Friday, August 29, 2008

John McLoughlin Bridge, Clackamas River

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My semi-ongoing bridge-wandering project took me down to Oregon City the other day to check out the pretty, but sadly run down, Oregon City Bridge. On my way back, I thought I'd stop briefly and check out a second bridge nearby. This is the Dr. John McLoughlin Memorial Bridge, which carries Highway 99E over the Clackamas River.

John McLoughlin Bridge

I didn't really have high hopes for it, and I almost didn't stop. I vaguely knew there was a bridge here, but it's a busy street and not a very big river, and there's no big "oh, cool" moment while driving over it, if it registers at all. It didn't really sound like it would be very interesting, but I was in the neighborhood (for once), so I figured what the heck, I'd just stop for a few minutes and take a quick peek.

John McLoughlin Bridge

Turns out the bridge is rather nice, actually. The McLoughlin bridge dates back to 1933, and sports some nice Art Deco touches and has a light, open and airy feel to it. There's no bike lane, but the sidewalk seems wider than nearly all other bridges in town, and there's a guardrail (plus the structure of the bridge itself) between you and vehicle traffic. There's even an attractive view of the Clackamas River. It's really a very cool river. If, like many Portlanders, you turn up your nose at it because of the word "Clackamas" in the name, you're really missing out.

So it's kind of too bad it's not somewhere where it'd be more useful to me. I'm very rarely down in Oregon City, and I don't think I've ever actually stopped in Gladstone even once for any purpose, so walking between the two, just not a very common occurrence.

Clackamas River from John McLoughlin Bridge
John McLoughlin Bridge

You might've noticed I didn't bother with the "not dying" bit in the title. The bridge itself is pretty decent, and the "not dying" theme just sort of doesn't work. Quite honestly, if you're walking or biking along Highway 99E, the bridge is probably the safest spot for miles around. On either side, it's wall-to-wall mini-malls, no bike lanes, narrow sidewalks with lots of curb cuts, people tend to be driving large trucks and SUVs, and they don't expect you to be there. So just stay on the freakin' bridge, and you'll be fine, probably.

Clackamas River from John McLoughlin Bridge

The Structurae page about the bridge has more photos, including a cool award plaque for being named "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge, Class C" in 1933 by something called the American Institute of Steel Construction, which still exists -- although it looks like the prize stuff is now handled by a related organization called the National Steel Bridge Alliance. Their online list of awards only dates back to 1996, unfortunately, but I do see that the St. Johns Bridge renovation project won a prize in 2007. Strictly speaking, the McLoughlin bridge received an "award of merit", which seems to be one tier down from a "prize" in steel bridge parlance. But still. An award's an award.

John McLoughlin Bridge

Here's a 1933 color photo of the bridge when it was new. Looks pretty much the same, doesn't it? Wikimedia has a photo of the bridge from a different angle than mine, and you can see the 3 arch structure a bit better there.

There's also a confusing mention of the bridge in Best Places Portland:

More interesting [than the Interstate Bridge] is the OREGON CITY BRIDGE (1922). The only Portland-area span designed by Conde McCullough, this 745-foot arch bridge features fluted Art Deco main piers and hammered inset panels. Just north, McCullough's McLoughlin Bridge has been rated the most beautiful steel bridge of its kind in the U.S.

So first we learn that the Oregon City Bridge is the only McCullough bridge in town, and in the very next sentence we're told the McLoughlin bridge is his too. Go figure.

John McLoughlin Bridge

Other than that, there really isn't too much to say about the bridge. It has a cameo in a gory, unsolved 1940s murder case, in which part of the body was found near the bridge. Seriously, I'm not kidding about the gory part.

John McLoughlin Bridge

So does this mean I'm expanding the bridge-moseying project beyond Willamette River bridges? Well, no, or mostly no. I keep talking about the two Columbia River bridges, and I'll probably end up doing those at some point, eventually. And now that I stare at the map a little, it turns out there really aren't very many bridges over the Clackamas River. There's this one, obviously. There's a rail bridge and a bridge for I-205 further upstream that I think we can file under "not safe for pedestrians". There's also an old bridge around 82nd Drive near the High Rocks area that's supposed to be for bikes and pedestrians, but I understand it's been closed since 2006 due to a fire and subsequent insurance litigation. There are more bridges further upstream, around Carver, Barton Park, Estacada, and beyond, but I'm ok with filing those as "outside the Portland area". As in, maybe, if I'm in the area anyway, and it seems "interesting", and I'm in the mood for it, but it's a very low priority. In other words, I think this may be the only Clackamas River bridge that's within any reasonable project scope. So I'm going to go ahead and declare Mission Accomplished on river #2. Hooray, or whatever.

