Sunday, May 15, 2022

Dougan Creek Falls

Next up we've got a few photos of Dougan Creek Falls, a small waterfall a short walk from Dougan Falls, which we just visited in the previous post. Dougan Falls is on the Washougal River, about an hour's drive NE from Portland; Dougan Creek flows into the river just downstream of there; and Dougan Creek Falls is on the creek a short distance upstream from that confluence, if that makes sense. Or you could just go to the other post and look at the embedded map there. I mentioned this waterfall briefly in the Dougan Falls post, saying it's not worth driving an hour to see on its own merits, but if you're visiting the main falls anyway you might as well go have a look. So here we are, visiting it in a separate post, because I decided that was a rule here at one point a long time ago. Was I really that worried about running out of material? I don't remember why anymore, but changing the rule now would lead to things being inconsistent, which would bug me.

Only some of these photos are of the actual falls. Others are of the fast-flowing stretch of creek between there and the Washougal River, which is pretty photogenic too, with a few drops almost as tall as the 'real' waterfall. Though some of those are over very large logs, and waterfall pedants are in furious agreement that water flowing over a log doesnt count as a real waterfall no matter how big the log is. There's also a stretch where the creek slides over some bare rock at a low angle, and I gather there's a debate about what the minimum angle the drop has to be before it counts. And what all this really boils down to is that I wasn't sure what Dougan Creek Falls was supposed to look like going into this, so I took lots of photos of the whitewater parts just in case any of them turned out to be the thing I was there to see.

I was going to work in an analogy about this being the "B side" attraction, or the B movie on a double bill, before remembering that very few people under 50, or 40 tops, have any idea what those things even are. A more recent analogy might be, well, just about everything on basic cable for the last couple of decades. But I'm not sure anyone under 40 watches a lot of basic cable these days and likely never did. Ok, so in modern video game terms this is a side quest that pads out your total play time by a bit (so it feels more like you got your money's worth) but doesn't contribute to the main thrust of the game. I think that gets roughly the same idea across. Though I was never much of a gamer, to be honest.

Dougan Falls

Next up we've got some photos from Dougan Falls on the Washougal River, around 6 miles upstream (and up the road) from Salmon Falls, which we just visited in a recent post. This one is supposedly just 19 feet high, or 30 feet if you count a couple of smaller drops just downstream of it, but it's around a hundred feet wide, so it looks really impressive. I added the supposedly because it looks taller than that to me, but I'm also really bad at guessing heights of things, so I'm probably wrong here. It just feels like it ought to be taller than that, I dunno.

The pleasant fall day when I took these photos just happened to be Halloween, and Dougan Falls seemed to be a stop on someone's scavenger hunt for the occasion. I didn't ask anyone to explain since they all seemed to be in a big hurry, but I gather the goal of this stop was to take a group photo of your team having a picnic at the falls, optionally in costume. Every so often a car would pull up, people would spill out, lay out a blanket or set up a card table, take a few photos, pack everything back up, and head back the way they came. One group in formalwear had time for a cigarette break and a glass of bubbly or maybe cider, but overall I got the sense there may have been a few too many stops on the day's itinerary. Hopefully there was a fun party afterward that made it all worthwhile.

Unlike Salmon Falls, where your presence is distinctly unwelcome, here there's a whole day-use area with picnic tables, room for parking, and official access to the river. The area around the falls belongs to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, specifically their Yacolt Burn State Forest, which we last visited while checking out waterfalls along the Lewis River (further north of here) back in 2011. As the name suggests, this whole area ended up as state-owned land after the half-million acre Yacolt Burn back in 1902. A forest service map of the area (mostly covering their Gifford Pinchot National Forest) mentions that the adjacent campground and picnic area are operated by Skamania County rather than the state. Chapter 8.60 of their county code declares the area between Dougan Falls and the fish hatchery downstream a "Recreation Safety Corridor", and the rest of the chapter lists all the things you aren't allowed to do within said Safety Corridor: No drinkin', no shootin', no fireworks, no unauthorized camping or campfires, and a catch-all prohibition of "any activity including stopping or standing from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise (day use only)". Which is probably just official-ese for making the day-use areas day-use only, but the phrasing is kind of weird, like maybe the "stopping or standing" bit was added to close a loophole after someone with a good lawyer weaseled out of a ticket.

The reason for all these rules (as well as the campground and other facilities) is that the falls are a popular local swimming hole, and have been for as long as anyone remembers. And although the location feels pretty remote, it's still close enough to Portland to attract city people too. It made the Portland Mercury's 2014 list of summer swimmin' holes, which is a thing they put together for a big summer issue every few years. A 2013 Willamette Week article also mentions it & the rest of the river briefly, as a summer water activity for the whole family. (Most of the article concerns windsurfing in Hood River, so you'll have to scroll down a bit.) It also has largely positive Yelp reviews. A Youtube search on "Dougan Falls" and "diving" returns the usual stuff you'd expect, but also several clips of some people scuba diving below the main falls, as the river forms a surprisingly deep pool there. There are no coral reefs to explore here, and no need to ward off sharks or Bond henchmen with a speargun, but if you just want to go hang out with some trout (or chill with the salmon, in season), this is apparently a great place to do that.

Obviously there's more to do here than swim. There's waterfall hunting, obviously, which is how I first heard of this place. There's not much of anywhere to hike to from here, but I did come across one OregonHikers thread about it, I suppose because the "hiker" and "waterfall photo fan" Venn diagram overlaps by a lot. A short stroll across the day-use area does get you to nearby Dougan Creek Falls, a smaller and less impressive waterfall on the eponymous creek, a Washougal River tributary. That waterfall is not really worth visiting on its own merits, but it's so close by that you might as well pop over for a look if you're in the area anyway. But that's a separate blog post, which you'll see here as soon as I'm done with it, whenever that turns out to be.

