see any specific discussion about anyone doing the trail + river combo here; I imagine you'd need a packraft or maybe a foldable kayak or something for this, small and light enough for the hiking leg, but sturdy enough for the the downriver part. A forum thread speculated that the combo trip would be doable here, but I didn't come across anyone saying they'd actually done it. One annoying detail -- if you're mostly interested in the water half of the trip -- is that the stretch of river that's said to be the best part, whitewaterwise, is just downstream of the Fish Creek trailhead. Annoying because there's no connector trail along that stretch of river, so if you can't bear to skip that section, I guess you'd have to walk along the highway shoulder or something.

Now, if there was a trail along the lower Clackamas river (which there isn't, as far as I know), you could actually use a Portland city bus for your return leg, believe it or not. TriMet's bus 31 goes as far as Estacada, and as of last year even runs on weekends, so you could potentially do the whole trip without getting in a car. Some people tubing the river do exactly this for the upstream part of the trip, which isn't just convenient, it also keeps a few DUI drivers off the road, if they've cracked open a few cold ones during the float back. So it's a shame that TriMet's longest bus line is juuust not quite long enough to give you a lift to either of the Clackamas River Trail trailheads.

You might be wondering why TriMet goes to Estacada in the first place, given that it's a conservative small town way out past the edge of suburbia. There may be just enough commuters who rely on the bus now that they can't discontinue it, but how did it get started? The surprising answer is that it goes all the way back to the founding of the town in the early 1900s. The TL;DR version goes something like this: Streetcar company needs electricity & can't get it; builds dams along Clackamas River. Needs transporation for building dams; extends rail lines out to the dams. Needs to pay for those rail lines; builds a park behind one of the dams, invites tourists to visit by streetcar. A few towns grow up in the area including Estacada, the one town that has a nice modern hotel. Eventually, streetcar lines become bus lines, and then the bus company becomes TriMet, and here we are. Meanwhile the electricity part of the business evolves into today's PGE, the local electric company. I'm not sure whether there's been uninterrupted transit service to Estacada since the first interurban in 1906, and I'm not sure where one would check to figure that out. But at the very least, today's bus 31 has an absurdly long family tree, whatever the intermediate branches look like.

So I had to wonder whether there was ever a time -- even briefly -- when you could've hopped on a streetcar in Portland and ridden all the way to Pup Creek Falls. And... it's hard to say. The old rail line carried passengers to the park at Cazadero, upriver from Estacada, and old rail maps show at least two more passenger stops past that, one at something called "Clackamas Lodge" that I can't find much info about, and ending at the headworks for another of the hydro projects along the river, still a bit short of the Fish Creek area. Streetcars ended there, but the rail line itself continued on after that, carrying cargo & employees for the Oak Grove hydro project even further upriver, and I saw at least one link (which I can't find now) indicating that seemed to indicate passenger service had extended further east for a while, though it's possible they confused rail service with fare-paying passenger service. An old circa-1930 photo shows a rail line next to the tiny burg of Three Lynx, which even now is still a PGE company town, & is just downstream (and across the river) from the present-day Indian Henry campground. Meanwhile an Oregon Encyclopedia article indicates the old rail line was turned into present-day highway 224 sometime in the 1920s, which conflicts with the date on the photo, so who knows. So regarding my original question, I think the answer is 'no' in general, but 'maybe' for a while in the 1920s or 1930s if you had a friend at the railroad/electric company, and you were rugged and outdoorsy enough to get across the river without a bridge and then to the falls without a trail, since that was 50 years before today's trail came into being. Maybe there's a parallel timeline out there that's just like ours, except that the trail was built as a Depression-era CCC project, with cool 1930s CCC stonework but otherwise identical to 'our' trail, and they extended the interurban so you could ride out that far for a while, until it eventually faded away in the late 1940s. Or a timeline where the entire hydro project never happened, somehow, and the whole area has been a roadless protected wilderness since 1964.