John McLoughlin Bridge

John McLoughlin Bridge

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to walk the St. Johns Bridge and not die (continuing the theme)

Shadows, St. Johns Bridge

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So the latest installment of my apparent bridge-wandering project takes us north to the gothic, mega-photo-licious St. Johns Bridge. Everybody knows it, everybody loves it, but what's it like to walk across? I figured I'd go check it out.

Despite its mildly remote location, the St. Johns is a contender for most photographed bridge in town. It's not hard to see why. There's just something about suspension bridges (if there's an ugly suspension bridge out there, I've never seen or heard of it), and something about Art Deco anything. The bridge has its own Flickr group (to which I've made exceedingly humble contributions now and then). The thing is pretty damn photogenic. It can't hurt that, like most of North Portland, the St. Johns neighborhood is bursting with "young creative" types, who all seem to drop by and snap a few photos of the bridge when they aren't at a band rehearsal or a gallery opening or whatever.

St. Johns Bridge

St. Johns Bridge

What's more, Blue Moon Camera is nearby in central St. Johns, so if you're trying to use up the last couple of shots on a roll of film or two, the bridge is an obvious subject. Hell, that's what I was doing. Besides the trusty (and at the time a bit dusty) DSLR, I also had the Holga and old Kodak folder along. I figured I'd post some of those photos when I get them back, so long as they don't suck, or they do suck in an interesting way. Then this post lingered in my drafts folder long enough that I got the photos back, so I've included a few of them. I think I did ok on the "suck in an interesting way", except possibly for the "interesting" part.

Shadows, St. Johns Bridge

Like my earlier Sellwood Bridge "adventure", I did this as a quickie trip before work, so I figured I'd drive there, although I could've taken TriMet from downtown if I'd had more time. There's even less on the west end of the bridge than there is at the Sellwood, and nowhere at all that looks safe to park. So my plan, if you can call it a plan, was to drive up to St. Johns, park, walk across one side, cross the street on the west end, and walk back on the other side of the bridge. Stop every so often, take a few photos, not die, etc.

Updated: A user comment points out that there is, in fact, a place to park on the west side, and it's a rather good spot to take photos of the bridge, and there's even a trailhead into Forest Park from here. I think I know the spot, which is kind of a wide spot in the road next to the south-side bridge ramp. I've even seen people parking there, but I wasn't sure what it was for and neglected to mention it here. So I stand corrected.

It's actually kind of hard finding original stuff to say about the St. Johns Bridge. It gets a lot of attention, and I think all the angles have been covered pretty well. On top of that, my, er, expedition to the bridge was pretty uneventful. In short, coming up with a compelling narrative for this post has been kind of a problem. The St. Johns doesn't offer the absurdity of the Morrison, or the raw scariness of the Ross Island, and it's not a punchline like the Sellwood. And it's not broken-down and smelly like the bridge down in Oregon City. The "not dying" angle is a real stretch this time, and it's mostly there because it's the theme for the series, so I've shoveled it off toward the end of the post, unless I move it again.

So let's just get to the walking, and take it from there, shall we?

East End, St. Johns Bridge

Actually first we have to get to the parking, and then the walking. Finding a parking spot is reasonably straightforward unless you become lost in St. Johns, where the street grid is the proverbial "maze of twisty little passages, all different". To be on the safe side (not having a GPS unit handy), I figured I'd just take the very first parking spot I came across, and save myself the trouble. That turned out to be next to an imposing brick building right off the east end of the bridge. Prior to 1915, when St. Johns was a separate incorporated city, this building was City Hall. Now it's a Portland Police office. I'd like to think that reduces the odds that your car will be broken into while you're off hiking the bridge. If you're interested in the long and somewhat odd history of St. Johns, check out this interesting series. The page about the bridge includes a bunch of construction photos. Yikes. You couldn't pay me enough to do that.

St. Johns Bridge

Before we really get started walking, a couple more history links to pass along: A post at OregonLive; ODOT's Historic Bridges page (note, their doc on the St. Johns is a MS Word doc for some reason.); and the Center for Columbia River History has old news snippets from the bridge's dedication in 1931. And more historical tidbits on this interesting mailing list post from last March.