If swimming around below the falls and leaping from the top seem too tame, you can always go over the falls in a boat. A page at American Whitewater describes the segment of the river ending at Dougan Falls, starting several miles upstream, which goes over enough waterfalls on the way down that it's come to be known as "the Waterfall Run". An Oregon Kayaking page describes the various challenges in more detail, if you're curious, or you could just watch these two videos of kayakers doing the Waterfall Run, and one of some rafters having a moderately bad day at Dougan Falls.

I was there well outside of peak outdoor fun season and didn't see anyone running the falls that day, and (other than scavenger hunters) most of the other people I saw were on motorcycles. It turns out this is a popular thing. I think I mentioned in the Salmon Falls post that the drive along Washougal River Road is ridiculously scenic. Motorcycle Roads Northwest recommends it as one of the best roads in Clark County, and a forum thread on another site has people going on about how much fun it is. Both mention turning around here, because the roads past Dougan Falls are all gravel. Motorcycles are not a subject I know anything at all about, but the sheer volume of tutorials and forum threads and such about how to ride on gravel tell me it's an acquired advanced skill, along the lines of driving a car on snow. For drivers of the four-wheeled persuasion, the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce recommends the road as a scenic drive, though their directions have you arrive at Dougan Falls the back way, via one of those gravel roads, and then turn off at Salmon Falls Road and head down to SR-14. Which skips a lot of the best scenery, but at least the route doesn't leave Skamania County at any point, which is the main thing, of course.

Dougan Falls also gets a quick mention in the 2015 book Gold Panning the Pacific Northwest, as the downstream end of the stretch of river where it's worth looking. The books says the very best spot along the Washougal River is much further upstream, at the mouth of -- wait for it -- Prospector Creek. Because early pioneers around here were so unimaginative that they literally gave away the spot where the gold was just because they couldn't think of anything else to call it. The book refers the reader to a 1977 Washington Dept. of Natural Resources circular, St. Helens and Washougal Mining Districts of the Southern Cascades of Washington for more info, and notes that the abandoned gold mines around the area are notoriously hard to find and usually concealed by vegetation. Which led me to a website called Mindat (as in "mined at", I think), and its map of said Washougal Mining District, and a page with photos of the district's long-abandoned "Last Chance Mine". Which I am not going anywhere near, because of a rather memorable safety lecture we got back in Cub Scouts about not going anywhere near abandoned mines. Which, unrelatedly, was right around the same time my parents decided that gold panning might be a fun outdoor activity for the whole family. It wasn't, unfortunately, as it involves a lot of uncomfortable squatting in the hot sun, swirling a pan of sand or mud around, finding nothing, and repeating this for hours on end. Or at least it seemed like hours on end; it may have been more like 20 minutes, exactly once, though the still-almost-brand-new gold pans sort of lingered around the house for years afterward. If I remember right, someone finally bought them when we had a garage sale years later, probably thinking they'd just stumbled across a new fun activity for their whole family.

If your personal hobbies lean more toward complaining about things on the internet, which -- let's be honest -- is true for quite a lot of people, you're also in luck. You might have noticed a few houses right at the falls, and more along the road just before you get there. Turns out there's a whole subdivision lurking in the forest just downstream of the falls, behind the houses you can see from the road. I'm not sure what the total population nearby is since it doesn't seem to count as an unincorporated community or even a census-designated place, but it does qualify as an official Nextdoor 'neighborhood'. So all you need to do is buy a house here so you can join that corner of Nextdoor, and then you can complain to your heart's content about kids these days, tourists, outsiders, newcomers, Californians, the government (federal, state, and county), and all of the other usual suspects. At least I assume that's what the Nextdoor group is for, going by what I've heard about all other Nextdoor groups. I don't imagine there's a lot of other breaking news happening around the greater Dougan Falls metro area, at any rate.

Downstream of the subdivision is the Kiwanis Club's Camp Wa-Ri-Ki, which until 1973 was the Washougal Honor Camp, a minimum-security work camp belonging to the state prison system. Inmates were kept busy fighting forest fires, planting trees, building logging roads, and so forth. The library's newspaper database has a few news items about the place, which may hint at why it closed after just over a decade in operation. It opened in August 1960, and had its first of many escapes a couple of weeks later. This was followed by escapes in 1961, 1965 (this time robbing a motel before being recaptured), 1966, 1967, June and July 1969 (possibly leading to awkward conversations years later, when asked what they were doing during the moon landing), and 1970. Things quieted down after the change in ownership and most mentions of the camp afterward were in connection with an annual craft fair. And that's about all the news there was about Dougan Falls and vicinity (at least in Portland newspapers) up until 2017 when it figured in a lurid Portland homicide case. It seems the killer dumped the body at the falls instead of a genuinely remote location because going any further would have involved driving on gravel, and that led rather directly to his getting caught. Legal wants me to put a disclaimer here to the effect that this is not meant as helpful advice on being better at crime, and should not be construed as such, as this is not that kind of website. And with that I'm going to do an abrupt & awkward transition to a different topic, because a.) I didn't want to end the post on a down note, and b.) avoiding that fairly recent news as if it didn't happen doesn't sit quite right either. So, switching gears in 3... 2... 1...

Um, anyway, one thing I've always liked to do here on this humble blog is link to other people's pages about the same place or thing I'm writing about. At first it was just to share other perspectives or images that I thought were interesting, which occasionally resulted in them linking back to me, incidentally boosting both of our search engine ranks in the process. But that doesn't really work anymore, plus now there's an important principle at stake. In 2022 it feels like a real achievement -- when writing a post like this -- to wade through a few dozen pages of search results, picking out the few that were created by actual human beings and aren't auto-generated junk created by an algorithm at some sketchy content farm. For some search categories it's already too late; search on the name of a street, any street, and you'll have to wade through real estate listings for every possible address on that street and others in the surrounding area, from several competing spammers, before you'll see a single result about anything else. Doesn't matter if a given property hasn't been on the market since before the internet existed; the top search result for it has already been claimed and is defended zealously. A few years ago the hot thing was to take the (freely available) US Board on Geographic Names database and do things like generate a "hunting and fishing report" page for every named body of water in the country, naturally including heavily polluted rivers in industrial Southside Chicago. Oh, and one for Dougan Falls even though the whole river upstream of Salmon Falls is a strict no-fishing zone. There are real estate listings, Yelp results, and more claiming to be for Bayocean, Oregon, even though the entire town fell into the ocean way back in the mid-20th century.

