Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hiking the Clatsop Loop Trail at Tillamook Head and Hitting the Road Home in the Rain

April 27, 2013

We had four days of sunshine on the Oregon Coast as April, the cruelest month according to T.S. Eliot, trickled away.
Then, on the fifth day, it rained all the way home.
Of course clear April days on the coast hardly preclude early morning mists and chilling breezes.
On one such morning, while Darlene lollygagged and watched for passing whales from the balcony of our Best Western digs (with a “supreme ocean view” ) in Seaside, Nora and I dashed to  Ecola State Park north of Cannon Beach.
I soaked up the views at Ecola Point, including shadowy sea stacks to the south and a fog muted Tillamook Rock Lighthouse a mile  off the coast to the northwest.

Then we continued on a narrow, twisting  forest-lined road to Indian Beach. From there we launched a 1-1/4-mile, 800-foot ascent along a service two-track to Hikers' Camp on the Clatsop Loop Trail.
The trail, protected somewhat from the breeze, elevated along a thickly wooded canyon-side above Ecola Creek.
“It’s Awesome!” I said to Nora who sniffed among the redwood sorrel, trillium, salmonberry and the rippling fronds of feathery ferns.

I felt a connection with history, of course, because Lewis and Clark brought a hungry band of Corps of Discovery explorers from Fort Clatsop, near Astoria, over Tillamook Head to Cannon Beach.
They traced rumors that a whale had beached there.
After dining for weeks on dogs, they needed a dietary change. So, they aimed to trade with the local people for whale meat, which they managed successfully.
Clark wrote about crossing the head, however, calling it the “Steepest worst and  highest mountain (he) ever ascended."
It was easier for us, trekking on a well kept two-track, but it was steep. Really steep. Even Nora paused often to rest.
I paused often to take photos of massive trees and blooming plants.
At the saddle, we explored  the Adirondack shelters at Hikers' Camp and walked the one-eighth of a mile to an ocean overlook view of the Tillamook Rock Light House.

I researched it later via Google ( Tillamook Rock Lighthouse) and discovered a mind-boggling, even heroic, story about the people who built and operated facility from 1881 to 1957.
The facility has been called one of the most exposed lighthouse structures in the world.
Many heavy storms crashed rocks and debris through the lantern room and iron roof and often flooded it with seawater, repeatedly causing necessary repairs.
After being decommissioned, the lighthouse passed though several private owners. Eventually real estate developers bought it in 1980 and converted it into the Eternity at Sea Columbarium where people could store their ashes in urns for $1,000, or for $5,000 for a prime spot in the lantern room.
That project failed, however, and in 2005 an application for a new license was rejected, in part because of poor record keeping and the improper storage of urns (about 30 in all, and some were reported stolen by vandals).
Presently the lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Anyway, we trekked down the mountain and when leaving the park met a dozen cow elk and several calves.
Excited by the close contact with the elk, we hurried back to Seaside for Darlene.
She had spotted no whales.
In half-an-hour, and with our $5 visitors’ pass still good, we retraced our trip all the way to Indian Beach. We passed 20 yards above the elk that had bedded down on a wooded flat below the road. We stopped several times to ogle the scenery.
On Friday it rained. Finally.
Actually rain plummeted in sheets as we loaded the truck at Best Western.  It rained as we splashed through Portland to Internet 84. It rained as we left the freeway for Historic Highway 30 near Troutdale.
It poured as Nora and I strolled to the mist-spewing base of Multnomah Falls. It rained so hard at  Horsetail Falls that Nora stayed in the truck with Darlene.

The rain finally stopped as we leaned into the horseshoe curves up to Rowena Overlook and strolled among the bright yellow balsamroot.

Finally, after dining at Spooky’s in The Dalles, we crossed the Columbia River  and quickly cruised to Walla Walla for a late afternoon nap.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sneaker Waves May Daunt Sunny Daze at the Beach 

April 20, 2013

I may sound like a cad, but Darlene's raucous horselaugh at my misfortune with a sneaker wave turned my ears beet red.
So much for wifely commiseration.
Even Nora the Schnauzer yawned so wide that she squeaked.
So much for man's best friend.
And so much for last week's sunny Tuesday that began as a perfect day on Cannon Beach.
We drove the seven miles from Seaside in about 12 minutes and parked at Tolovana Wayside Park at about two minutes before the 11:35 a.m. low tide.

Darlene, with a view of the beach, lighted her kindle and leaned over it.
I shouldered cameras with wide-angle and macro lenses and headed for the world-renowned Haystack Rock, a mountainous 235-foot-tall basalt sea stack with tide pools and nesting tufted puffins.
It's so massive that it appears to be minutes away from the wayside. Alas, Nora and I dallied en route for almost an hour. I took photos. Nora made new friends.