My favorite historical bit about St. Johns is the name. The name is not a religious reference; it refers to a local crazy old hermit, not any of the many saints named John. Although I suppose those guys were all crazy old hermits too, just a few centuries earlier, with more gullible neighbors. So the fancy bridge with all the pointed arches and such seems to be the result of a misread of local history. Although I'm not sure how you'd design a bridge with a "crazy old hermit" theme. Most likely you'd need to find yourself a second crazy old hermit, someone with an engineering background and an obsessive drive to make primitive folk art. And then I don't think I'd trust the resulting bridge.

East End, St. Johns Bridge

So now we're really walking, finally. Getting onto the bridge is easy, if you're coming from the east side. Just get on the Philadelphia Ave. sidewalk and keep going. Coming from the west it's a different story. There's a sidewalk along the long, long ramp up to the bridge from Highway 30. It's so long it has its own name, "NW Bridge Avenue". But I'm not sure there's a sidewalk along Highway 30 to get to Bridge Avenue, since that's smack in the middle of industrial NW Portland. I suppose I ought to have tried that. It certainly would've been more of an "urban exploration" adventure that way. But since I didn't notice any sidewalks along Highway 30, for the life of me I have no idea how you'd pull this off. Even then, all you'd really be adding is a long walk uphill. Yay.

Shadows, St. Johns Bridge

There wasn't a superabundance of bikes or pedestrians the day I was there. There were a few, I think more than on the other bridges I've posted about. Mostly bikes, which makes sense. There isn't much of anything immediately on the west end of the bridge except the howling wilderness of Forest Park, so if you walked across, where would you go from there, exactly?

Some of the cyclists looked like they might be commuters heading downtown. If you live up in North Portland and need to get downtown by bike, the St. Johns is one of your few options for getting across the river. If that was my commute, I'd likely prefer to ride in on the eastside and cross on the Broadway, which has far fewer semis barreling across it. It's possible there's a downside to that route that I'm not aware of. I can see the St. Johns route being faster, if you survive. And at times when traffic isn't so heavy, it sounds like the ride can be a contemplative experience.

Another possible St. Johns bike commute doesn't involve heading downtown at all, and instead follows Germantown Road over the West Hills out to Beaverton. Seriously. I'm not making this up; I've heard of people doing this, although I've never met anyone who has. I'm not sure I want to, either. I'm certain they're all ten feet tall, eat nothing but raw shark meat, and routinely get speeding tickets on the uphill parts of this commute. If that describes you, or you kind of fancy the notion of it describing you, the St. Johns is pretty much your only option for getting across the river. Unless, I mean, you leap the river on your bike, Evel Knievel style. Or you take a deep breath and ride across the river bottom. Or you simply command the waters to part and let you pass. You get the idea.

N & J, St. Johns Bridge

Overall, it's a bit nicer than the Morrison or the Ross Island, pedestrian-wise. The sidewalk isn't any wider, and the traffic isn't much better, and it's a long walk, but there are far more "oooh, cooool..." moments as you walk along. That's got to count for something. The best spots to stop and take photos or just enjoy the view have got to be at the bridge towers; the sidewalk jogs out a bit, and actually goes right through the tower via a cool arched passageway.

View from St. Johns Bridge

Mt. Hood from St. Johns Bridge

View from St. Johns Bridge

The north & south sides of the bridge are basically the same, except for the view. The south side has a nice view of downtown, the Burlington Northern rail bridge, and Mt. Hood.

West End, St. Johns Bridge

The big question in my mind before I went was whether I could cross the street safely on the west side so I could cover both sides of the bridge. The answer to that is "yes", with a completely mundane and unscary crosswalk. It was kind of fun to press the crosswalk button and force a bunch of semis and dump trucks to stop for little old me. But not fun enough to do it twice.

Mt. St. Helens from St. Johns Bridge

Shadows, St. Johns Bridge

Shadows, St. Johns Bridge

Detail, St. Johns Bridge

The north side doesn't have as much of a river view looking downstream, unless you find the Toyota import terminal picturesque. But you can see Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, and a tiny bit of Mt. Ranier if it's not too hazy out. And there's the shadow of the bridge on the river, which is rather fascinating. If you're as easily fascinated as I am, I mean.

