Friday, October 31, 2008

Packing The Wife's Luggage

A few weeks ago my wife traveled to the Columbia River Gorge to attend a conference so I tagged along for an opportunity to explore the area. I also served as my wife's luggage porter as she currently suffers from a shoulder aliment and finds it difficult to lift much in the way of dead weight. Now I mean not to imply that she packs similar to Mrs. Thurston Howell III of Gilligan's Island fame, but her baggage appeared more than sufficient for a two day trip.

Like many, I have pass through the Gorge numerous times traveling to and from Eastern Oregon for work, but I have never taken the time to explore the area and enjoy its beauty. The area was once home to large numbers of Native Americans who fished the mighty Columbia River for salmon. The waters surrounding Cascade Rapids and Cleo Falls near The Dalles were favorite places for the Native Americans to gather.

The region is also rich with the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 - 05 and stories of the countless pioneers who followed the Oregon Trail beginning in the 1840s.

The true length of the gorge could be debated for hours on end, but most agree that it is about eighty miles in length. While driving this distance from west to east, the annual precipitation drops from 36 to just less than 14 inches. With such a change in precipitation, the landscape changes dramatically in a relatively short distance. This just adds to the wonder and beauty of the Gorge.

I spent two days hiking and photographing places in the Gorge that I have wanted to visit for many years. The weather was less than cooperative but the rain clouds just added to the experience. My photos will hopefully give you the urge to one day come and explore this wonderland for yourself.

Nothing has changed the Columbia River more than the construction of the dams beginning in 1933. Pictured is the behemoth Bonneville Dam which is a major producer of electrical power.

Cascade Rapids and the area known as the Bridge of the Gods depicted in the early 1930s. Today, the rapids are submerged below the waters behind Bonneville Dam.

The Cascade Rapids were formed sometime in the 1700s when a massive landslide totally blocked the river. This massive land bridge became known as The Bridge of the Gods. The massive boulder pictured behind me is typical of those which entered the river. I estimated the boulder's height to be nearly ten feet and it was about 15 feet in both length and width. It must have made one heck of a noise when it came roaring down the mountain side.

At the west end of the Gorge in vicinity of the Bridge of the Gods, the forest are dominated by Douglas-fir and an occasional big leaf maple.

As you travel east from the Bridge of the Gods, the annual precipitation decreases rapidly and so do the trees and associated vegetation.

This picture was taken near the Gorge's east end and looking north towards The Dalles, OR. The annual precipitation drops to about 14 inches, thus tree growth is severely limited.

The following pictures are of the Stonehenge Memorial located near Maryhill, WA. The memorial was built in 1918 by entrepreneur Sam Hill to honor the men of Klickitat County killed during World War I. If you are interested in photographing shadows, be sure to visit the monument in the spring or fall when the angle of the sun is low.

While you are visiting Stonehenge, be sure to see the Maryhill Museum which was also built by Sam Hill. On display is one the best collections of Native American artifacts I have seen to date.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Final Cruise For 2008

The early morning hours of October 16th saw dense fog and cold temperatures in Astoria as we prepared to greet the final cruise ship for this season. The Mercury, the pride of the Celebrity Cruise Lines was late docking due to foggy conditions, but nearly fifty members of the Astoria Cruise Hosts anxiously awaited. We were armed with visitor maps, recommendations and directions to local sights, and the omnipresent smile.

This season set a record for the number of cruise ship visits, nineteen in total. It gave us an opportunity to share our small part of the world with folks from near and far. I attempted to catalogue the countries from which passengers and crew that I met; my list reads as follows: Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Bosnia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Columbia, Cuba, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Malta, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Philippians, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Wales.

As I review the list, I am reminded that our world is indeed a very small place. I am also reminded that regardless of where a person calls home, when traveling, we all have similar wants and needs. To that end, I share a list of the most frequently asked by the passengers and crew.

