Blog Archives

Ice Ice Baby

For those of you who have wisely chosen to stay away this past week while the Gorge pounded out its first windy ice storm of the season, I thought we’d share a whip of the tempest.

Ice in the Parking Log

The sun’s reflection on the ice that coats Rooster Rock’s parking lot.

 

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The effect of that ice.  An accident on I-84 that sent rangers scurrying home.

 

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Weather changes quickly in the Gorge. On November 7, our big leaf maples looked like this.

 

Snow and Maple Leaf

By the following week, the trees sat naked, leaves lodged in snow.

 

Ice on Cliff

Icicles form at water seeps along the Columbia River Highway.

 

Shepperd's Dell and Bridge

Trails and bridges are coated with ice . . . and will be slow to thaw in the shadows of the Gorge walls.  This is a look at Shepperd’s Dell.

 

Shepperd's Dell

Shepperd’s Dell hourglass waterfall.

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The trail at Latourell is closed due to ice, but you can still admire the contrast of the icy falls and the glowing lichen from the lower viewpoint.

 

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When I arrived at Multnomah Falls (not a State Park, but a flagship of the Gorge), two visitors were beyond the fence at the lower pool side (not permitted).  While there are many reasons waterfall pools are closed, it is especially dangerous in the winter — water seeps into cracks between columns of basalt rock and then expands when it freezes . . . peeling off slabs of rock and sending them flying onto whatever lies below.

 

Mystery Photo Answer

Did you figure out last week’s mystery image?  Do you still have a few questions?

Before I reveal the answer, let me show you two more photos and give you a few more hints.

 

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Material Hint: Look closely at the mid-right section of this photo. See the (dangerous) piece of flair woven into the object? It should help you reel in the answer.

 

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Object Hint: Take a peak inside this object — it has a soft lining of moss and lichen.

A few other things to mention:

  • This was found after ranger fell a hazard tree near Benson Lake — Benson is located near Multnomah Falls, between the Historic Columbia River Highway and I-84.  There is a lake, a pond, a creek, and the Columbia River nearby.
  • It was hanging suspended from a cottonwood tree branch about 20 feet up.
  • The dimensions of the object are 3 1/2″ wide by  5 1/2″ long.

Ready for the answer?!

Okay, here it is:  . . . We do not know.

That’s right.  We do not know.  Well, not everything at least.  We know that it is a bird’s nest.  And we know that it is constructed of fishing line and lined with moss, lichen, and a strand of carpet.  What we are not 100% certain of is its maker.  Our first three initial guesses out of the birds who weave nests were wren, bushtit, or oriole.  Bushtit nests look more like long hanging socks.  And while some wrens weave nests, the wrens in the Gorge are not great weavers, and this nest is a piece of art.

Our best guess for the maker of this nest is the Bullock’s Oriole.  These are common at Benson; they often nest in cottonwood trees near streams and waterways; they are marvelous weavers of hanging basket nests; and they’ll use hair, twine, or grass for a nest (or perhaps fishing line!)  Our only hesitation is that the nest seems a bit small for this medium-sized bird.  A quick search reports that the average Bullock’s Oriole nest is 4 inches wide and 6 inches deep — our is 1/2″ shy of each of those.  So it may be a smaller Bullock’s nest.  Or it may not.

And this is how naturalist studies often go.  A definitive answer is not always possible.  More research is often required.  And not the kind that is found on the Web or in a book.  No, the best research here will be done at Benson State Recreation Area during the Bullock’s mating season.

So, I’ll see you at Benson between this coming May and mid-July!

 

 

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.

Snowmaggedon 2014

Well, it’s been heck of a month for weather in the Columbia River Gorge.  You probably saw last week’s snow in the news and at your own doorstep.  Here’s a peek of how things looked from our boots.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

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Snowbanks lined the (plowed!) East Gorge trailheads.  As a kiddo, I would have found these to be the perfect base for a snow fort.

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A little bit of snow didn’t keep the hearty visitors from playing along the West Trailhead on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail!

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However, at the West Gorge, the light, fluffy snow, with a nice Gorge breeze made for drifts high enough to block entrance to the Rooster Rock office.

Monday, February 10, 2014

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Overnight sleet turned the parking lot at Angel’s Rest into an ice skating rink.  2018 Winter Olympics, here we come!

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Any guesses as to the medium of this piece of winter art?
It’s snow!  Swirled with grit and filling the outside stairwell to the Friends of Vista House winter office. Gorgeous . . . until it melted!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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Rangers returned to work on Tuesday to drifts up to four feet tall — it took the whole team, manger included, to clear the way.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

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By Wednesday, passenger vehicles finally had access Rooster Rock. . . . And our light, fluffy winter wonderland began to turn to dirty brown mush.  Until next time . . .

Signs of Spring

I know, the frigid blast from the east just passed, and it’s a little soon to be talking spring.

But, one of our rangers just spotted the first wildflower of the season at Rowena Crest, and the view was singing “spring!” from Vista House today.