Dreamer, St. Johns Bridge

You can't really talk about bike and pedestrian access on the bridge without mentioning the 2005 renovation of the bridge. This fixed decades of neglect and disrepair, but did little to improve bike & pedestrian access. The bike folks were understandably peeved about that, with some expressing their frustration in, uh, creative ways.

Unlike most bridges in town, the bridge is operated by ODOT instead of Multnomah County, I guess because it carries Highway 30 and handles a lot of important port-related truck traffic. Considering how rarely the state gets around to maintaining its bridges, the fact that they stuck with the status quo for the most part is a long term missed opportunity. On the other hand, the bike/ped-friendly alternative proposals involved making room for bike lanes by restriping the bridge down from four traffic lanes to two. Which I think was a bit unrealistic, given the sort of traffic the bridge carries. But, you know, what else could you do? Unless you actually make the sidewalks wider, finding space on the bridge is a zero-sum game. I suppose you could cantilever the sidewalks out further, but that would be awfully expensive, and that kind of alteration might run into trouble due to the bridge's historic designation.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my notion of adding a walkway to the Burlington Northern railroad bridge just south of the St. Johns, similar to what was done with the Steel Bridge a few years ago. A Portland Tribune article mentions another option I hadn't considered. Apparently there's a proposal floating around out there to build another bridge further downstream, around the Terminal 4 / Rivergate area. It'd connect industrial areas on both sides of the river and might siphon off a lot of the truck traffic currently using the St. Johns. At that point, the two-lane option on the St. Johns might become a little more viable. Plus by law (I think) the new bridge would have to have bike lanes too, in the unlikely event it's on the way to anywhere any cyclists want to go. Price tag, a mere $150M. So I suppose we'll get right on it as soon as we've replaced the Interstate Bridge and built a new MAX bridge downtown, and done something about the Sellwood while we're at it.

On the general topic of bridge improvements, there's a group out there that wants to light the bridge at night. Ooh, neato. That would be beautiful. And expensive, probably.

Detail, St. Johns Bridge

Detail, St. Johns Bridge

Regarding the obligatory "not dying" theme, there are two primary ways you could die on the St. Johns. There's getting hit, and there's falling off, and falling off is pretty unlikely. Ok, falling off accidentally is pretty unlikely, unless there's a huge gust of wind (which is possible), or maybe if you swoon over all the fabulous Art Deco goodness. As for falling off deliberately, I understand the St. Johns is rather popular for that, but I'm not really in a position to offer any useful advice on the subject.

The hazards are the usual ones -- the sidewalks are narrow, and traffic zooms by just a few feet away. The St. Johns gets a lot of truck traffic of all sorts: Semis, double trailers, dump trucks, cement mixers, you name it, it's whizzing by at high speed, just a few feet away. Additionally, there are a few spots where the bridge gets bouncy when a truck goes by. Which isn't fun.

Oh, and the bridge is really high up. I don't get heights anxiety very often, but there were a couple of twinges of it while crossing the bridge. Heights alone won't do it; it has to be heights plus the lack of anything sufficiently solid to hold on to. Hence I don't call it "fear of heights" or "acrophobia". That sounds kind of wimpy. Let's just say I'm a huge fan of solid rock, metal, and so forth. That sounds a lot more manly. Or whatever. The point of all of this is that there's a reason there aren't a lot of photos pointing straight down from the bridge. That would require looking straight down from the bridge, and after the first couple of attempts I filed that under "Don't Wanna".

So with the normal hazards out of the way, it's time for paranormal ones. I don't usually go for that sort of thing, but it turns out there's a ghost story attached to Cathedral Park, directly under the bridge. I figured I'd pass it along to liven things up a bit. It's not really that great of a ghost story, all things considered. It'd just be a sad crime story, but for the ghostly postscript to it. I'd like the story a lot more if supernatural vengeance was exacted at some point. But hey, that's how the ghost story goes. I don't write the stuff. I report, you decide. Or whatever.

St. Johns Bridge

If you'd like to see other, and generally better, photos than mine. Obviously there are many, many, many more besides these, but here's a selection.

The bridge also shows up on magnets, art prints, and (as all real Portlanders already know) on Bridgeport beer labels. The last bit is a little odd actually; Bridgeport's located in the Pearl, near the almost-as-photogenic Fremont Bridge, and as far as I know they've never been located anywhere near the St. Johns, but they went with it anyway. Go figure.

