Sunday, November 22, 2020

Little Multnomah Falls

Somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade, my parents decided my younger siblings and I were old enough to try the hike all the way to the top of Multnomah Falls without endangering ourselves, each other, or anyone else, and probably no more than one of us would need to be carried at a time. I was thrilled. Until then we only ever went as far as the Benson Bridge and over to the the base of the upper falls (which has been closed since a major rockslide in 1995). From there I'd seen people waving from the very top, and asked repeatedly if we could go the rest of the way, and had been told maybe when we were older. So when the time finally came, I was not the one who needed carrying. I have a vague memory of having to wait repeatedly for everyone else to catch up.

After this long adventure and what seemed like endless switchbacks, we finally got to the sketchy little wood platform at the top. The view was amazing, of course, and I successfully picked out our car in the parking lot far below from all the other enormous 1970s sedans. The thing that really struck me the most, though, was that right behind you, just upstream from the main waterfall, was another small one maybe 15'-20' high that you couldn't see from down below, and that none of the maps or signs had mentioned. Afterward, I excitedly told everyone I knew about this amazing new discovery -- teachers, other kids at school, neighbors, librarians, relatives from out of town, probably strangers at the mall -- and was a little surprised by how few people seemed to care about secret waterfalls, or were willing to play along, or got the same uncomprehending expression they did when I was excitedly reeling off important facts about outer space or sharks or dinosaurs. I was kind of a weird kid, in retrospect. You may have already suspected that was the case, and that's fine.

(I also wanted to keep going on the trail after that and see where it went, but couldn't convince my parents to go any further or let me run on ahead unattended. Which puzzled me at the time, as I'd had this hilarious notion that grownups never get tired. Please note that your humble correspondent is is typing this while facing yet another birthday ending in a zero in a few weeks.)

Skipping forward to roughly the present day, it occurred to me that I had a decent pile of photos of all the waterfalls along the Larch Mountain Trail and the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, taken on enough occasions that I've lost track. So I thought it might be interesting to do a separate blog post for each of them, each with my usual hodgepodge of fun(?) facts, historical tidbits, unsolicited opinions, and whatnot. Partly because doing that research is fun in itself, and partly so the ginormous KML map for this humble blog will have an accurate placemark for each of them, once I get around to updating it again. And partly so I could get some additional mileage out of existing photos instead of having to go out and take fresh ones during a cold rainy fall/winter/spring. Or, as it turns out, those conditions plus an ongoing deadly global pandemic.

For what it's worth, an early draft of this post insisted it was an ironclad rule here that every waterfall gets its own post, because placemarks, but then I went looking for examples and realized I've only actually done mini-projects like this a couple of other times. Silver Falls, McDowell Creek, the Lewis River, probably a few others that don't come to mind immediately. I was going to say Latourell Creek too, since I've done the Lower and Upper falls there, but Google Maps recently added a "Clara Falls" between the two that I know nothing about, so I'm not sure what's going on there. There aren't any other search results about it on the net, so far as I know it's possible someone who knows how to add things to Google Maps went ahead and added it. Might be named after the person doing the naming, or a family member, a pet, maybe a minor Disney character, who knows.

On diving into this little project, I was surprised to realize that depending on which source you consulted and when, there are anywhere between one and five waterfalls on Multnomah Creek upstream of Multnomah Falls. In (literally) ascending order, the full list of five is:

  1. Little Multnomah Falls, the subject of the current post
  2. Dutchman Falls
  3. Wiesendanger Falls
  4. Ecola Falls
  5. a small, seemingly-unnamed one upstream of Ecola & before the Wahkeena Trail junction

Up until the late 1990s, Wiesendanger and Ecola were often lumped together as two parts of a single waterfall, so the count was either one or two depending on whether then-unnamed Dutchman was worth counting. The current consensus is that the middle three on the list count and the others don't. Of the remaining two, one (this one) is a sentimental favorite, and the other is a spot I've stopped and taken photos of on at least three separate occasions without realizing at first that it was the same place each time, and I've found a few photos of it from other people, so it feels like that requires some sort of followup.