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Looks like a grass widow a.k.a. satin flower (Olsynium douglasii) to me! Rowena Crest, January 25, 2014.

Need a hand identifying Pacific Northwest Wildflowers? 

Here’s a cheat sheet for beginners:  Mountain Wildflowers: 57 Common Species

And a great website for reference:  http://www.pnwflowers.com/

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With the sun in the south and east this morning, a rainbow appeared in the mist to the north and west.

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Vista House. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Crown over the Crown.

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. . . And no one else around to see it all!

 

Slight Breeze from the East

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Differences in winter temperatures cause winds to rip down from the east in the Gorge.

Well, it is a little breezy here in the Gorge this week.  Trees are falling over, limbs are ripping through the air, litter is playing tag, rangers are trapped in their vehicles at Vista House, visitors are finding (and losing) their center of gravity, and newscasters are having a heyday.

http://www.kgw.com/news/High-winds-head-to-East-County-Columbia-Gorge-241676571.html

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High winds kick up waves, and the spray can make rainbows. Is there a pot of gold in the Columbia?

It’s that time of year.  Bitterly cold, dense air from the deserts in the east is ripping down the Gorge towards the warmer ocean and replacing the warmer, less dense air in Portland.  The narrow passage between two different climates makes the Gorge the perfect place for this kind of gap wind.  Wind can be fun (I simply love it), but extreme wind is reason for extreme caution.

Check here for the weather at Vista House, Crown Point:   http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mesowest/getobext.php?wfo=pqr&sid=D6193&num=60&raw=0&banner=off  (NOTE:  1/24/2014:  Our wind gauge is not currently reading correctly; actual wind speeds and gusts are HIGHER.)

Our Rooster Rock webcam shows conditions on the Columbia River:  http://www.pdxgreen.com/RoosterCam.aspx

Heading out into the wind?  Here are a few things to think about . . .

Secure Your Stuff

There are two fates for the loose objects outside during high winds.  They either a) become lost or ruined or b) become projectiles injuring people, pets, or property.  Neither one of these is good.

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Rangers are dedicating hours to cleaning up after this week’s high winds. Tree at Rooster Rock.

Watch Your Face

You know that fancy backpack you’re wearing for your Gorge hikes?  The one with hip belt and chest strap?  It is out to get you.  Big gusts turn loose straps into whips and these lashes are killer on the eye.  Make sure they’re securely tucked or tied off.

Choose Your Vehicle (and Your Route)

High profile vehicles get blown around in the wind; a big gust can push you sideways, or, if your vehicle is really tall, tip you over.  Driving I-84 in high wind is stressful.  If possible, choose the slower, more scenic Historic Columbia River Highway.  And watch out for debris.  It is more than Parks and ODOT can keep up with.

What's RIGHT with this picture?

What’s RIGHT with this picture?

Park Thoughtfully

Nearly every park vehicle in the Gorge has a funky door feature—this comes from high winds ripping the door out of a driver or passenger’s hands and flying forward.  Park with the front of your car pointing INTO the wind.  And if you need to use your feet to force your way out of your car, you should probably just stay inside.  Even if you get out, you’re asking for a tumble.  It’s not cute.  And it will be recorded.

And with that, it is time for me to jump in my car and blow east!

2014 Gorge Resolutions: Choose Your Own Adventure

Well, it is a new year.  2014 has arrived.  And it is time (nearly past time) for the year’s resolutions.  Typically, resolve means to “settle or find a solution to (a problem or contentious matter).”  If you’re like me, your resolutions tend to be the same . . . and tend not to work.  So, a few years back, I went for the other definition of resolve, to “decide firmly on a course of action.” I switched from problem-solving to goal-setting.  And this year, it is all about the Columbia River Gorge. 

Want to join me?  Below is the result of my brainstorm.  Choose 10!  Or 20.  Or 30.  Feeling like a “Big Year”?  Go for all 50.  It’s time to choose your own 2014 adventure.

50 Things to Do In the Columbia River Gorge in 2014

  1. Hike 100 miles of different trails in the CRG.
  2. Visit all State Parks in the CRG.
  3. Visit 25 waterfalls in the CRG (there are over 90), at least one of each type (plunge, horsetail, fan, cascade, punchbowl, block, tier, and segmented).

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    Have you been to this waterfall?   Or talked to this ranger?  #3 and #39.

  4. Visit one Washington and one Oregon museum in the Gorge.
  5. Tour the Lewis and Clark sites along the CRG.

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    Did you know?  Rooster Rock is a Lewis & Clark site.  #5.  Check.

  6. Visit a fish hatchery.
  7. Conduct your own naturalist study—visit and document changes at one spot 20 times throughout the year.
  8. Have a “three-pronged” adventure day (bike, hike, camp, windsurf, kiteboard, standup paddleboard, bird watch, fish, swim, paddle, disc golf, rock climb . . .just pick three!)
  9. Drive (and/or bike!) all existing portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway.
  10. View the Gorge from the water.
  11. Hike to the highest point in the Gorge.
  12. Read the journals of Lewis and Clark.
  13. Watch a documentary on the Gorge OR a movie filmed in the Gorge.