We eventually reached the tide pools, however, and I switched to the macro-lens outfit and tip-toed among the rocks and shallow pools with my head down looking for colorful anemones.
Finally, I became transfixed  with countless sun-bathing starfish plastered to the rough base of the sea stack’s north side.

Then a man with a camera approached and pointed out tufted puffins and marbled murrelets that sailed in from the northwest to land on the grassy haystack dome.
Drat. And me without a big lens.
So much for “being prepared.”
"C'mon, Nora," I called. "Hurry.”
She bounded into action and I followed.
We covered the half-a-mile or so across the sand in  23 minutes. On the way, I plotted using the big lens on the tripod with a Kimball head that swivels and adjusts up-and-down with ease while still holding the camera steady.
It’s heavy and awkward to carry, however, so I had used the Kimball head twice in five years when shooting hummingbirds at a feeder.
I spent 15 minutes attaching the big lens and camera to the Kimball head. I snapped on a fanny pack containing water and slung the macro outfit in a camera bag over my left shoulder.
Before shutting the truck's door and picking up the tripod I turned to Darlene.
"You know, I feel a little like world-famous Art Wolfe setting out for a photo shoot on the Serengeti Plain," I said.
Darlene looked up from her kindle, but she only nodded.
The rest I’d rather forget.
I worked up a sweat by the time we stood beneath Haystack Rock again. An white-haired couple sat in lawn chairs near the tide pools. I asked it they minded if I set up the tripod a few feet away.
They didn't.
I spread the legs of the tripod and worked the knobs on the Kimball head so that the lens aimed at the top of the rock and swiveled smoothly.
Nora sat in my shadow with her tongue out. I removed the fanny back and  unsnapped the lid from her water container. I set it and the fanny pack in my shadow. I lay the camera bag beside them, with the top open for easy access.
Just in case.
Then I peered intently through the lens at the top of the rock and waited for puffins the approach.
A flight of three flapping their short wings appeared. I swiveled and tilted the lens working the manual focus to lock onto the high-flying birds.
I sensed a commotion among bystanders. Water swooshed onto my feet and chilled my shins.
I lifted the tripod and stumbled back to escape the sneaker wave. I reset the tripod at a safe distance and saw my camera bag, the fanny pack and the water container swamped on the sand.
A stranger grabbed the fanny pack. I picked up the camera bag, noting that water and sand seeped from it. The stranger fetched the water container and its lid.
“We often get waves like that about and hour after low tide,” he said and handed me my stuff.
I grimaced and thanked him.
At  safe distance I dumped Pacific Ocean salt water and sand from the camera bag and used a handkerchief to wipe water and sand from the camera.
It worked OK.

I didn’t feel like shooting puffins. So, with shoulders slumping and eyes skimming the sand I mopped all the way back to the truck. Expecting some sympathy, I told Darlene my story.
"You know, an hour ago I felt like Art Wolfe,” I concluded. “Now I feel like Pee Wee Herman.”
And she laughed. Really loud.

Note: These sea stars are clearly comfortable beside the sea, but did you know that starfish really are consummate marine species? Why? Because they actually have no blood to speak of, instead using filtered seawater for a similar purpose. Called the water vascular system, this hydraulic method of circulating seawater through their bodies is what sea stars use to move, eat, excrete and even breathe.

Written by: Simone Preuss

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Geocaching at Wallula Gap

Third Trip to Wallula Gap Overlook, 2005, 2008 and 4-11-2013

April 13, 20013

I vastly enjoyed Thursday's pursuit of a geocache atop the west side of Wallula Gap with Bret Rankin and Nora the Schnauzer.
Great companions, a good walk and we had a perfect day for it.
Yes, a grey haze clouded the horizons to the south and west, and a chilly breeze rippled across the Columbia River.
Warm sunshine sifted from azure swatches, however, and spring flowers fluttered in the breeze: phlox, balsamroot, filigree, asters, shooting stars and larkspur.
And inspiring scenery abounded.
The cache, according to an entry at (registration is free), "…is located at (the) west side of Wallula Gap, at an incredible 850-ft drop off into the Columbia River below. Even at this height the largest Ice-Age floods still rose another 80 ft above the cache site."
The site lists the overlook at a 1,100 foot altitude (registered as 1,122 feet on my GPS).
Noted author and geologist Bruce Bjornstad placed the cache in 2004. I first visited it in August of 2005 with Sadie the Dalmatian. We approached from below, near the railroad, and scaled the canyon walls.
Not a smart move, but en route we found two wrecked cars that apparently were pushed from the plateau. The cars remain visible from the top.

