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Friday, 30 July 2010

A River Runs Through It

A couple of days ago our neighbours Robert and Susan took us out for a picnic, and to see the second biggest waterfall in Oregon, the Salt Creek Falls. On the way we stopped off at the Office Covered Bridge, one of many covered bridges in Oregon, but both the longest in Oregon, and the only covered bridge with a separate sidewalk west of the Mississippi River.  

The bridge was only opened to the public in 2002, after it became the property of Lane County (in 1992), and was stabilised and had the roof replaced. It is now decorated with Christmas lights every year, and lit the first week after Thanksgiving. There is a small park over the bridge, with information boards, covered camping tables, toilets etc, which acts as the trailhead for North Fork Trail #3666.

Salt Creek Falls, the result of volcanic deposition and glacial erosion. The falls plunge 286 feet into the pool.

The basalt laid down at the top of the cliff cooled and contracted, creating (in places) a pavement a little like the Giant's causeway, but only a little.

We walked on to see another nearby waterfall, through towering Douglas Firs, Hemlocks and other conifers. It's easy to forget how magnificent these tress are, but some handy humans to give scale.

Diamond Creek Falls. While much smaller at only 100 feet, I found this much more attractive to the eye. As we viewed these falls we saw a pair of American Dippers, mother and baby, exploring the pools and catching insects. Actually the mother was doing the catching, and the baby was doing a lot of chirping and getting fed.  

There he is.

Robert pointed out some rough pits near the bottom of the waterfall. These pits were apparently created by American Indians for food preparation, though Robert is fond of pulling our legs so I'm taking that with a pinch of salt...

On the way home we stopped at a fish hatchery and saw this interesting carving. The map has East at the top, and shows the network of rivers that run down from the Cascade and Coastal mountains, joining together in the Willamette River. Eugene is the label above above the leaf-shaped lake at the bottom right, with Springfield in the fork just above it where the MacKenzie and Willamette Rivers meet. The Willamette is unusual in running North towards its outlet into the Columbia River and on to the sea.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Bike Rides

Beth has invested in a recumbent tricycle, and we have recently taken a few rides together. The recumbent design is much more comfortable for Beth than a conventional bike, and we've covered 6-10 miles on each occasion without saddle soreness.

In London we had to deal with road traffic, hills, narrow and obstructed bike lanes (if provided at all), unpredictable and oblivious pedestrians (usually yakking on phones or plugged into iPods), insane bus or taxi drivers, and many other road-based dangers and aggravations. In Eugene, or at least Santa Clara which is our local area, these problems are much reduced and almost non-existant.

On our travels I've recorded three phases of suburban development outside the downtown area. In the first there are no sidewalks, the property lines extending to the roadside as seen above. This is not very pedestrian friendly, and when we were looking for a house we rejected several properties like this. We like to take evening strolls or cycle rides, and we like our sidewalks. My guess is that these areas developed in the 40s to 60s when the car was the new toy, nobody walked anywhere if avoidable, and a sidewalk was an out-dated concept.

In the second phase sidewalks were put in again, contiguous to the pavement (which in the USA means the road). Apart from the style, you can guesstimate the age of the area from the discoloration of the concrete. Both this and the older developments have individual roadside mailboxes, as seen here. I think these sub-divisions were from the 70s and 80s, when a sense of community was resurfacing, and road-traffic increases prompted urban designers to consider children, dog-walkers, and others who did not wish to or could not use a motor vehicle to travel.

The third phase, from the 80s to the present date, features a strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road. The concrete is much cleaner and there are no weeds between the slabs. There are usually trees set into this strip, providing shade, privacy, oxygen and other nice things. I took this particular house to show how wide some of the properties can be, but you may notice that it lacks an upper floor, so the actual square footage may not be huge. The rooflines of American houses are often quite complex, with multiple angles and levels. Much easier to achieve when the house and roof are both timber-framed, and the roofing material is not slate or tile but a modern composite, or occasionally wooden shingles. 

Regardless of the age of the area, all properties are set back at least 40 feet from the roadside, giving ample parking for several vehicles, and keeping the already wide roads mostly uncluttered. New properties generally have smaller plot sizes, less than 0.15 of an acre, sacrificing a decent back garden, and privacy from neighbors. We consider ourselves very lucky to have found the house size we wanted on a plot 1/3 of an acre, so we have a large garden and do not look out of our bathroom window of a morning to see the neighbours staring back at us.