The auto-generated junk isn't always as obvious as the ones above, either; for a Dougan Falls example, let me point you at a couple of pages at and Narcity. Both are kind of clickbaity and are padded out by embedding other people's photos a la Buzzfeed. If I had to guess, my guess would be that the first was written by a live human and the second, unbylined one is by an AI, but I can't quite put my finger on why I think so, and I could easily be wrong on both counts. So yeah, realistically I don't actually think linking from one site way down on the tenth page of search results to another on the fifth or twentieth page is going to turn back the tide of garbage, but it still feels like it's worth doing. It's sort of a John Henry vs Skynet thing, if I can mix metaphors a bit.

Long story short, here's what I've got this time around:

Sunday, May 08, 2022

SE 6th & Stark street mural

Next up, here are a few photos of the other Green Loop street mural on the eastside, after the one at SE 2nd & Caruthers that we just visited. This one's at SE 6th & Stark St. and has sort of a Hispanic / Central American theme to it. The theme comes from being right outside the Milagro Theatre, the Northwest's only Hispanic live theater company. Which staged La Bici -- an original play with a bike safety theme -- in fall 2021, I guess in conjunction with the mural and the whole Green Loop PR effort.

I didn't really have a lot of material for this post, or any other super-genius startup ideas to share with you, so I put the intersection into the library's Oregonian database to see if anything interesting had ever happened here. It turns out that way back in 1924 there was actually a bike shop here, or (strictly speaking) a motorcycle dealer that also sold bikes. The classified ads read "BICYCLES, $10 DOWN, $1 PER WK., Tricycles, coasters, scooters, etc., EAST SIDE MOTORCYCLE CO., Cor. E 6th-Stark. EA 1000". More ads of theirs appeared starting in 1933, now advertising that they sold new Harleys as well as used motorcycles of all types. An assortment of other industrial-type businesses followed, which I won't bore you with since it's just not very interesting.

I also tried searching on the theater's street address, which also wasn't very interesting until around 1948 when the current building went in. The new building was originally home to the shiny, new House of Fong Chinese restaurant & nightclub. Which in that era would have naturally had space for a live band and dancing after a dinner of inauthentic Chinese food. I'm imagining something along the lines of Club Obi-Wan in the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though perhaps without the huge Hollywood song-and-dance production numbers. This space also doubled as banquet space so your large business or fraternal group could have a big party here, and the papers listed lots of these events over the next couple of years. These notices stopped abruptly in October 1950, so the place may have gone out of business right around then. One of the last mentions of the club came in May when a safecracker (who was arrested elsewhere in town) was found with plans to the House of Fong building, and a receipt for buying a gun.

The empty building was advertised for sale occasionally for a few years, eventually becoming the Backstage Coffee House sometime before 1961. This was obviously long before my time, but the name and the date make me think beatniks, free jazz, and improv poetry, maybe some avant-garde theater or interpretive dance, that sort of thing. And sure enough, the first mention of the place in the paper was when it became the venue for a new local repertory theater company. It seems the coffee house stayed open rather late and segued into the Backstage Club (featuring live music again) at some point in the evening, and later that year it saw a police raid for violating the city's new after-hours dancing ordinance, with several arrests including the club's 71 year old co-owner. The news story explained that Portlanders of 1961 were not permitted to dance in public after 1:30am, unless the club had a liquor license in which case patrons could keep dancing until 2:30am. I'm not sure of the subsequent details of that particular legal drama, but by December of that year the club was advertising that it opened at 2:30am, 7 nights a week, featuring a gentleman named Wally Dee at the piano bar. The aforementioned co-owner passed away in 1962, and her obit mentioned that she had once had her own jazz orchestra that performed regularly at the Crystal Ballroom (yes, that Crystal Ballroom). In 1963 the club or some part of it was known as the Downstage nightclub, which saw another police raid, this time for various liquor law violations, with six arrests for various severe offenses such as drinking liquor from a plastic container.

That may have been curtains for the club, as the next time the street address appeared in the paper was in 1967 when it became home to Eagles Lodge No. 3256, and various fraternal activities ensued for the next decade or so. 1975 saw yet another police raid, this time for operating an illegal bingo game. Five people were arrested, one on felony charges, although all charges were dropped soon afterward when it turned out the police had not gotten a warrant first before barging in.

The Eagles migrated elswhere around 1977, and after that the building was briefly home to a craft mall in 1978, and an Asian-style furniture store in the 1980s, before becoming the present-day theater in the early 90s.

So that's what I've got for this particular location, but if you're still interested in history and are up for a longer bike ride, might I suggest continuing east on Stark to see the old Stark St. Milestones, a series of stone distance markers that continue east along Stark all the way to Mt. Hood Community College, with one marker per mile minus a few that have been misplaced since the mid-19th century. Milestone P2 is the first you'll encounter, embedded in the north wall of Lone Fir Cemetery. If you get to MHCC and you're still up for a longer ride, the same milestone numbering continues east as part of the Columbia River Highway, with mile 31 putting you west of Multnomah Falls, and mile 35 is around the Ainsworth freeway exit. The HCRH bike trail will (largely) get you as far as The Dalles, and fragments of the old road continue east as far as Pendleton. At which point it becomes the Old Oregon Trail Highway and continues eastward to Idaho and points unknown. If you're feeling ambitious, I mean.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

SE 2nd & Caruthers street mural

Next up is another of the city's four(?) new-ish Green Loop murals, this time on the eastside where SE Caruthers deadends west of 2nd Ave., between the Portland Opera building and the docks for the Portland Spirit fleet, hence the musical theme on this one. This is a quiet dead-end street for cars, but as a bike route it's a major intersection between the Springwater Trail, the Tilikum Bridge, the Eastbank Esplanade, people headed to or from OMSI & the Hawthorne Bridge, and I guess now for people doing the Green Loop thing too. Meaning if you're a mere pedestrian and you're here taking photos of the mural, you really need to watch out for traffic and not just stand in the street like a drunk Tour de France spectator.