The issue with Little Multnomah Falls is a pedantic one, of the lumping vs. splitting variety. As in, is it lumped in as part of Multnomah Falls, or split off as a separate waterfall? On one hand the experts agree that there's no such thing as "Little Multnomah Falls" and this is just the tiny uppermost tier of Multnomah Falls. Which, sure, it's right there behind the Multnomah Falls viewpoint. On the other hand, the stats you normally see for Multnomah Falls say two tiers, with the height of the two adding up to the overall height, which is either the traditional 620', or the 611' they settled on a few years ago after measuring again. The only exception being Waterfalls Northwest which says 3 drops and a total height of 635', but I haven't seen anyone else use those numbers. So on one hand it's too close to count as separate, but it also isn't being counted as part of Multnomah Falls. So that's kind of a puzzle, if you care about this sort of thing.

Incidentally, there's a whole separate argument about whether Multnomah Falls is even the tallest in Oregon, with or without the little extra bit at the top. The linked Salem Statesman-Journal article lists several promising candidates, all in remote corners of the Cascades and the Wallowas.

To wander even further off topic for a moment, another article linked from that one ponders what (if anything) to do with the newly designated Devil's Staircase Wilderness, along the Umpqua River as it passes through the southern Coast Range. Apparently this 30,000 acre area has never been logged, has no trails, and just one former Forest Service road that was built and then quickly abandoned many years ago. So it stayed a blank spot on the map that nobody paid any attention to, and some people want to keep it that way, while others think it could use at least a trail or two, possibly to access the area's namesake waterfall.

Meanwhile an Oregonian article points out that the oft-repeated claim about Multnomah being the 2nd tallest in the USA is not even remotely true, just like Forest Park isn't the biggest city park on the planet, and Mt. Tabor isn't the world's only volcano within city limits, or even the only one within Portland city limits. We did have the largest US flag and flagpole for a while, but Portland lost interest in that arms race decades ago. Mill Ends may still be the smallest park, as we've attracted surprisingly few competitors for that particular crown. If someone did get the idea to fight us for those tiny honors, I imagine we could persuade Intel to make us a new microscopic one, say 10x10 nanometers. Which is great until the city of Taipei convinces TSMC to make them a 7x7 nanometer city park and Intel can't catch up. But I digress.

This is usually the point where I dive into the local library's archives of The Oregonian, stretching back to the 1850s, but that was spectacularly unhelpful this time around. I can tell you the name "Little Multnomah Falls" has never appeared in the local paper in all this time, and there are too many references to the viewpoint for me to wade through. So instead I've got one of those "Links from Around the Interwebs" things, where I apply my l33t search engine ski11z and throw together a big lightly-curated list of stuff that came up. So here's what I've got this time around:

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Flipping off Mar-a-Lago

Ok, here are a few photos I took back in August 2018 and saved for a special occasion that turned out to be today. I was in Florida to watch the Parker Solar Probe launch and had some free time afterward before I had to fly home, so I figured I'd go wander around Miami and the Everglades for a few days since I'd never been there before. (And, um, I'm bound to finish those blog posts eventually, but that's a whole separate issue.) On the way back, I made a little side trip out to Palm Beach to indulge one of my more petty hobbies, flipping off properties that belong to a certain soon-to-be ex-President. I have only actually done this twice (because it's a silly hobby and I'm not going to invest a lot of time or gas money into it): First for his ugly Waikiki hotel, and then this set of photos for Mar-a-Lago, his infamous private club near the beach.

Taking these wasn't eventful at all; I just sort of rolled by, took my photos without stopping, and continued on my way back to Orlando. I can't say it was a highlight of the trip as a whole, but it broke up the monotony of the drive, and it was mildly fascinating to see it in person. It's hard to explain, but as tacky as the place looks here, it's somehow even more tacky in person. In particular, the famous tower on top looks like one of the decorative faux-Spanish towers at a thousand California minimalls, maybe a bit toward the upscale end. It also felt weirdly menacing; it's tough to disentangle the building and its owner, of course, but looking at it it's easy to imagine that really bad things have happened there, and other bad things have been planned there, and that this badness is ongoing, maybe escalating. Honestly the whole surrounding area felt that way, as if his personality had bled into the soil like a leaky septic tank.

One weird detail about the place is that before Trump owned it, it spent a number of years as the most useless and expensive white elephant in the US national park system, deemed unusable as a presidential retreat or as a museum open to the general public, but with exorbitant maintenance costs anyway. They were happy to be rid of it -- which almost never happens -- and almost certainly won't want it back once Trump is done with it. So while it's bound to remain a pilgrimage spot for the world's nazis and braying dipshits, at least it won't happen at taxpayer expense. And given the local geography they'll need scuba gear to visit within a few more decades. Maybe at that point any part of the tower that isn't underwater could be repurposed as a sort of monument to climate denial, I dunno.

Anyway, good riddance.