Grass, St. Johns Bridge Repairs, St. Johns Bridge

This whole bridge series is kind of a silly idea, the more I think about it. Just a few days before my incredible St. Johns adventure, the bridge was part of the huge Portland Bridge Pedal, in which tens of thousands of people biked or walked across it and most of the other bridges around town. Which rather puts a damper on my usual shtick about how weird and unusual it is to walk across the bridge. I actually considered signing up for the non-pedaling version of the bridge pedal, for the unusual opportunity to walk across the Fremont & Marquam, presumably without dying, but I didn't get to it. As I've mentioned before, I'm not much of a joiner, really, and I don't usually go for big group activities like that. Plus it involves getting up wayyy too early on a Sunday morning, which is another thing I'm not real big on. So maybe next year, or not. Also, bridges are one of those things that old men get all obsessive about. It's right up there with railroads and World War II, on the geez-o-dork-o-meter. Not being an oldster, or even a middle-agedster quite yet, I feel rather foolish undertaking a project of this sort. If you ever catch me getting all misty-eyed about steam engines, or WWII bombers, or ships in bottles, just go ahead and slap me silly. Just do it. You don't even have to warn me first, just freakin' slap away. It might help to explain yourself afterward, just to make sure I've gotten the point. It's not even a very ambitious project, quite honestly. It's not like I've taken up ultramarathoning, or I'm learning a new language, or we're moving to Portugal to take up cork farming. It's just something I blundered into to amuse myself in my non-copious free time, I guess. At least it's a self-limiting project. Unless I do the Bridge Pedal thing next year, with this post I've covered all the "interesting" Willamette River bridges in the greater Portland area. It's possible one or more of the remaining downtown bridges might become "interesting" later on. But I think I'm going to go ahead and declare Mission Accomplished on this baby regardless. I'm still not sure if I'm interested in Columbia River bridges, although there's only two of those. And there's also bridges over smaller rivers in the area, like the Clackamas, the Sandy, or the Tualatin. I've already got a photoset for one of those, but it was on my way back from the Oregon City Bridge, so I'm not sure that counts. So two cheers for Mission Accomplished! Yay! Or whatever.

wtf, is that a holga?

wtf, is that a holga?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How to walk the Oregon City Bridge and not die (*hack* *cough* *gag*)

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Today's installment of this humble blog's ongoing bridge series takes us south, to the Oregon City Bridge, which crosses the Willamette River down in, uh, Oregon City. It's a bit far afield for this project of mine, but it looked interesting and not excessively unsafe, so I thought I'd go check it out. It's outside my usual haunts and I'd only ever driven over it once or twice, and I thought it might be good for a few photos.

Oregon City Bridge

Oregon City Bridge

Oregon City Bridge

The bridge is pretty, but it's in terrible shape. To my untrained eye, at least, it looks like it's worse off than the Sellwood. I do realize the big trouble with the Sellwood is stuff you can't see easily, but it sure looks like the Oregon City Bridge is in a bad way. There are cracks all over the place, and places where the concrete's fallen away, sometimes exposing the bare metal skeleton underneath.

Oregon City Bridge

Oregon City Bridge

Updated: As a user comment below points out, ODOT already has a repair project in the works, scheduled for early 2009. Yay! So when I gripe about the current state of disrepair in the rest of this post and complain nobody's doing anything, just ignore that part, ok? Thx. Mgmt.

Oregon City Bridge

I wouldn't care so much if this was just another anonymous concrete girder bridge, but this is one of the state's collection of Conde McCullough bridges. There's a lot of those out there, but I think this may be the only one in the Portland area. I could easily be wrong about that. It's an unusual example in that the bridge deck is angled a bit, because the West Linn bank is higher than the Oregon City side. It's not as obvious in my photos as I hoped it would be. I think you may get a better view of that if you go uphill on the Oregon City side, but I didn't do that. Sorry.

