Monthly Archives: March 2014

Under the Cover of Darkness: Star Party at Rooster Rock

While many of us were wrapping up our yard work, our barbeques, and our walks under Saturday evening’s setting sun, volunteers from Rose City Astronomers and Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers were just coming out to play.

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The night kicked off with a gorgeous sunset over the Columbia River.

March 22 marked Rooster Rock State Park’s first Star Party event for 2014.  Organized by OMSI in partnership with Oregon State Parks, Rooster Rocks holds seven “Star Parties” throughout the year between the spring and fall equinox.  This past weekend, over 200 visitors joined volunteer astronomers along the Columbia River to look at constellations, nebulas, and Jupiter with its moons.  It was a spectacular evening.

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Poised for darkness, telescopes lined the bank of the Columbia River.

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A photographer sets up her camera to capture the magic of the evening.

Never been to a Star Party?  You still have six more chances!

Here are some tips and things to know:

  • Know before you go.  Star Parties may be cancelled due to cloud cover and/or high winds.  Call the OMSI hotline to confirm:  503.797.4000.  Press #3, then #5.
  • Arrive around dusk and well before dark.  This will give you a chance to find parking, restrooms, and a place to lay out your blanket.
  • Bundle up.  Warm days can be deceiving; bring a winter coat, hat, gloves, and maybe a hot drink!
  • Bring stargazing gear.  A flashlight with a red lens (or red cellophane) is a must for walking around in the dark – white light ruins your (and everyone’s) night vision.  Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome.  Star charts are also a nice addition – paper copies are available at the event.
  • Expect to pay $5 for parking.  While the event is free, Oregon State Parks still requires a parking permit.  $5 for a daily, $30 for an annual, $50 for a 2-year.
  • Begin with the talk!  Just after sunset, you can join us for a presentation and get lowdown the event and the current viewing highlights.
  • Visit each ‘scope.  Volunteer astronomers bring their telescopes and their knowledge to Star Parties, and they love to share.  It’s simple.  Walk up to a person with a telescope, ask what they’re looking at, what it is, and if you can take a peek.   Never seen where stars are born?  This is your chance.
  • Lay back, and enjoy!  Star Parties are a great chance to relax with friends and family.  Grab a star chart, get out your red flashlight, lay back, and map out the night sky.  Find the Big Dipper, the North Star, your zodiac sign, or make up your own constellations.  Contemplate the stars, the Columbia River, the Gorge, and the Universe.

 

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Even the naked eye could catch the beauty of “Thor’s Crown” resting below the Orion constellation.

Upcoming 2014 Star Parties

At Rooster Rock & Stub Stewart State Parks

  • April 19
  • May 10
  • June 2
  • July 12
  • August 12
  • September 20

Special events at Milo McIver State Park

  • April 14 (Lunar Eclipse – Milo McIver ONLY)
  • October 8 (Lunar Eclipse – Milo McIver ONLY)

 

We hope to see you there!

 

For more information and other events, visit the OMSI website:  https://www.omsi.edu/starparties

 

 

 

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The Gorge Rocks!

Literally.  Why?  Four words:  Ice. Age. Mega. Floods.

As an Interpretive Ranger, the story of the Missoula Floods is one of my favorite geologic tales to tell.  It’s action, drama, and mystery all rolled into one.  And in the Gorge, we’re right in the thick of it.

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Have you seen this movie? It happened here, in the Columbia River Gorge!
(This poster art copyright belongs to the distributor of the film, 20th Century Fox, the publisher of the film and/or the graphic artist.)

If that were not enough, the Missoula Floods (sometimes referred to as the Bretz Floods) also sheds scientific light on a handful of my favorite movie characters – Scrat, Manny, Sid, and Diego.  Ice Age II:  The Meltdown, anyone?  While obviously intended to be a children’s animated comedy and adventure, there are some nuggets of truth in The Meltdown.

Ice age dams are real.  And so is their bursting.  And it happened right here, in the Columbia River Gorge, around 15,000 years ago . . . depending on how you count.

Want the hear the adult version of this cataclysmic story?  Come to a FREE talk this Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 2 PM in Troutdale, Oregon at the Barn Museum, 732 E. Historic Columbia River Highway.  The Friends of Vista House are partnering with the Troutdale Historical Society to host a free, open to the public talk by Jim Urbaniak (president of the Oregon Agate and Mineral Society) on the Gorge Mega Floods.