  1. Where is the drug store? If you are from the United Kingdom you might call it a chemist.

  2. Where is the "old fashion" JC Penneys I have heard about?

  3. Where can I get a cup of coffee?

  4. Where can I get Internet access?

  5. Where is the shopping mall?

  6. Do you have a good brew pub near by?

  7. How do you get to the Goonie's House?

  8. Where can I get an international calling card?

  9. Is there some where I can purchase electronics?

If you have never heard of the Goonie's House, you apparently are over the age of say thirty. At any rate, the movie titled The Goonies was filmed in Astoria in the mid-1980s and a local house served as a major set location. The movie has a sort of cult following that honestly I fail to understand, but then I could never be accused of being Hollywood's biggest fan either.

I have to admit that getting to meet so many fun people who traveled long distances to visit Astoria will likely be the high point for me when I close the cover on the book of 2008. I will also be anxiously awaiting cruise season 2009 which begins on April 3oth.

Now to the two of you who may be reading this post, perhaps you are wondering about the picture I have included. Could it perhaps be a crucial part of a ship or is it a symbol for the strength of the cruise host volunteers? Sorry to say, it's neither. I was waiting to meet a friend for lunch last week and noticed some very old industrial equipment near by, so this is how I spent twenty minutes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Age of X Begins On Thursday!

Since becoming a docent, I have had the great pleasure to give tours to groups of Boy Scouts, high school and middle school student as well as to the eclectic groups of cruise ship passengers who visit during the summer and fall months. Without a doubt, the most fun and demanding group to work with are those in the primary grades, mainly grades four through six. For this group, we offer a tour call the Age of Exploration, AKA the Age of X; the tour is fast paced and packed with lots of hand on activities. During the ninety minute tour, the kids get an opportunity to learn about the daily life of the local Native Americans and their interactions with the fur traders beginning in the 1790s. We also provide a hands on experience working with the tool used for celestial navigation. Finally we provide the kids with an insight as to why the waters of the Columbia River are dubbed the “Grave Yard of the Pacific”.

To me, the Age of X tour is my favorite because of the student’s participation and enthusiasm. Frequently, their hands are raised and waving just in anticipation of your question. Kids of this age group also answer your questions directly and openly; suffice to say they never pull any punches! It certainly keeps a docent on his toes at all times!

As I prepare for the first Age of X tour for the new school year on Thursday, I am reminded of an incident that occurred this past spring. While sharing the story of the grounding of the sailing ship Peter Iredale in 1906, the docent asked the kids to decide if it was caused by mechanical failure, weather, or human error. Without missing a beat, one little voice from the group loudly announced that the cause had to be because of a “lousy captain”. While attempting to suppress my laughter, the docent calmly explained that it would be more appropriate to refer to this as human error. Kids, you have to love them!!

Just in case you are wondering, the British government ruled during the court of inquiry that the grounding was not the result of human error. Score one for the captain and crew.

The Peter Iredale in 1906 shortly after running a ground during a fierce storm

The bones of the "Iredale" in April of 2008. Fierce winter storms have revealed the ribs of the ship's hull.

The bow of the Peter Iredale looking south

The bow and a portion of the mast seen while looking north

If you have never seen a ship up close, come to Fort Stevens State Park and explore the wreck of the Peter Iredale. You can even do it at low tide and not get your feet too wet!

Friday, October 17, 2008

An Unintended Consequence

One morning early this summer I followed a whim an traveled across the Columbia River to spend the day exploring Cape Disappointment. I left home in early morning hours on a damp and foggy day that the weather forecaster promised would clear by late morning. As I proceeded up the hill on to Cape D., I noticed the sign pointing to Beards Hollow. I remembered a time many years ago when I stood on a bluff that overlooked the hollow but I passed it up for other destinations. As the fog had hardly lifted, I decided a short side trip into the hollow might be in order.