Oregon City Bridge

Oregon City Bridge

Also, a couple of commenters below sort of get on my case for not recounting the long and illustrious history of Oregon City. I'd just like to point out that's intentional, as this post is just about the bridge, hence the title. Also the text and photos. I mean, there already are -- or were -- multiple museums devoted exclusively to that subject. So it's been covered already. And honestly I've never found pioneer history all that compelling. If you really wanted me to write about it, I would feel obligated to make up exciting new facts to make the story more interesting. I'd tell readers about how Oregon City lost the state capitol to Salem due to their rabid Confederate sympathies, a talent for picking the wrong side that persists to the present day, hence the big gold Saddam Hussein statue at the corner of Avenida Manuel Noriega and Kaiser-Wilhelm-Straße. I'd even let people in on the city's dark secrets. For example, the townsfolk used to offer human sacrifices every full moon to appease the great foul kraken that lived beneath Willamette Falls. In fact this practice continued up to the early 1970s, when Governor Tom McCall personally captured the kraken with his bare hands and sent it back to California (where it quickly found a job as a record industry lawyer). Because it just isn't a proper Oregon myth unless Tom McCall shows up at some point. Anyway, you probably see where I'm going with this: Do you really, seriously, want me creating the internet's official record of Oregon City history? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Oregon City Bridge

Oregon City Bridge

Anyway, another unusual detail about the bridge is that it was designed with public restrooms built into the bridge piers, supposedly. While walking across, you'll come across a couple of wider areas with spiky art deco bits standing up. These were, supposedly, the locations of stairs down to the restrooms. And if you look closely at the bridge from the side, just beneath the bridge deck you can see what look like (and supposedly are) balconies. Balconies! I keep saying "supposedly" because it's such a bizarre idea. I mean, restrooms in the middle of a bridge? Who would dream this up? And who would use it, if someone dreamed it up? And yet, there's a certain appeal to answering nature's call while enjoying a grand view of Willamette Falls and the river. Too bad, then, that the restrooms were closed due to vandalism, way back in 1937. Or so says Wikipedia. I'm still not sure I believe a word of it.

Oregon City Bridge

The bridge has all the standard bike/pedestrian hazards. Not enough sidewalk, and too much traffic, going too fast. The bridge is on the narrow side, but this time vehicles bear the brunt of the narrowness. Parts of the bridge are scraped and battered from vehicle collisions over the years. I saw at least one pile of recent debris that looked as if someone had lost a side mirror by banging it against a bridge girder. Driving it in a sensible midsize sedan wasn't so bad, at least. But there wasn't a lot of oncoming traffic at the time, so maybe I was just lucky.

Oregon City from the bridge

There's an additional, somewhat exotic hazard to worry about here on top of the standard ones. Wikipedia asserts that the concrete used in the bridge is something called "gunite", which was chosen specifically to resist corrosion due to sulfur dioxide from the nearby paper mills. Ah, the sulfur dioxide. Which brings us to the "not dying" part of this post.

Outflow, Oregon City

If you've ever been to Yellowstone, or to any hot springs up in the Cascades, you'll instantly recognize the scent of sulfur dioxide. But this time it's a byproduct of making newsprint, not some kind of allegedly-health-giving natural mud concotion. So you've got no reason now to pretend to like it. There is one big advantage here, compared to hot springs in the Cascades, in that there are far fewer unattractive naked people. Which is something, definitely. The really bad thing about sulfur dioxide isn't the smell, though; it's that it forms sulfuric acid when it reacts with water, and there's a lot of water here. Eeeww. Gross.

The whole undertaking was a little gross, come to think of it. The air smelled really bad, something unidentifiable and foamy was flowing into the river just upstream of the bridge, and the bridge itself was practically rusting and dissolving away before my eyes. Ick! When I got back to my car and drove off, the back of my throat was still burning a little just from breathing the air. So I do think I've semi-legitimately covered the "not dying" angle this time around.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those snobby people who hate all things industrial and can't wait for those icky jobs to leave for China. That's crazy, and I don't see how you can expect to have a viable economy based on everyone making lattes for each other. The paper mills at Oregon City aren't pretty, but if you read the Oregonian, this is where your newsprint comes from. Basically I just didn't like the smell, or the subsequent tingling, burning sensation. I can't even imagine what it must've been like before modern Clean Air laws.

But if you ignore all that stuff, the bridge itself sure is pretty. There's no denying that. And a bit surprisingly, the businesses around either end of the bridge aren't notably sleazy, unlike the Sellwood & the Ross Island. So there's that.

Oregon City Bridge

Walking across the bridge? Oh, there's not much to that. Just park somewhere close if you need to, and walk across. There's no crosswalk immediately on the West Linn side, but if you feel like turning around, jogging across when there's no traffic is feasible, or at least it was when I was there. The heavy-duty bridge pillars stand between you and traffic, so it's really not all that scary. Relatively speaking, at least, compared to some of the other bridges out there. A bit stinky, yes, but not too scary.

