Monday, November 21, 2011

The Lunar Landscape

The forecast for the next week calls for rain, wind and more more of the same.  Given that’s it is late November, it’s way past time to share a little about the last stop on our August journey to rediscover the Oregon Trail.  If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of south central Idaho, be sure to take a side trip to Craters of The Moon National Monument.  I guarantee the landscape is unlike anything you have ever experienced outside of Hawaii or the moon.

If you are interested in geology and how volcanoes shape the earth, you can pretty much see it all inside of the monument.  On the other hand, the landscape can be enjoyed just for it’s stark and unusual beauty.  Opportunities for hiking exist at every stop but be sure to have a water bottle handy because water is scarce in this arid environment.  Today the landscape is serene  but but a mere two thousand years ago the earth spewed molten lava from the numerous cinder and spatter cones which are scattered across the area.



Lava once flowed from the cinder cones in the distance



The presence of vegetation indicates that this cinder cone has been inactive for perhaps three thousand or more years



Spatter cones such as these dot the landscape; despite their small size, they are capable of ejecting vast amount of lave



The earth’s surface extremely rough and difficult to traverse.  A branch of the Oregon Trail passed nearby;  I often wonder what the emigrants thought when seeing this area?


If you decide to visit this truly Idaho gem, do not wait too long because the geologists predict that it will be erupting again sometime in the next one thousand years.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Standing Out


The signs of fall are everywhere these days from the chill of the night air to the decline of the flowers in our garden.  The other day I noticed this “late bloomer” among the rapidly fading Black Eyed Susans.  The bright yellow petals just glowed in the morning sun.  It was nice while it lasted because today the weather forecast calls for rain.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Idaho, The Views Will Leave You Breathless

Here it is nearly the middle of October and I have yet to complete reporting on the road trip the lovely wife and I took this past August.  One of these days I am going to take some time and get organized but perhaps that task is best saved for another day.

If you have always wanted to see majestic mountains and your were unsure where to visit, make a trip to Idaho.  No mater where you travel in the state, the mountains are nearby.  To me, Idaho is all about the mountains.


Just ten miles northeast of Boise taken in the early morning when the light is soft and sweet

Even a road trip to Idaho requires an intended destination and for this portion of the journey, our mission was to visit Lowman.  Lowman could best be describes as being in the middle of no where.  Despite being only seventy miles from Boise, the drive will take you about two hours as you wind your way up the mountains.  Lowman is situated in the heart of the Boise National Forest and was my first duty station as a young forester.  Thirty-five years had pasted since I was last there so a return visit was long over due.


Highway 21 connects Boise and Lowman and even crazy people seldom drive over 35 miles per hour

On the day of our journey, we left Boise in the early morning hours so as to have sufficient time to enjoy the sights along the way.  When I left Lowman in late November of 1976, I carried all my worldly possessions in the back seat of my VW bug.  I also had a lot more hair and my beard was definitely not gray!  I was excited to see how Lowman had changed over the past thirty-five years.  As the road descended into the South Fork of the Payette River valley, I spotted the roadside pull off once known as the Lowman Overlook.  At first I was confused because Lowman was no where to be seen, but then it hit me, the trees had grown and obscured the view of the valley below.  Yes, even in Idaho given 35 years, the trees will grow taller unless they are reduced to ash by a forest fire.

When I departed Lowman in 1976, the resident population was maybe 12, the 2010 census places the population at 42.  When I lived there, the heart and soul of the town unquestionably was the South Fork Lodge.  It was a combination summer motel, gas station, general store, post office, and restaurant.  The South Fork, as it was known had it all and if they didn’t, your choices were to drive back to Boise or live without it.  The second choice was frequently made by many a young forester.

The old South Fork Lodge was destroyed by fire several years ago and the new building, in my opinion, is lacking in character.  Perhaps I’m indulging in a little nostalgia but the old lodge had charm in a 1950s sort of way.  Due to the elevation, even in the summer, the evening temperatures were on the brisk side so venues for indoor recreation were always a high priority.  I remember spending one evening in September of 1976 watching the Ford – Carter presidential debate.  It wasn’t that any of us were especially interested in presidential politics, it’s just that the only television in Lowman happened to be in the lobby of the South Fork Lodge.  The reception on the black and white television was nearly nonexistent but it beat the alternatives.