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    If you’re up early enough for #18, you might see this flying saucer!

  14. Learn 10 new Gorge plants.  Photograph and sketch them.  Note their habitat.
  15. Learn 10 new Gorge birds.  Sketch them and learn their songs and calls.  Note their habitat.
  16. Go on a search for the rare Larch Mountain Salamander.
  17. Go on a search for the rare wildflower, Columbia Kittentails (Synthyris stellata)—only found in the Gorge.
  18. Hike to a viewpoint for a Gorge sunrise.
  19. Give back by volunteering for a day trail work, invasive weed removal, or litter cleanup in the Gorge.
  20. Stay a night in the Gorge.
  21. Attend a guided hike or educational program about the Gorge.
  22. Visit one Oregon Trail historical site.
  23. Visit one Native American petroglyph or pictograph.
  24. Find the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Gorge.
  25. Study the Missoula Floods, who was Bretz?
  26. Walk through an oak grove in the Gorge.
  27. Stand in a waterfall “mist zone.”
  28. Hear the distinctive warning call or “whistle” of a pika.
  29. Sketch a plant using the “macro” point of view.
  30. Sketch the Gorge landscape from a viewpoint.
  31. Track wildlife prints on the beach.
  32. Write a letter and drop it off at the Bridal Veil Post Office.

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    This tunnel on the Historic Columbia River Highway is only accessible by foot or by bike. Go for #40 and #9!

  33. Hug an old-growth tree.
  34. Visit the site of a sawmill or fish cannery.
  35. Step foot on the Pacific Crest Trail.
  36. Learn the legend and geological story behind the Bridge of the Gods.
  37. Research historic photos of Celilo Falls, visit the site and imagine the power of the falls.
  38. Hike to a viewpoint where you can take in both Mount Hood and Mount Adams.
  39. Talk to a park ranger.
  40. Ride your bike on a section of the Historic Columbia River Hwy.
  41. Photograph the basalt columnar joints common in the Gorge—dark, six-sided, regular columns.
  42. Watch the Tundra Swans at Rooster Rock’s Mirror Lake in the winter.
  43. Look for petrified wood near Eagle Creek.
  44. Dip your fingers in either end of the Gorge—at the Sandy and Deschutes Rivers.
  45. Spot an Amtrak train passing through on the Washington side.
  46. Watch the salmon run.
  47. Watch the dam locks give a boat passage.
  48. Watch the moon rise over the Gorge.
  49. Stargaze in the Gorge.
  50. Share the Gorge with a friend

Phew!  It is going to be a busy year.  Best get started.  Worried about finishing?  #51 is “Find Bigfoot.”

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Finish them all? Time for #51. Track Bigfoot!

Winter in the Wonderland

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Mirror Lake at Rooster Rock is nearly frozen over. If you’re in the Gorge, bundle up and keep an eye out for frozen waterfalls!

Well, winter has arrived.  I know for most, this is a reason for concern.  Temperatures are dropping, winds are picking up, visibility is low, and roads are getting slick.  It is the first snow of the season; and it’s a good day to stay home with a book, a blanket, and a hot drink.  And to check extreme conditions from the safe comfort of home.

Here’s what it’s looking like at the west end of the Columbia River Gorge:

It is windy.  And cold.

As of 8:27 AM, temperatures at Vista House on Crown Point were +1 degree Fahrenheit with the wind chill.  That wind was gusting up to 53 miles per hour.  Interested in seeing this data for yourself?  Check out our NOAA Weather Conditions at Crown Point:

http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mesowest/getobext.php?wfo=pqr&sid=D6193&num=60&raw=0&banner=off

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Snow makes for Class A wildlife tracking!

It is snowing.

What was flurries on I-205 in Portland is turning into snow on I-84 heading east.  It’s one of those days where an unexpected gust can slide you sideways a bit, even if you’re only going 35 mph.

It’s also freezing.

And has been for days.  Yesterday, the Tundra Swans were feeding in the center of Mirror Lake at Rooster Rock, rumps up in the air.  Today, they were ice skating.  Joining them in the performance were:

  • Hooded Merganser
  • Mallard
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Pintail
  • Bufflehead
  • Song Sparrow
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Steller’s Jay
  • Black-capped Chickadee
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Tundra Swans call Mirror Lake home in the fall and winter seasons. With a camera up to the binoculars, you can just make them out!

Winter is a time of subtle beauty in the Gorge.  If you want to see it for yourself, just come prepared for extreme winter conditions.  Check the weather and the roads, bundle up, pack a little extra of everything, and play it safe.  If, like today, it’s unsafe to drive, wait a day or two.  The Gorge will still be here, waiting with a windy embrace.