Oregon City Elevator

If you park on the Oregon City side of the bridge, note that downtown OC has parking meters. Not the fancy green European boxes like we have in Portland, no, these are the real deal, old-sk00l parking meters. Ok, they're digital, and you don't have to turn a crank when you put the money in. But other than that, they're totally old-sk00l.

Also, there's the municipal elevator, just blocks from the bridge. I could've made it a twofer and checked out the elevator too, but I had other priorities. I've been on the elevator before, way back in my Cub Scout days. I remember back then there was this weird old guy operating the elevator, and it creeped me out a little even then. It creeps me out even more looking back on it.

Apart from the goofy 50's elevator, Oregon City looks pretty much like your classic, prototypical blue collar town. It's blue collar with a Portland-area twist: There's a homebrew supply shop right next to the bridge, and while I was walking around town I was passed by a Prius with the windows down, blaring country music. Seriously. The whole place is too perfect -- if Oregon City didn't exist, Hollywood would have to invent it. Maybe I'm just one of those dreaded Portland creative types, but when I look around, I see plotlines everywhere. Well, cliches, mostly, but that's about the same thing. Picture our hero, a fresh-faced all-American working class kid here in Oregon City. Daddy works at the paper mill, just like his daddy did, and his grandpa before that. Mama works long hours down at the diner. Our hero knows this will be his life too, but he wants out. If only he could land that football scholarship to State U. Then he meets our heroine, a rich girl from across the river in ritzy West Linn, home to the rich kids' school -- which is, coincidentally, the football archrival of our hero's school. Her daddy's a plastic surgeon, his trophy wife is a former spokesmodel, and they're usually away at the vacation home in Palm Springs. Our young protagonists quickly fall in love, but it's a problem, because he's from the wrong side of the tracks, the tracks in this case being a river. Cue outraged parents on both sides. Cue friends and teammates who all feel terribly betrayed. The bridge is our young lovers' special place, and several touching scenes are filmed there. The standard plot twists ensue, and there could very well be a climactic football game, as there often is. Our hero nails that scholarship, and finally makes daddy proud, for the first time ever. And then, it turns out that our heroine's going to State U. as well. Possibly her father's had a reversal of fortune, or the school has the #1 program in the nation for some obscure academic specialty she's interested in. Or she's merely giving up her own dreams to be with our hero. Something along those lines, anyway. Just so everyone lives happily ever after. Cue the credits.

Ok, it's not a very original plot. Successful movie plots never are. If it got greenlighted, I'd want to film on location (unless Vancouver BC made me a really great offer). To film on location, the bridge would need to be gussied up a little. Maybe ODOT could do it, since they're responsible for the bridge, at least in theory. Or if not ODOT, maybe the studio. Chances are the studio has more money anyway. So, ok, it's a longshot. If you have a better suggestion on how to get this poor little bridge repaired, feel free to chime in.

Friday, August 22, 2008

George Himes Park expedition

Today's brief before-work adventure takes us out to George Himes Park, just south of downtown Portland in the Corbett/Terwilliger area.

George Himes Park is another of your basic West Hills nature parks, a forested ravine with a network of trails. We don't have a shortage of those here. See for example: Marquam Nature Park, Macleay Park, Marshall Park, parts of Forest Park & Washington Park, and probably others that don't come to mind immediately. The park isn't huge, just around 35 acres.

Maple & Moss, George Himes Park

The location's a little unusual, which is what attracted my attention to the place. It's bounded on the uphill side by Terwilliger and Capitol Highway, and on the downhill side it bumps up against the Corbett neighborhood at SW Iowa St. If you've ever stared at a map of the area and wondered why Capitol Highway doesn't connect to I-5 or run through to the Corbett area, the answer rapidly becomes clear once you visit the park. It's just too damn steep to run a road through here. Not a safe road, anyway. At a couple of spots, the main trail turns into stairs. Rustic stairs made with old railroad ties, I suppose because the ravine's too narrow to put in switchbacks. So the trail isn't exactly ADA-compliant or bike-friendly, but I kind of like it anyway.

The main trail through the park is a segment in Portland's numerically-challenged "40 Mile Loop", so the park serves as a thru-corridor as well as a destination in itself. The park's just one link in a longer hike on this page at ExplorePDX. There's a similar loop hike in Portland Hill Walks (highly recommended, btw). The park also shows up in a post at "I'd Rather Be Running". And (less seriously) the park has a cameo in some sort of treasure hunt from a while back.