Sadly all that remains of the old South Fork Lodge is the service station’s office


Present day Lowman as seen looking south across the South Fork of the Payette River

In the 1970s, living in Lowman you often felt isolated and disconnected from the rest of society.  I suppose that since we only received mail twice a week and the nearest telephone was thirty-five miles away might have contributed to that state of mind.  Today, things have changed on the communication front as I noticed an exterior community mail box and a public pay phone.  I didn’t try my cell phone but given the mountainous terrain and the small population, cell service is likely nonexistent.


This pay phone and mail boxes are the new “heart of Lowman”

In July of 1989 a massive fire burned in and around much of Lowman altering the landscape.  Even as a forester who once worked on fires I was somewhat taken back by the level of damage.  I just had to remind myself that the fire was but one event in the very long life of the forest.  Despite the damage, the area still offers the unsurpassed beauty I remembered.


Steep rocky slopes with huge Ponderosa pines reaching for the sky


A close look at the Ponderosa pine that inhabit the lower elevations

As you continue driving north and east of Lowman along Highway 21, you will eventually end up in the community of Stanley, AKA as the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains.  Stanley sits at just over 6,200 feet in elevation so it’s not unusual for even a summer evening to dip into the thirties.  Winter temperatures can be brutal; it’s not unusual for Stanley to have the lowest recorded temperature in the lower forty-eight states.  If you ever plan to go to Stanley, do not forget to bring a warm coat.  Judging by the number of people I saw in town talking on cell phones, it must be the first service opportunity for many miles.  I just wanted to scream “drop you phones and enjoy the mountains!”


The main street of Stanley with the Sawtooth Mountain looming in the distance


The Sawtooth Mountains looking across Little Red Fish Lake

From Stanley we continued our drive south with plans for spending the night in Ketchum. The highway slowly climbs until reaching Galena Summit, the elevation is just a few feet over 8,700 feet.  The views from the Galena Overlook are second to none.


The view from Galena Overlook looking north with the headwaters of the Salmon River in center of the image

After a long day, we arrived in Ketchum late in the afternoon and were fortunate to get the last room available.  Ketchum and adjacent Sun Valley are noted for their world class skiing so who would have thought they would be so busy in the dead of summer.  As it turns out, the area is a mecca for summer recreational activities such as golf, mountain biking, and white water rafting.


Our room was in the resort that overlooked the ski area

The following morning we once again headed south and east back into Idaho’s lowlands and the part of the state through which the Oregon Trail once passed.  Our destination for the day was a visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument.  The details and photos will be the subject of my next post. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Making Waves


“The ocean was alive with little peaks …. every swell was born in a different place, made from a specific recipe of wind, time, and water, …… each wave was unique as a fingerprint. It has its own provenance and its own destiny, clashing against its neighbors or merging with them, leaping out of the seascape or dissolving back into it.”

The Wave by Susan Casey

Last night, we received the first storm of the season.  Yesterday, I spent about a half hour standing on the south jetty at Clatsop waiting for the perfect wave.  As the tide continued to rise and the waves pummeled the jetty, I decided that this one would have to suffice.  Fall  has officially arrive and I already miss summer.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day 2011

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The lovely wife and I decided to do something exciting for Labor Day so we decided upon an impromptu visit to Cannon Beach.  We decided to brave the holiday traffic in order to enjoy clam chowder and fish and chips at an Oregon coast landmark followed by a hike along the beach.  We arrived to find the beach nearly shrouded in fog, the temperature hovering around 50 degrees, and the tourist donning jackets.  This was a sign that a hike was out of the question.  On the other hand, the fish and chips were outstanding.

Hells Canyon

During our recent vacation to rediscover the Oregon Trail, the lovely wife and I abandoned the trail several times in search of alternate adventures.  Our first such adventure was driving the 208 mile Hells Canyon Scenic Byway.  The scenic loop winds through the northeast corner of Oregon while overlooking Hells Canyon and encircling the Wallowa Mountains.  A good portion of the road is very narrow and winding but the views are incredible.  Do not plan to make this drive in the winter unless you own snowshoes.

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Hells Canyon Scenic Overlook looking east into Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains


Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge which was carved out of volcanic lava flows by the Snake River.  The gorge is ten miles wide and at its deepest point is a staggering 7,993 feet.  The canyon is largely inaccessible by road and is best experienced while floating the Snake River in a raft. 

Once leaving the canyon’s rim area, the drive continues through the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest finally descending into the community of Joseph, OR and nearby Wallowa Lake.  When you make your visit to Wallowa Lake, be sure to ride the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the summit of Mt. Howard.  The ride to the summit takes about about twenty minutes but other than hiking, it’s the only way to reach the summit which is just over 8,000 feet in elevation.