Anyway, Bjornstad appropriately titled his cache "Wallula Gap Overlook."
To find it, we left Walla Walla at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday (April 12), after Bret put in a shift at the Union-Bulletin.
I drove across the Cable Bridge at Pasco to Finley. Alas, absorbed with amazing tales about earlier trips, I missed a turnoff and drove happily to Interstate 82.
Red-faced, I backtracked. We found the correct route and eventually parked at a dead end on Ayers Road.

I had two cameras, a fanny pack with energy bars, Nora's water saucer and treats along with a daypack containing the 100-ounce water bag (sold as a "hydration system"), a sweater and a rain parka.
Bret, who traveled light, volunteered to carry the fanny pack with one camera bag attached.
Being the old hand, I suggested we climb the 600 feet, more or less, straight to the top of the plateau and ample a few miles while gaining another 250 feet to the overlook.
So, taking turns holding up the bottom strand of a barbed-wire fence, Bret and I bellied under it to reach a sandy two-track. Nora followed without ducking.

A lumbering black cow approached, but it passed nonchalantly a few feet away. We, including Nora, ignored it. During the trek, we passed several bunches of cows, often just a few yards away. We ignored them. And vice-versa.
We reached the top in half-an-hour or so. Sweating and sucking breaths, we stuffed jackets into my pack, gave Nora a drink and headed across the plateau.
As usual, views of the flood-scathed landscape left me more than a bit awed.
I piddled along the edge of steep cliffs to take pictures. Nora trotted back and forth between Bret and  me, sometimes pausing to peek over a cliff's edge.
Mostly, we meandered along the gentle incline. Well, gentle with the exception of the up-and-down slippery-rock slopes of ravines.
In addition to the panoramic views, we ogled rough-hewen and towering rock formations, as well as smoother light-colored boulders (called ice-rafted erratics) deposited on the plateau by chunks of ice carried by the massive floods.
Finally, at the overlook we found a tumble of the erratic boulders, with a line of them lying across the point where we found the cache in a plastic container.
Some change a few million years make?
My GPS said we had walked 3.89 miles in 2 hours, 16 minutes moving time. We had lollygagged for more than another hour, averaging 1.7 mph.
We had a high speed of 5 mph when I slipped a few feet down a rocky ravine.
Then we spent almost an hour lounging at the cache site.

Bret checked the treasure and signed the journal. We chipped in a shiny quarter and headed back on cow trails. One of them led down between cliffs and along a hillside.
Near the bottom we came upon a new-born calf curled and still. No mother cow lurked in view, so Bret and I stepped close to the still body.
The calf jerked its head. We all three gasped and levitated a foot, at least. Nora scurried on down the trail. Bret and I followed. The calf looked strong, and the mother would probably return.
We slithered under the fence again at a few minutes before 7 p.m.
One geocacher wrote on an internet post that it’s an 81/4-mile round trip with an 1800-foot elevation gain.
That made sense to me as Bret and I moaned and groaned while sipping ice cold barley based picker uppers before heading home.
Then Nora slept all the way, of course.
It clearly had been a perfect way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Watching Spring Bloom at Mill Creek and McKay Creek

April 3/4, 2013
Wednesday 7:17 p.m.
I'm still groggy from sleep. A storm whips from the southwest to the east, up Balm Street with a cold rain and a buffeting wind.
I had an urge to dress in a wool sweater, a wind-and-rain deflecting rain coat, waterproof hiking boots and take Nora (dressed in her red Ruff Wear raincoat) for a stroll along lonely downtown streets.
The urge passed.

Nora lies on her stomach, resting her chin on a stuffed hedgehog and  facing an NCIS rerun on TV.  So, let me reminisce about a recent pair of photo outings.
Nora and I walked from Rooks Park, on Mill Creek, across the bridge and onto the bluff above the flood plain. I carried a macro outfit, with twin flashes and a 1.4 extender attached to a 105-mm full-frame lens.

Towering clouds rushed from the west to open alternating patches of  blue sky.  and shade to challenge camera settings. Nevertheless, from the bluff I took photos of the budding spring announcing its presence in the clumps of tress along the stream. Within a day or two, surely within a week, the tree limbs will tremble in the breezes with fully fledged clothing.
On the way back, with sun spots along the creek, jumping spiders warmed on the fence railing below the dam. Snap! Snap!, Snap!

Thursday, Noon
We drove to McKay Creek. We saw deer, wild turkeys and pheasants, and glommed a few good photos.

On the way back, I talked to the manager of the store-gift shop at the Arrowhead  Truck Shop. I proposed that he place some of my photos (13 by 19 and 81/2 by 11) in his shop. He liked the photos, but it didn’t work out because he had no way to display them.
Hyped by the idea, despite the rejection, I went to Darrah’s in WW. He suggested getting the large photos laminated and buying cellophane sleeves for the smaller ones, and he would display them … for 15 percent of the sale price.
I did, and left several with him. We’ll see how it goes.