Unlike the two westside plazas, I don't think this one was meant to host food trucks even seasonally. But given the level of bike traffic through here, it might be a good site for a super-genius idea I had a while back. So here's the startup pitch: If you're commuting by bike and are hungry on the go, right now you need to stop somewhere, get off the bike, and order something, and wait. Meanwhile SUV Steve, your office archnemesis, can just roll through the nearest drive-thru. (Which means SUV Steve consistently gets to the office before you, lands that big promotion, and gets an even bigger SUV, destroying the world even faster, just to be clear on what's at stake here.) The pro cycling world has solved this problem already: Riders roll through a feed zone partway through the race, grab a musette bag from a team soigneur, and continue on their way without stopping or even slowing down very much. Imagine that crossed with a Portland food cart: You'd order and pay through the app ahead of time, and give a rough ETA for when you might be there, and then just roll through and snag your breakfast burrito and keep going, and be at work on time for that one crucial meeting. There'd be an RFID tag scheme or something along those lines to match the right bag to the correct rider, and a newbie lane for people who aren't good at the bag-grabbing part of the arrangement, and some way for people to return the reusable bags, and a really solid EULA so nobody can sue you if they crash after a bungled handoff or something. But overall I think this could totally work, given the right location, at least on a seasonal basis.

The reason I'm telling you all of this instead of pitching it to VCs is that I don't actually want to be in the food service business again, personally, and especially not in a way that involves getting up at zero-dark-thirty to make the breakfast burritos. Don't want to deal with Portland customers again, or constantly hiring and training new food-cart soigneurs (who are bound to get sick of being rained on before long). And before any of that, navigating the city's kafkaesque permit system. And at some point doing a few weeks of crisis PR when it turns out some of your customers are egregious litterbugs. So if any of that sounds more appealing to you than it does to me, feel free to go ahead and have at it, be my guest, and remember that I have absolutely zero liability if things don't work out in practice.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Madison Street Plaza mural

Ok, here are some photos of yet another painted intersection, once again in downtown Portland. If you aren't familiar with this mildly weird local thing, the previous one of these that I covered back in January tries to explain a bit. The current one we've visiting is another twist on the usual theme in that it's an official city government project by the Bureau of Transportation and painted by hired artists, not at all a community volunteer thing. Madison St. Plaza here (which is just across from the Portland Art Museum) is one of at least four new 'plazas', all painted as part of a wider effort the city calls "The Green Loop", which is a bit hard to explain. It's sort of an official bike loop around the central city -- that's downtown plus the central eastside -- enhanced with things that are either trendy here right now, or were trendy before Covid, or at least were cool sometime in the last 15 years or so. So, occasional "everybody ride the Green Loop today" events, complete with obscure local bands you probably haven't heard of playing along the route; food cart pods; street paintings like the one here; that sort of thing. I was all ready to snark about this; I figured the city was trying to create a Disney-fied version of the real things, aimed at tourists and rich developers and conveniently close to upscale hotels downtown and around the Convention Center, and routed past the front doors of sponsoring businesses.

Eventually I realized what the city was really up to. Despite our heavily cultivated reputation around being the perfect bike & pedestrian city, we still have a really high rate of traffic fatalities and serious injuries here, and the numbers keep increasing, which leads to people asking the city how they're going to fix it. The city seems to think that one quick and easy, if partial, mitigation would be if people would stick to side streets more and avoid riding in heavy traffic and darting around 18-wheelers and gigantic SUVs from the 'burbs. You can even put together a network of these safer routes around town and give out maps. The city's done that for years now, and some people pay attention to that sort of thing religiously and others... don't. A lot of other people respond badly to safety-based appeals; they see it as victim blaming, or at least being told to eat their vegetables instead of just gobbling glucose gel packs all the time. So the plan, as I understand it, is to take the existing safer routes and make them look cool and trendy, so people will sort of gravitate to them of their own accord without any safety lectures. At least I think that's what the plan is, unless I'm giving them too much credit.

Whether the execution on the street murals and the curation of food carts and so forth is good enough to pull this off is a whole other question, obviously. And of course there will be cynics out there who see right through what the city's trying to do and reject it out of hand, and if too many people start thinking that way the city will have to come up with an alternative (but still safe) route that isn't 'corporate', but without anyone clueing in that it's another safety campaign. But hey, that's why city bureaucrats make the big bucks. Or at least why they have a good pension plan. I mean, I assume they still have a good pension plan, I dunno.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

assorted spring flowers, 2022 edition

Welp, it's the end of the month again, and I seem to have spent March 2022 playing hooky from writing and editing, instead taking pictures of flowers and goofing off with various combos of weird lenses and old (2000s & mid-2010s) digital cameras from Goodwill. So that's what I'll be posting this month. Gotta keep the old once-a-month-since-2005 streak going, after all.