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The photo above was take through the window of the tram.  Notice the graffiti on the plexiglass left by some young lovers.  Once you reach the summit, the views of the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area are unquestionably without equal.


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Summit of Mt. Howard looking east into the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area

Once departing northeast Oregon, we continued our trip east along Interstate 84 as we headed to Lowman, Idaho for our next adventure.  The next logical question is where in the heck is Lowman and why drive over five hours to get there?  For the answer to that question, stay tuned.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Traces Of The Trail

Recently, my lovely wife reminded me that she had requested the second week of August off for her vacation.  She further stated that she wanted to “get out of town” and asked if I might plan a trip.  Planning a trip that gets us out of town is not much of a challenge; our weekly venture to the grocery store meets that requirement.  I wisely assumed that a trip to the grocery store wouldn’t do, so I began planning a road trip to eastern Oregon, the land of summer sunshine.

If you have never been to eastern Oregon, be sure to add this destination to your bucket list.  The possibilities of things to see and do are nearly endless.  As I pondered my options, I remembered a book on the Oregon Trail I had purchased several years ago.  Despite numerous trips to the eastside, I had never taken the  time to visit many of the areas through which the trail passed.  So armed with a map and a copy of Traveling The Oregon Trail, we headed east in search of the ruts left by the emigrant's wagon wheels.

What became known as the Oregon Trial was actually a series of trails that served as the primary westward migration route between 1840 and 1860.  Most of the emigrants traveling the tail began their journey in Independence, Missouri and ended 1240 miles later in the Willamette valley of present day Oregon.  The emigrants fled the Missouri River valley in search of free land and a better life.  Apparently the economy was less than robust between 1837  and 1841.

Preparation for the journey required the emigrants to sell all that they owned, purchase of a wagon, live stock, and necessary supplies for a seven month journey.  The wagon of choice is shown below, the prairie schooner.  Unlike it’s  larger cousin the conestoga, the prairie schooners were only four feet wide and ranged in length between twelve and eighteen feet.  This left little room for nonessential item like books, furniture, or family heirlooms.  Maybe this was just as well because those who brought such items often dumped them along the trail in order to lighten the wagon.

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Prairie schooner , Oregon Trails Interpretive Center near Baker City, Oregon

Despite what you may have seen in the movies, the majority of the people actually walked the entire trip.  The primary objective was to keep the wagons as light as possible thus preserving the strength of the wagon teams.  Unlike trips made today, the entire journey was undertaken without consideration of personal comfort.  

Each mile of the journey presented challenges as they attempted to traverse an average of twenty miles per day.  The first significant test of endurance came as they departed the the great plains and ascend the Rocky Mountains.  As they approached the continental divide, grass and water for live stock became scarce.  The buffalo that they served as a source of fresh meat while crossing the great plains of Kansas and Nebraska were also gone.  From here on out, the daily goal was simply to survive.

With the Rocky Mountains behind them, the semi arid deserts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon lay ahead.  If you have never been to the intermountain west, you might be surprised to learn how hot and dry the countryside can be.  The day time temperatures in the summer months are frequently in the nineties while the nights dip into the low forties.  It’s clearly a land of extremes.

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The Oregon Trail near Baker City, Oregon with the Blue Mountains in the distance

In addition to being hot and dry, the soil when disturbed quickly turns to dust.  One emigrant described the conditions as follows:  “Everlasting dust….  makes simple breathing a chore…… as long as I live, shall I ever be rid of this cough?”

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The Oregon Trail near Baker City, Oregon with the Blue Mountains in the distance

Death was a constant companion along the trail.  The trail side was litter with the carcass of live stock that succumbed to the lack of water and grass upon which to graze.  As for the emigrants, the most frequent causes of death were accidental injury and disease.  Cholera was easily spread as both humans and live stock shared the same limited sources of water along the trail.


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No, I did not find the bones of a emigrant.  This is the remains of a mule dear that recently died along the trail

Today  if you travel west from LaGrande to Pendleton, Oregon, the drive on a summer day might take an hour depending upon who is driving.  The same trip for the emigrants took ten or more days because it required crossing the Blue Mountains.  The majority of those taking this route arrived in late August or early September and found the forested mountains paradise like.  The area abounded in wild game, berries, and other edible wild plants which were a welcomed addition to the daily rations.