I wasn't feeling all that ambitious this morning, and more to the point I simply didn't have time for a longer hike. So I just parked at the Iowa St. entrance, took the trail up to the picnic area at Terwilliger & Nebraska, and looped back down to where I started. Then I got in my car and headed off for my first meeting of the day, lucky me.

Mt. Hood from George Himes Park

The general steepness of the park does have an upside. There's a nice view over the Corbett area from the bottom end of the park (top photo), and up top there's a nice view of Mt. Hood from Nebraska St. near the intersection with Terwilliger.

Some unusual or interesting aspects of the place:

  • Bridges. Well, viaducts. Or bridges. Technically, we're told, a viaduct is a bridge that doesn't cross over water, for whatever that's worth. If you read this humble blog regularly, you know that I can do pedantic with the best of 'em, but even I think this is a silly distinction. Besides, there is water here. It's just that some misguided(?) engineers channeled it into an underground pipe a few decades ago. That's nothing at all, in geological time.

  • So both Interstate 5 and Barbur Blvd. pass through the park on high "viaducts". As it turns out, the trail through the park is one of the few ways to cross this dual road barrier on foot, as the trail passes right under both viaducts, and gives you a good look at both.
    I-5 crosses the ravine on the "Iowa St. Viaduct", which is just your basic big generic grey concrete slab supported by grey concrete pillars, nothing too special. Or too durable, as it turns out. It seems the current I-5 viaduct is at the end of its useful life, and is scheduled to be replaced some time next year. The replacement work will close the trail through the park for up to a year. Not everyone's thrilled about this. I gather the trail is actually part of some people's daily commute, believe it or not. In any case, if you want to check out the trail through the park, it's best to go do it now before the viaduct construction starts up.
    The Barbur viaduct is much more interesting. It's older than its I-5 sibling so instead of a concrete slab it's a large and rather fascinating wood(!) lattice structure. Yes, wood. Now there's something to think about next time you drive along Barbur... And yet it's the "modern" concrete structure that needs replacing. Go figure.
    Barbur Viaduct, George Himes Park
  • I've seen a few mentions of a "Newbury Street Viaduct", which carries Barbur, and runs through George Himes Park, and looks a lot like the viaduct shown here. But I'm not 100% sure it's the same one, as it looks like there's a similar viaduct just south of this one. And I've never heard of a Newbury Street around here, and I don't see one on the map, and PortlandMaps indicates it's never heard of Newbury St. anywhere in town. So the name doesn't help narrow it down much. The one further south might be the "Vermont Street Viaduct".

Barbur Viaduct, George Himes Park

Moon, Barbur Viaduct, George Himes Park

The Iowa St. entrance actually passes through someone's driveway. To get into the park you have to walk between two cars. Seriously. It feels weird to do that, although I understand it's common practice in Europe. Which I suppose makes it sophisticated. Fancy, even.

Iowa St. Entrance, George Himes Park

As with a number of the other parks in the West Hills, the ravine's stream has been diverted underground. I suppose maybe this is good for flood control, but it just seems wrong to me to not have a stream flowing on the surface.

Maple Alert, George Himes Park

You'll be either amused or annoyed that back in 2004, the state department of Fish & Wildlife dropped by to count chub and other native fish in the stream. Their official report on Portland-area streams indicates they didn't find any here. Not what I'd call surprising.

Maples, George Himes Park

Like most of the city's official "Natural Areas", the park is pretty much a gallery of invasive plant species. English ivy, Himalayan blackberries, and unusually, Norwegian Maples. It seems that a few of these nonnative maples were planted along Terwilliger as a decorative part of the Olmsteads' parkway design. Before long the maple trees started producing maple seeds, and began an all-out helicopter assault on the park. So now they're bringing in neighborhood volunteers to root out the invading maple spawn. So far, offenders have been marked for removal with prison-orange tape. Note that the doomed maples are surrounded by a thick carpet of invasive English ivy. Maybe that gets removed next, if they have really ambitious volunteers. If you just went, "Ambitious volunteers? Hey, that's me!", there's more info on the ongoing restoration effort here.

Maple Seeds, George Himes Park

An account of an innovative trail maintenance project at ExplorePDX.

A couple of other pictures I took that I liked. The place is full of spiders, and before long it'll be full of blackberries. Invasive blackberries, but hey.

Spider, George Himes Park

Blackberries, George Himes Park