I could probably turn this into another overlong post rambling on about various lenses and whatnot, which would then end up stalled in Drafts for months as I agonize over whether it sounds pretentious, or hipstery, or just tedious (and people talking about photo gear on the internet is very often all three); whether it appeals to a sufficiently broad audience (for all the good that's ever done me), that sort of thing. And then you, o Gentle Reader(s), would finally get a bunch of flower photos just as the fall leaves are turning, and I know better than to specify which fall. More to the point, I have about 45 minutes to finish this thing and there's no way I'd even have a first draft ready by then, so for now we'll all have to settle for some random flowers without context. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Salmon Falls, Washougal River

The next installment of the ongoing waterfall thing takes us to Salmon Falls, a low (7') waterfall on the Washougal River about an hour's drive NE of Portland. The link goes to its rather cranky Northwest Waterfall Survey page, which is mostly about why it's too small and doesn't deserve its own page, and only has one because it has an official name and a major road and bridge are named after it.

It has a nice setting and is reasonably picturesque, despite a rather ugly fish ladder on one side of it. So if you feel like visiting, it's visible just upstream of the Salmon Falls Rd. bridge, which you can get to by going out SR14, turning at the same place you would for Cape Horn, but continuing north a few miles instead of parking at the lot there. Or just take Washougal River Road til you get to that bridge, which is a slightly longer but more picturesque route.

Once there, your best bet is to park at the turnout on the south side of the bridge and walk halfway across the bridge and take your photos from there. After that there really isn't anything else to do here. You can't get any closer to the falls, or down to anywhere on the river upstream or downstream of there. It really looks like this ought to be a nice community swimming hole or river access spot, but instead you're confronted by lots of very stern "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" signs, even more than what you'd ordinarily see in a very conservative rural area like this. There's actually an interesting story behind this, which I'll get to in a minute.

Before we get to that, a bit on the significance of the falls, which seemed to mystify the Waterfall Survey reviewer. The page mentions that this was said to be a historical barrier to migrating salmon but is doubtful about this claim. It's true, though. In general, any sheer drop over about six feet is a barrier to migrating salmon, since for most salmon species that's about as high as they can jump in a single leap. (Chum salmon are a bit less talented in the jumping department and can only manage something like 4-5 feet.) This would just be an interesting bit of fish trivia, except that it was key to a mid-20th Century scheme by salmon biologists to try to improve on nature.

By the 1950s, fishery scientists had figured out that salmon runs were declining across the Northwest, and they even knew the reasons why, more or less, hydroelectric dams and other habitat losses being the major contributors. They also understood, correctly, that there was zero chance of fighting the dam-building industry and winning in those days, and came up with an alternative they hoped would avoid that fight. The idea was that all across the Northwest there were whole watersheds that ought to be perfect salmon territory, if not for a waterfall or two in the way, often just a foot or two too high for salmon to get past. So they figured that putting in a fish ladder here and there would let salmon pass these barriers. Which, in theory, would open up a vast swath of territory for new salmon runs, replacing the ones lost to dams, and everyone lives happily ever after.

A big complicating factor is that under normal circumstances, salmon imprint on their stream of origin and want to return there and nowhere else, and won't go looking for a new stream if home ends up behind a dam. Obviously sometimes they do go rogue and look for new territory, otherwise they wouldn't have been all over the region in the first place, but exactly what environmental cues make them do this are still not understood very well. A 2009 thesis I ran across summarizes what was known about it at that point, and in the 1950s it would have been a complete mystery. So (as explained in a 1956 Oregonian article about the newly modernized Washougal River) they dealt with the salmon-and-egg problem by building a whole fish production system, centered on a fish hatchery about as far upstream as you want the new salmon run to go, along with fish ladders at all barriers downstream so the salmon can do their one-and-done commute. Then you start with some migrating fish collected somewhere else, fertilize the eggs in a big vat, and raise the baby salmon in pens until they're big enough to release, and hopefully they imprint on the river and hatchery at that point. Then they swim out to the sea for a few years, and eventually instinct leads them right back to the hatchery, where they're stunned and processed into new baby salmon. This process is not exactly nature's beautiful circle of life at work, and the whole rationale behind it has really fallen out of favor now, but it does more or less work as designed, and it provides a guilt-free supply of catchable salmon, so I guess there's that.

Aside from fishing, parts of the Washougal River have also become popular for whitewater sports, and there are a couple of pages at American Whitewater for river segments that begin and end right around the falls. The latter page notes that the historic take-out above the falls is private property and boaters are no longer welcome there. Down in the comments there's a repost of a belligerent email dated 2006 and addressed to the site admins, pointing out that the state only owns the fish ladder, while all the land around it is private property, and the landowner will definitely call the sheriff and press charges against all who trespass there. The email then demands they remove any mention of Salmon Falls from the website (which they obviously haven't done), and finishes by saying so-and-so "pays the taxes".

The "pays the taxes" bit was an odd phrasing and it piqued my curiosity. A few minutes of googling led me to the 2011 decision in a long-running land dispute dating back to sometime before 1963. This wasn't a trespassing case, exactly, but an adverse possession situation. This is the legal doctrine that if you live on or use a piece of property as if you own it, for some amount of time, and nobody stops you, you become the new legal owner. You don't have to actually squat there full time, but you do have to use it, and the exact definition of "use" depends on the nature of the property. That could mean farming on farmland, and for commercial property it might be running a business there, or paying bills, or doing maintenance, or collecting rent. In this case, the disputed land was a steep, blackberry-choked hillside with no obvious uses at all, beyond a couple of trails the plaintiff/adverse possessor had created for their own personal access to the river. Apparently the legal precedent here is that no matter how useless a property seems to be, the act of putting up "No Trespassing" signs or otherwise excluding people from the land counts as using it, since that's the full extent of what any owner could do with it. This wasn't a purely hypothetical issue here, since the general public had come to see this as a customary river access spot, and a previous landowner was on record saying it was basically futile trying to keep people out, though he'd call the sheriff sometimes when things got out of hand. Also at issue, apparently, was which adjacent landowner had put up "No Trespassing" signs first, and who was more diligent about replacing these signs after they were stolen or vandalized. The court found in favor of the plaintiff -- the person who "pays the taxes" in that 2006 nastygram was the primary defendant -- and the case ended in 2012 when the state Supreme Court declined to review the decision.