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The Blue Mountains crossing west of Pendleton, Oregon

The emigrants were enthralled by the towering conifer trees and the brisk mountain air which was a refreshing change from the hot desert they had endured all summer.  The forests of the Blues through which the emigrants passed were considerably less dense; the suppression of wildfire fire over the past 100 years has altered the landscape.  Despite this alteration, the area is still incredibly beautiful.

Descending the Blue Mountains and heading west, the trail passed through present day Pendleton.  One additional stretch of semi arid land laid ahead before reaching the Columbia River.  The view below is looking north into Squaw Creek just east of Pendleton.

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In the end, we didn’t find the spectacular ruts left by thousands of wagon wheels as promised by our guide book.  One hundred and fifty years coupled with modern development have obscured much of the trail.  At best, we found only traces of the trail but each stop we made offered an incredible story of sacrifice,determination, and survival.

Make a trip and experience the journey for yourself.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Working “The Plan”

I have been absent from these pages for a while now and little did I expect anyone to notice.  Ralph, at Ralph Carson Blog has kindly inquired to my whereabouts on several occasions.  I can honestly say that the past few months has not been spent at exotic ports of call or far from home for that matter.  Simply put, I have been busy “working my plan”.

So what’s my plan?  Before retiring from forestry, I developed a written plan that would guide me into the first six months of retirement.  My plan was a list of goals; simple plans have always worked the best for me.  One of my goals was to become established in a volunteer activity; I sort of hit the mother load and some how have become established in four.

For the past three years I have stocked shelves at the food bank and delivered meals to home bound senior citizens on a weekly basis.  These tasks are far from glamorous and requires little more than to show up with a strong back and a weak mind.  I do however consider the work to be very important, especially to those who are hungry.

I also continue to serve as a host to cruise ship passengers who visit for several hours.  Astoria is a port of call in the spring and fall as the cruise ships reposition to or from the Alaskan waters.  It’s really a lot of fun meeting people who have never have visited our area, especially those folks who come from outside the United States.  As far as volunteering goes, it doesn’t get any better than standing on the street corner, telling people where to go, and having them thank you for the experience!

Since my last post, I have also spent many hours volunteering at the maritime museum giving tours and working with the children’s educational programs.  One of the museum’s staff members recently commented that I should have a bed at the museum as I’m there so much.  I guess that explains why the staff is never surprised to see me   walk through the door.

This spring, we began a new educational program for middle school students which we refer to as our “hands on tour”.  The goal of the tour is to minimize talking at the kids but instead to engage them through activities which require the reliance on all of their senses. 

Working with kids, especially middle school students is a kick.  They always have an answer to your question and frequently it will one that you never expected.  On a recent tour I was leading a group of seventh grade students through an exercise which required them to imagine what it might be like to wear the deep water diving suit that is on display.  I posed the the following question, “do you see any problems that might come from being confined inside such a suit?”  I was thinking along the lines of that the suit would be cumbersome to wear and when the helmet is attached your field of view would be extremely limited.  Without missing a beat or cracking a smile, one young lady said that it would be especially uncomfortable inside the suit if you were to fart.  Not the answer I was looking for but I’m sure she is likely on point!  Rule number one for giving a tour is to always know your audience; that day I forgot the rule before posing the question.

Now that summer has finally arrived for those of us who reside on the Oregon coast the question becomes what will I do with the  little spare time I have when not volunteering.  One option might be to complete the wall papering of the kitchen I started more than a year ago.  I know that my lovely wife would like that!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Big Hunk of Metal

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Prominently located in the plaza of the Columbia River Maritime Museum is a gigantic ship’s propeller.  This prop’s specifications are impressive;  fourteen feet in diameter and weighing in at nine tons.  It’s one big hunk of metal!  Propellers such as this once drove the Charles Adams Class destroyers across the world’s oceans.

As impressive as this hunk of metal is, the reaction of the people relating to it is even more interesting.  Young children will scale the smooth surface of the blades then slide down  laughing as they go.  Teenagers will climb behind the blades and pose for a picture with only their head showing.  Middle age men can often been seen just standing before it and staring.  I suspect that they are former sailors and appreciate a thing of beauty when they see it. 

When I look at it, I see it as an object of raw power. Two of these propellers working together were capable of driving a ship that was longer than a football field through the ocean at nearly forty miles per hour.  In my book, that’s pretty impressive!

I decided to see if I could capture some of that power with the camera, so over a period of two months I made multiple images during different times of the day.  Hopefully, the following images convey a sense of what I saw.