Anyway, to sum up: Nice hike, interesting area I wasn't familiar with, a bit of fun local history, and it's been two weeks so I probably didn't catch the 'rona while passing people on the trail. Incidentally, trail etiquette has changed in the COVID-19 era. Instead of the cheerful hello and petting friendly dogs when passing people, masks go on the moment you see someone coming the other way, and you sort of mumble a "thank you" while facing sorta-away from each other. Overall it's weird and not something I want to keep post-pandemic, but I do really like the the mutual "thank you" part, like it's a little acknowledgement that we're all observing a shared social contract. But then, I haven't been around other human beings in person a lot over the last six months, so maybe I'm reading way too much into that. Dunno. Mostly I just want the pandemic to be over, and I'll work out whether August 2020 me was overreacting a while after that.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Manana Ridge Trail

Ok, next up we're checking out another O'ahu hiking trail, the Manana Ridge Trail in Pearl City's Pacific Palisades neighborhood. The neighborhood is a midcentury subdivision up in the hills, essentially surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides, and the only road from the outside world comes from the next ridge over, which takes a steep dip into valley between them. Bus 53 was really not enjoying those slopes when I took it to & from the trailhead. A protip is necessary for the bus ride: The stop you want to get off at is called "Auhuhu St. & Komo Mai Drive". On the way there, there will be an announcement for a stop at "Komo Mai Drive & Auhuhu St." Do not get off here. It's a completely different intersection, and if you get off the bus here you've just added another mile of distance and 300 feet of elevation to your hike, for no good reason. Never ask me how I learned this interesting random fact.

Like a lot of ridge hikes, the trailhead is at the upper end of the subdivision, and the initial bit doubles as a service road for water & utilities. The trail was uncrowded (by O'ahu standards) the day I was there, and the other hikers seemed to be a mix of neighborhood residents, often walking their dogs, and young people headed for the swimming hole at Waimano Falls, which is off on a steep side trail down from the ridge. I wasn't headed for the falls that day and skipped the side trip, and I did not encounter a single other human being on the stretch of trail past that trail junction. I don't know how typical that is, but it was nice at the time. Another reason to recommend this hike is that the views are different than what you see on the various trails closer to central Honolulu or Waikiki. In one direction you're looking back at Pearl Harbor, and in another direction you have a view across Central Oahu toward the Waianae Range that roughly parallels the Ko'olaus.

A problem I keep running into, when dealing with posts that have been floating around in Drafts for a while, is that I don't necessarily have a razor-sharp memory of the whole excursion now, and I don't want to give out inaccurate directions for a place where going the wrong way means either a much longer and tougher hike than you were expecting, or a much shorter hike and much longer plummet than you were expecting. So instead of me trying to replay the whole thing from memory, here are pages about the trail at The Hiking HI and The Hiking Project, and several local blog posts about the hike. There are actually two Alltrails pages about it, the first covering a popular initial segment of the trail, and the latter covering the whole trip up to the Ko'olau summit. I seem to recall that I turned around somewhere between those two turnaround points, but I don't recall where exactly. I tend to make that call based on how fast I'm going through drinking water, and how much remaining daylight I have to work with, and whether any knees or ankles or other aging body parts need to turn around, and whether the weather seems sketchy where I'm currently at or where I'm headed.

In any case, if you get an early start and are feeling sufficiently hardcore, and obviously if you have transportation lined up, at the summit you can turn left or right and do a segment of the Ko'olau Summit Trail (which runs the entire length of the Ko'olaus and thus the island) and cut in on another ridge trail, ending up at a different trailhead in a different suburb. I think I'd like to try that at some point, but so far the best I've managed is just getting to the summit, on a different trail I haven't posted about yet, and first I'll need to get back in shape after being holed up at home for months trying to wait out the current pandemic, and even then I might talk myself out of it after watching a few of those alarming KST GoPro videos. In short, don't hold your breath waiting for those photos, as it's likely to be a while.