I'm not a lawyer, and have no opinion about the case or its outcome either way; I just like finding a clear explanation for all the anti-trespassing signs, so I don't have to guess, which usually ends up as a ridiculous yarn about Bigfoot. Looking around the area nearly a decade later, the place just had kind of a weird and bad vibe to it, even though I couldn't put my finger on exactly why at the time. It seems as though the whole area settled down into a sort of tense neighborhood Cold War after the case wrapped up, neighbor against neighbor, and each neighbor separately against you, an outsider and potential trespasser (and thus a threat to their land title). This is probably not somewhere where you'd want to have car trouble and need to knock on anyone's door for help.

If it's any consolation, when agents Mulder and Scully stop by a few weeks or months later to investigate what really happened to you, they'll almost certainly uncover some sort of ancient evil that's the real reason behind the endless courtroom battle, for all the good that will do you. In support of this theory, here's a strange YouTube video from Salmon Falls that I only ran across after hitting 'publish' on the first version of this post. It seems there's some kind of creepy underwater cave or rock formation or structure right at the falls called "The Tube", and the poster got in the water there to check it out, and it's bound to be related to the aforementioned ancient evil somehow. It might be a lair, or a portal, or something along those lines. That's all I know about the place, because there's nothing else about it on the interwebs as far as I can tell, and any narration the video had has gone missing because the poster unwisely set it to a Pink Floyd song, and the music industry muted it. Allegedly for copyright reasons, but it stands to reason the copyright police are in league with the ancient evil, and are doing their part to keep the truth from getting out there. That, or the whole thing is a plot by Google to sell YouTube Premium, since signing up supposedly unmutes the video. Also here's a video of a guy unwisely jumping off the bridge at Salmon Falls, ending right as he hits the water. Just gonna assume he was drawn there against his will, and eaten right after that. But enough about Salmon Falls.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Cherry Trees at NW 19th & Lovejoy, January 2022

One of my longer-running traditions here involves an annual, or sorta-annual, mid-January visit to a trio of early-blooming cherry trees in NW Portland, at the corner of NW 19th Avenue & Lovejoy St. I've been doing this since the late 2000s, and I spent several of the early installments trying to figure out what sort of magic was at work here, such that springtime seemed to arrive at this one streetcorner months before anywhere else in the city, and did so like clockwork year after year. As I mentioned in the 2018 edition, the most likely explanation seems to be that they're ordinary examples of a winter-blooming variety of cherry tree. In other words, although they seem to survive perfectly well here, their DNA is still coded for a warmer climate zone, somewhere where there might be a few pollinators out buzzing around this time of year. Then in 2019 I stumbled across another, larger group of cherry trees that appears to bloom even earlier than the Lovejoy ones, just a few blocks away on NW Overton near 24th. So the traditional spot wasn't even particularly unique, on top of everything else. Then I skipped the last couple of years due to pandemics and family medical stuff, and nearly forgot this time around. Forgetting would have been understandable, given that 2018 was several geological eons ago, or at least it feels that way. But I remembered, just barely, and made a quick visit, and here are the photos to prove it. It still wasn't quite like the Before Times; the usual streetcar ride and extended brewpub detour were in the cards this time, thanks to the currently-rampaging Omicron variant, so instead I just drove to the trees, parked without feeding the meter, took a few quick photos, and got out, mission accomplished. Still, I was happy to see the old trees again, doing their usual thing in the midst of yet another long, cold, dark winter. Which in the end is the entire point of doing this, not just to keep a long series going on a weird little website almost nobody reads.

Now, you might've noticed that these photos were taken a week ago, and wondered how it could possibly have taken me a week to write a couple of paragraphs about some flowers. This time around I thought I had this post almost done and ready to go, and then it occurred to me that I had never done the thing I often do for intersection paintings and that sort of thing, which is to plug the intersection name or street address into the local library's newspaper database, to see whether anything interesting or newsworthy ever happened around here. That sometimes comes up with a few interesting results, and this time was no exception, so it stretched out the effort on this post by a bit. So here's what I've got:

The earliest result for "19th and Lovejoy" that came back was from September 1910, when a tent in a vacant lot here would serve as a polling place in that year's primary election. That was immediately followed by real estate ads for a couple of years, touting the lot's prime location and large 100' by 100' dimensions. This was in turn followed by construction of the Royal Arms Apartments building (the adjacent brick building that sometimes appears cherry photos I take here, though none this year) in 1914. An ad for the building in August of that year describes it:

A building of class and refinement, five-story fireproof brick, covering 100x100 ft, on corner, among the homes of wealth and culture, with their beautiful gardens, trees, and shrubbery, and a grand panoramic view of the city and hills to delight the eye. All apartments have hardwood floors, telephones, latest lighting fixtures and all up-to-date conveniences. Otis automatic elevator with safety appliance; rooms large, with plenty light, ventilation, and closet space; prices moderate; reference required. For reservations apply on premises. Take either 16th st or “S” car north to Lovejoy St.

That December, a local timber baron bought the whole building as a $165,000 Christmas gift for his wife. It had been built for around $100k, per an article the previous month, so the original investors made out pretty well. He died just two years later, and the news story mentions the extravagant gift at length. The building went on to appear regularly in high society news items for a while. Important teas were hosted there regularly, and wedding announcements for young smart-set couples often noted they would be honeymooning overseas and then taking up residence at the Royal Arms upon their return, that sort of thing.