The energy radiates from within


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The energy flows across the surface


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Everything is interconnected


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Is It A Sign?

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I was headed to the basement last Friday when I noticed this sign on the side of my neighbor’s house.  The day was bright and sunny so my first thought was that it be a signal of an early spring.  Whereas the groundhog does not make an annual appearance in Oregon, we are  left to interrupt the winter/spring transition ourselves.

The past several days have dashed my hopes for an early spring; we have experienced two wind storms, rain, hail, sleet, and snow.  So what could this sign mean?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Trip To The Big City

It’s funny how you do something once or twice and suddenly it has become a tradition.  A few weeks ago I called my friend Dale to remind him that that his birthday was approaching and that tradition dictated we get together for lunch.  I must have caught him on a bad day; he proceeded to inform me that he no longer wished to celebrate birthdays!  I paused and reminded him that it was tradition so how about we just call it an “un-birthday” celebration?  I further suggested that he plan a day that would be filled with outrageous activities for us to accomplish.  He inquired if I had something in mind and then mentioned that he has no desire to get arrested!  I simply told him to give it some thought and get back to me.

We spoke again about a week later and he told me that he had developed a plan for the “un-birthday” celebration.  His idea of an outrageous day was to ride the light rail train into the big city of Portland, Oregon and partake of a few of the city’s cultural opportunities.  As someone who seldom goes to the city, it sounded like a good day to me.

Our first stop was at one of Portland’s more weird establishments, the Voodoo Doughnut shop.  Now if you love doughnuts, and who doesn’t, visiting this shop is a must when you are in Portland.  The doughnuts run from the simple to the exotic; picture if you will doughnuts topped with Coco Puffs, Captain Crunch, or Fruit loops.  If that doesn’t get you, perhaps the maple bar topped with a slice of bacon will.  Just for the record, we both feasted on a doughnut, but we both chose from their less flashy offerings.

Our next adventure was to hop the street car and ride it to Powell’s Books.  Without a doubt, this store is a Portland intuition; the main store covers an entire city block and boasts over one million books in stock.  Walking into the store is a bit overwhelming so be sure to pick up a map at the front counter.  I actually left the store with a feeling of accomplishment because I noticed three book that I have recently read!

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting several of the city’s historic parks before boarding the train for the return trip to the suburbs.  Tradition will soon be upon us as my birthday is not too far off.  Perhaps another outrageous day in the big city would be in order.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Only Three Months

It’s a truism that after reaching fifty, the majority of the people with whom you interact seem to get younger each year.  I accept the ever increasing age divide as a fact of life except when it’s time to donate blood.  Since the donation of blood involves the use of rather large needles, I much prefer that the technician be “a little long in the tooth”!

So begins the tale of my recent visit to the Red Cross blood drive. 

I arrived at the processing station and was greeted by a young lady who looked as if she was perhaps a freshmen in high school.  Since her duties were  limited to signing me in, I saw  no problem here.  For those of you who have never donated blood, your next stop is at the health screening table.  Here they determine if you have a pulse and barrage you with question to access the suitability of your blood.  If you are approved, it’s on to the donation area where the fun begins!  Yep, you guessed  it, this is where the needles come into play.

It was at this point that I realized that the technician who would be sticking me with a BIG needles might be all of twenty years of age.  Foolishly, I inquired how long she have been employed with the Red Cross, to which she sheepishly replied, “only three months”.  She then asked if this was my first time donating to which I replied “oh no, I have donated over 100 times”.  The expression on he face lead me to believe that she was attempting to estimate how many years 100+ donations represented.  I was tempted to tell her that when I made my first donation, it was more than ten years before she walked the earth.  With that thought in mind, I decided it was better to just smile and keep my mouth shut. 

With the prep work complete, the moment for getting stuck by the needle arrived.  As is my custom, I turn my head and hope for the best.  Surprisingly, the needle stick was without sensation; I was just about to compliment her when I looked to see an expression of panic upon her face!  I immediately knew that she had missed the vein, definitely not a good thing.  The expression on my face must have scared her because the next word she uttered was HELP!!

Immediately, another technician came to her rescue and with little fuss, I was soon filling the bag with blood.  The rest of the process was thankfully uneventful.  In less than fifteen minutes, I was done and headed to the canteen for refreshments and to schedule an appointment to donate again in March.  The way I have it figured, my young friend will have nearly five month experience by then.