Have questions?  Contact the Troutdale Historical Society at 503-661-2164 or email info@troutdalehistory.org.

Want to know more about the Ice Age Mega Floods?  Check out the Ice Age Floods Institute webpage http://www.iafi.org/

In the Footsteps of Explorers: Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area

A few days ago, I set out to explore Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  Literally less than 1 mile from my doorstep, I had yet to visit this seemingly benign park in the West Columbia Gorge Management Unit.  A parking lot, a restroom, a boat ramp, an interpretive nature trail . . . I was sure 45 minutes would suffice.

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An explorer’s view! A flooded Sandy River from Broughton’s Bluff, Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area, Oregon.

2 1/2 hours later, I emerged back in civilization muddy, sweating, hand tingling from a wrestling match with stinging nettle, and glowing from the aftermath of an unforeseen adventure.  I did not walk through the parking lot, did not use the restroom, visit the boat ramp, or wander the interpretive trail.  No, I discovered Broughton’s Bluff.

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Towering walls of basalt columnar joints make up this near-Portland climbing mecca.

Broughton’s Bluff is in Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area – it’s the cliff and ridge to the east.  It’s actually the geologic dividing line between the Willamette Valley to the west and the foothills of the Cascades to the east.  And it’s named after an explorer.  Nothing to do with the park’s namesakes of 1805, Lewis & Clark, but, rather, a British naval officer, Lt. William Robert Broughton who explored the Lower Columbia in 1792 and navigated up as far as the entrance to the Gorge –  “Broughton’s Bluff” – named after him in 1926.  (He was also the guy who and named Mt. Hood – for Lord Samuel Hood, another British naval officer.)

Although not well-advertised, you can get your own explorer on and visit Broughton’s namesake.  A steep, braiding, slippery trail winds you through mossy green boulders as you skirt around basalt walls until you can make a v-line for a ridge and scramble to the top.

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No walk in the park, the trail to Broughton’s Bluff is riddled with obstacles.

Be forewarned, this trail is not for the faint of heart (or the fear of height or the young of age).  It’s steep; drop-offs are severe and unforgiving; and the trail surface includes stairs, roots, and boulders the size of small cars – all of which are coated with moss and mud.  Falling would not be pretty.

If you’re wondering about the fitness level required, know that it is most used by rock climbers.  Rather than a day-hiking trail, Broughton’s Bluff is best known for its climbing routes sprinkled along the basalt cliffs – again, not for the faint of anything – climbing equipment and experience required here!

I came out relatively unscathed, but not without waxing my knee on a rock, scraping up mud with my butt, and bracing my hand on a stinging nettle plant – never done that?  It’s like shaking hands with a wasp.

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They’re b-a-a-a-c-k! Rufous hummingbirds are in our neighborhood! Love these little warriors.

Besides the adventure and the views, spring (and the fact that it was all warm, sunny, and windless!) also made this hike.  Five different wildflowers graced the trails – early blue violet carpeting the Sandy’s banks, Indian plum hanging along the trail, oaks toothwort just opening all nestled in the groundcover, chickweed hiding among the boulders, and then a surprise red-flowering currant bursting from behind a Douglas fir.

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Red-flowering currant – always pinker than you remembered!

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Oaks toothwort – one of the first wildflowers of the season!

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Chickweed – easy to miss this tiny white flower!

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Indian plum – a sure sign that spring is on its way!

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Early blue violet – a common wildflower, but unusual for me. I usually find wood violets, instead!

For those of us who love wildflowers, each sighting is like a reunion with an old friend – remembering names, followed by big hellos and so-good-to-see-yous, recalling the last time you met, and concluding with photos ops for Facebook.  Greeting the Townsend’s chipmunk and Rufous Hummingbird was no different.  A reminder that spring is on its way, and the forest is filled with familiar faces.

Next up?  Another trip to Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  This time to drop by Sandy’s edge, wander the interpretive nature trail, read up on Lewis and Clark’s 1805 visit, and check out the facilities.  And perhaps pay homage to the explorer Lt. William Robert Broughton with a quick jaunt up to the base of the basalt columns.