While this was going on, much of the world was embroiled in World War I. The United States intially stayed out of it, and was still largely unready after being dragged in in 1917. By July of that year, the US was slowly remembering out how to do some of the basics, like how to draft people into your army when you know you'll run out of willing volunteers before long. The first batch of draft notices since the Civil War went out with great fanfare, with the Oregonian devoting a couple of pages to printing the names and addresses of everyone local whose numbers had been drawn. I suppose to make it harder to weasel out of trench duty. A young man who lived at 19th & Lovejoy happened to be in the group whose number was drawn 21st, partway down the first column of the first page. Which sounds like bad news, but the paper noted that the men listed wouldn't be called up immediately as there were just enough volunteers to meet the immediate need. By December of that year they had still hadn't been called up; it seems the process to apply for a draft exemption had been bungled somehow and everyone who had applied would have to reapply, and they couldn't actually take in any of the potential draftees until that bit of paperwork had been resolved. The Oregonian took this opportunity to again print the names of everyone who had been listed back in July. I haven't searched WWI service records to see of any of these people were ever actually called up, but it looks like the kid from right here went on and lived to 1959, so one way or another he had made it out of the year 1918 and its various hazards. Which included a deadly flu pandemic, let's not forget. My own maternal grandfather had a similar experience around the same time, though in his case they decided his name was just too long and too German, and his services would not be required along the Western Front after all. So they ordered him to go work at Bethlehem Steel instead, and apparently forgot all about him at that point. Before long he decided steel mill work didn't suit him and quit, although they had never actually told him whether he was allowed to quit or not, and I haven't been able to find a definitive answer on that point either. Nobody ever came around looking for him, though.

Anyway, the Royal Arms high society stuff sort of tapered off with the Depression, and the building was sold in 1940 for 'just' $75,000. The news item was accompanied by a photo of the building, which shows different (and much taller) trees standing where the cherries are now, matching the trees along the front of the building along Lovejoy.

After WWII the building was largely in the news for catching on fire every now and then. Once in 1956, two times in 1960, and then a five-alarm fire in July 1978, in which the buildng's fire alarm system failed to work. Twenty-two injuries were reported, including fifteen firefighters. A photo elsewhere in the paper shows the outside of the building, partly blackened by smoke, and you can kind of make out what looks to be a couple of the present-day cherry trees, smaller and looking a bit worse for wear. Though whether that was due to the fire or the firefighters I don't know. An August news item called the fire a case of arson, while a September story said it was caused by a careless smoker. (The rest of that story concerns another NW Portland building with the same owner also catching on fire.) The building eventually reopened in 1980 after being restored with PDC money, and I don't see any further news reports about the place bursting into flame, which is always good to see.

And in historical entertainment news, in March 1961 actress Jane Russell came to Portland for a week or two, staying at the Royal Arms while making public appearances and doing charity work by day, and performing nightly at the city's Bali Hai Club by night. Russell was also invited to serve as grand marshal of the city's St. Patrick's Day parade a few days later. In a small blurb a few days before she arrived, the paper's nightclub entertainment column (a thing that once existed) described the upcoming residence: "March 8: Jane Russell will grace the Bali Hai stage — singing we imagine, or does it make any difference?". After she arrived in town, the Oregonian took a British journalist's reporting on her arrival and -- finding it a bit too snide to print unedited -- had one of their columnists insert parenthetical comments into it. A couple of days later the nightlife column affirmed that Russell's show was obviously the biggest live entertainment thing in the city but neglected to describe it in any detail, just saying "Need we say more?". The paper's TV and radio columnist managed a bit better, scoring a brief interview at the old Trader Vic's at the Benson as Russell stopped by for a late breakfast (as in 5pm, seeing as her nightly shows ran to around 2am.) The interview was cut short, though, as the writer had to hurry off to an Oregon Historical Society roundable about the Civil War. And was roundly mocked for doing so by the other roundtable participants.

As for the other three corners at the intersection, apparently one used to have a service station, from at least 1935 thru sometime in the 50s or maybe later. I know this because of endless help-wanted classified ads, and a 1935 ad announcing they had been chosen as Texaco's exclusive regional distributor for diesel and fuel oil. Which sounds important, I guess, though they don't explain how big their region was. Other than that, there's nothing of interest to share about the old gas station, but figured I should mention it, as you generally do want to know where old gas stations used to be, in case of forgotten underground tanks and so forth.

Oh, and one of the corners, and I'm not sure which one, was briefly home to Portland's very first modern fast food restaurant. In 1954, a burger place called "Scotty's Self-Service Drive In" opened here, bringing California's 19-cent hamburger craze to the Northwest. (The "self-service" in the name is never explained. I think free refills only appeared in the 1980s so it probably wasn't that.) So here's a large ad from November 1955 celebrating the would-be chain's second location at 12th & Sandy, highlighting their new 39-cent fish and chips (not available at the Lovejoy location), along with a plug for Scotty's Famous Forty-Fiver, which was a hamburger, fries, and a milkshake for 45 cents, now available with or without onions. A 1956 ad offered a fried half-chicken with fries for 89 cents, or for a quarter you could get something called a "Curly Dog", whatever it was (Tagline: "It's new! It's different! It's delicious!"). That ad doesn't mention the original Lovejoy location anymore, so it may have been gone already by then. The Sandy location lasted until at least 1973, per a tiny news item about a robbery, but was apparently gone by 1985 as it was mentioned as a defunct competitor in an article about the last Yaw's closing. A 1985 article about the fading remnants of 1950s hot rod car culture and the closing of another burger place -- the Speck, at SE 50th & Foster -- actually mentions Scotty's as the beginning of the end. As in, the replacement of classic 50s drive-ins by the modern fast food industry. To those of us a generation or two removed from those days this seems like a minor distinction, as they all served more or less the same menu, though maybe at different price points. It sounds like it was more of a cultural shift than a culinary one, with the newcomers being less welcoming toward bored teens lounging around in their parking lots all evening, revving their engines and generally being juvenile and delinquent. And you couldn't just go somewhere else that wasn't a drive-in and still have the same teen culture, I guess. That would be like 80s teen culture without suburban shopping malls. It's just unthinkable.