Beards Hollow was originally a relatively small cove which until the early 1900s opened directly into the Pacific ocean. Like so many coves along the coast, tidal waters would flow into and out of the it twice daily. Following the completion of the north jetty which narrows the mouth of the Columbia River, the deposition of the sand along the coast in the vicinity of the jetty was alter. The result was a large sand dune formed over a period of years and a large fresh water environment developed behind the dune; complete with a small hardwood forest and a fresh water pond. Now I know some may consider the change an ecological disaster but the change resulted in an increase in the diversity of both plant and animal species inhabiting the hollow.

Following my exploration in early June, I vowed to return again with camera in hand during the the summer to see what the hollow had to offer. As all good plans go, I never got around to returning until last weekend, again in the early morning hours. To some, the natural landscape is static and boring but to me they are extremely dynamic and seldom fail to disappoint. And so went my most recent trip to Beards Hollow!

The Pacific ocean and the south side of Beards Hollow

Looking south from the dunes

Sunrise over the fresh water pond inside of Beards Hollow

Friday, October 10, 2008

The World's Smallest Beach?

As I write, the temperature is only thirty-nine degrees, that's just a bit cold for early October! At the moment, it's nearly impossible to believe that only a few short weeks ago I was riding the river walk daily and enjoying the sights while working up a sweat. During yesterday's ride there was a brisk wind blowing and breaking a sweat was not an option!

Frequently during my summer rides, I would pass this beach and there would be a few tourist from the nearby hotel soaking up the afternoon sun. It's a bit of a hassle to get down onto the the beach because of the rock retaining wall, but if you make it down there, it's well worth the climb. It's almost like your own private beach, minus the privacy!

In early September, I passed by and notice a family enjoying the warmth of the afternoon with their three young sons. They were running about and constructing castles in the sand. I even notices a couple of the boys ventures out into the rather chilly waters of the Columbia River. On my second pass by, I witness the most incredible show of determination. A large ship was passing by the beach and the three boys were lined up along the water's edge with boogie boards in hand waiting to catch the wave. As luck would have it, I was without camera but witnessing their determination was as they say, priceless!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fuel Discounts

Since I have been driving around for a couple of days with my vehicle's gas gauge reading empty, I figured that maybe it was time to purchase gas. Like many folks in out community, I now purchase gasoline from our mega-monster grocery store's fueling station. This particular store offers a three cent discount just for showing their version of a store rewards card. A couple of months ago, they enhanced their program; for every $100.00 spent in the store, they will increase your discount by ten cents per gallon. Overall, it's not a bad deal considering the price of fuel and how much we invest at the grocery store!

During a recent visit to the same store, I overheard an acquaintance brag that he had just accumulated his fourth discount, so as of that moment, he could save forty cent per gallon on a fuel purchase. He appeared pretty excited and why not, his savings would be substantial! A few seconds latter, I remember that he is the proud owner of a Hummer. At twelve - fourteen miles per gallon, he needs all the discounts available!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bailout or Rescue?

Can you get there from here?

I was helping a friend put away some equipment today when he suddenly asked me how I feel about the Wall Street bailout package. People seldom, if ever, ask my opinion on matters of monetary policy, world finance, or anything related to economics. Like most of the common people, such things are pretty much out of my personal sphere of influence!

While attending college, I persevered through the traditional entry level economic class taught to many second year students. As a forestry major, I was also subjected to an additional semester of economics which focused on how market factors affected the practice of forestry. My overall perception of economics was further shaped by my favorite professor, the late Dick Dingle who once referred to economics as the “dark science”!

So how do I really feel the Wall Street bail out? I have read numerous articles and editorials for and against the plan and I am left to conclude that I feel strongly both ways! The whole issue reminds me of a story often told in the back country of New Hampshire. It seems that one day a lost tourist stopped and asked a farmer if he knew where Manchester was. The old farmer responded, “Ah yep, but you can’t get there from here.” Maybe such logic could be useful in the current bailout debate.