Anyway, that was our semi-brief foray into the history books. I was kind of hoping the trees were original to the building, but at least I have a rough possible range, sometime between 1940 and 1978. Which, depending on who you believe, makes them either very old or very young trees. An SFGate article says they generally live around 16-20 years, and the Iowa State Extension Service gives a lifespan of just 10-15 years in that state's harsher climate. A Town & Country article on the famous cherry trees in DC gives an average range of 30-40 years, but notes that a few dozen present-day trees are survivors from the original batch of trees in 1912, and mentions that some black cherry trees have lived to at least 250 years old. Which brings us to Japan, where one famous example is thought to be around 2000 years old, and the others on an official list of the Five Great Cherry Trees of Japan are only relative youngsters at around 1000-1500 years old. So, assuming these are the same trees as in the 1978 photo, can conclude that either these trees are already ancient survivors long past their usual die-by date, or they're still practically infants that could, in theory, potentially live beyond the year 4000 AD. I mean, that's unlikely to happen but just imagine it for a moment. And however that eventually turns out, the trees did already survive a five-alarm fire, which is not something you can say of many trees of any variety. So there's that.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Angry Pigeon Perch

Back in 2014-2016, I did a little project around tracking down Portland's assortment of painted intersections, like the semi-famous sunflower one just off Belmont. If you aren't familiar with this local phenomenon, these usually come about as neighborhood volunteer efforts, typically aided by the City Repair Project, a local nonprofit. The idea is that you and your neighbors choose a nice, quiet, residential intersection, come up with an original design, and convince the city to give you a permit. Then you pick out a weekend, put up some traffic cones, and have a big summer block party. You and your neighbors pitch in to paint your design on the street, which obviously involves meeting your neighbors if you haven't already done so.

One crucial detail is that you just use regular latex paint for this, not the fancy high-durability traffic paint the city uses for crosswalks and lane dividers and so forth. That stuff's expensive, with a very limited color palette, and more importantly, you kind of want the design to look nice thru the end of summer and the nice part of fall, and then get increasingly shabby over the winter due to traffic and the elements. Then, once the weather finally improves again, it's just about time for another neighborhood block party, and before you know it you have a traditional neighborhood event that people look forward to every year.

Or at least that's the idea. I haven't gone back to check on the places I visited earlier, and it just stands to reason that a few of them were one-and-done affairs, for all the usual reasons that volunteer efforts peter out. Key people moving out of the area; heated arguments over creative vision; someone forgetting to renew the right permits or arrange for the paint; a salmonella outbreak due to last year's potluck; or people meeting their neighbors and simply not wanting to repeat the experience. That sort of thing.

I do know that some projects have continued, despite the chaos of the last few years. In particular, the big sunflower design was wiped out in 2019 by a city sewer project, and then it wasn't repainted in 2020 because pandemic, and almost wasn't in 2021 for reasons I'm not clear on. It finally reappeared last October, with a new, more angular design that I gather not everyone likes.

Beyond that, there are even a few new street paintings that didn't exist the last time I was paying attention, like the one we're visiting now (in case you were wondering when I'd finally bumble around to the actual subject of this post). I stumbled across this one in January 2020, at the very tail end of the Before Times. Right off the bat you can tell it's different from the others we've visited so far: It's painted largely on the sidewalk, spilling over into the adjacent bike lane. But not into the traffic lanes, much less the intersection nearby. And it's surrounded by low and mid-rise urban buildings instead of twee 1920s bungalows. This is in downtown Portland, at intersection of SW 12th & Main St., right outside the front door of Northwest Academy, a small private school for the arts. In fact the painting was created in September 2019 as a back-to-school event, giving kids a misleadingly fun start to the ill-fated 2019-2020 school year.

A City Repair item about the painting says it's called Angry Pigeon Perch, although if there's a pigeon in the design I'm just not seeing it. I had a long tangent all ready to go here about the school maybe teaching kids about surrealism, which pivoted to contemporary AI-generated art, and how we still understand almost nothing about why AI models work as well as they do. From there, a claim that a lot of 20th century surrealist art kinda looks like the present-day AI-created stuff if you squint just right, followed by some half and quarter-baked speculation about why that might be. I don't think I was actually on to anything interesting (much less true) there, so I won't bore you with that whole argument. In any case, while I was kicking that around for a few days, I ran across the school's Instagram account. Which points out, right in the account bio, that the school's official nickname is "The Angry Pigeons", so there's our super-mundane answer regarding the title. I am honestly kind of disappointed about this.

Until quite recently this was the only painted intersection downtown, and the city only granted the permit because the school agreed not to paint anything that cars drive on. I suppose because downtown streets are real streets, for the use of serious people engaged in important business. As a serious major city, we can't risk having serious people bump into whimsical stuff that has no obvious business model, or they might freak out and take their important business elsewhere, like Texas maybe. (I'm just guessing here.) The City Repair folks have a Google map of past and present projects, and it shows about five items in the intersection category across the entire westside. There's one on the PSU campus on a closed section of SW Montgomery, which I apparently don't have any photos of yet. I'm about 75% sure that the other three listed downtown are either miscategorized, or don't exist anymore, or never existed in the first place. There now are a couple of others downtown (as of summer 2021) that aren't on this map because they weren't City Repair projects, but we'll get to those in their own separate posts.

The remaining one on the map -- the one and only example on the entire westside outside of downtown, if the map is to be believed -- is wayyy out in Hillsboro, behind a church in an industrial park near the Cornelius Pass exit off Sunset, and I have no idea what sort of project it actually is, or was. This seems odd to me; Portland's westside does have a few neighborhoods that you'd think might be open to the idea, places like Northwest/Nob Hill, Multnomah Village, Hillsdale, Burlingame, Lair Hill, Corbett/Johns Landing, Homestead (the weird little neighborhood up in the West Hills behind OHSU), probably a few others I'm forgetting. Now, some of these neighborhoods are hilly and maybe don't have a lot of suitable intersections that are flat enough to be paintable, but zero? More likely the idea just sort of never caught on. Or at least it hasn't caught on yet, but might after somebody goes out on a limb and does the first one.