Within any development no two properties are identical. There are at least three houses within walking distance of ours built to the same general floorplan, but with distinct variations. I like this very much, compared to the cookie-cutter houses that populate much of the UK and some regions of the US (and even parts of Eugene).

I had initially been hoping for a house with a Southwest-facing back garden, to take advantage of the evening sun, but we ended up with an East-facing back garden. As it turned out (and Beth predicted), this gives us morning sun on the back of the house and the patio and lawn, while sheltering us from the burning heat of the day, so it is comfortable to sit out at most hours, and we can have a BBQ any Summer evening without sweltering. We have a covered porch in the front, and this was a feature not in the original design, but added (during the original build) by the previous owners.

This handsome three-storied white farmhouse with wrap-around porch is in a semi-rural area between River Road and the Willamette River. The wide eaves and porch shade the windows during the hottest part of the day. I like this building very much.

Apart from admiring the houses and learning our way round the neighbourhood (with GPS assistance), we occasionally come across notable vehicles. This 1929 Model A Ford is in fantastic condition, though it's possible the owners coveted Beth's bike as much as I did their car.

Alas the owner of this 1950's Ford pickup has not been quite so liberal with the turtle wax over the years. We've passed this a few times and it doesn't seem to move, possibly explained by the large bullet hole in the rear window behind the driver's head.  

One road South is another Ford pickup, this F-150 from the late 60s or early 70 (just my guess), that has been kept in tip-top condition and is still used regularly.  

In my 20s I had the opportunity to drive my Grandmother's 1965 Wolseley 1500, and maybe this has helped instil in me an appreciation of veteran cars. I know very little about car engines and less about restoration, but it's nice to have people around who do.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Crater Lake

A couple of days ago I drove 140 miles to Crater Lake, one of Oregon's outstanding natural beauty spots, and one I've been wanting to see since I read about it a year ago.

Crater Lake is the result of a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago. Mount Mazama, then 14,000 feet high, erupted for about a week spewing 12 cubic miles of magma across five future states and several Canadian provinces, an area of 500,000 square miles being covered by ash and other measurable debris. This was the largest ever volcanic eruption in  the Cascade Mountain range, more than 100 times bigger than Mount St  Helens. The previous biggest eruption in North America was at Yellowstone, 640,000 years ago, which I'll come back to another day. When the magma chamber was empty, the mountain collapsed straight down into the depressurised bubble and the 14,000 foot mountain lost approximately half its height in a matter of hours.

Over the next 200 years the resultant bowl filled with rain and snowfall, until the rate of precipitation matched the rate of water loss through seepage and evaporation. The water level has remained fairly constant ever since.  The water is very clear and light reaches right down to the bottom of the lake, 1,943 feet below. Deep Rover, a one-man submersible, tested this in 1988-89, and discovered much about the ecology, bio-diversity and geology of the lake. It is the deepest freshwater lake in the US, and the 7th biggest in the world, though there is actually a pocket of saline water at the bottom, called Llao's Basin.

The caldera is  roughly oval, 4 miles by 6 miles, so the whole lake are is about 20 square miles. There are 36 different geological features  in and around the caldera, the most prominent being Wizard Island, the result of a later volcanic hiccup some 700 years after the main event. There is also a small rocky outcrop called the Phantom Ship close to one edge, small being relative as it is as big as a 16 story skyscraper.

This map shows the fallout from the Mount Mazama eruption, with Mount St Helens fallout shown by the dotted lines. Yellowstone National Park lies within the square to the southwest of Billings. Eugene to the Northwest of Mazama would not have caught any fallout, due to the prevailing winds from the west and south. Phew.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Day 7: Reno to Eugene (via California)

Leaving Reno we stopped at a service station to refuel and wash the bugs off the windscreen, which we had to do two or three times a day. The Denny's we ate at is in the background. We had considered goign home via Sacramento and staying there for an night, but by this stage we were tired enough to want to get home, see our cats again, and start preparing the house for a family visit. 

Driving through the northeast corner of California, we were passing through the Lassen National Forest. We stopped to get a shot of this remote valley. The early explorers came here and found it almost impossible to get a wagon into or out of. Happily for us the road is a little more amenable to fast travel these days.

Driving on routes 44, 89 and finally the I-5, we saw Mount Shasta from several angles. Shasta is a dormant volcano which last erupted in 1786 and erupts on average every 600 years, so we're probably safe.

US roads often lead directly towards a mountain or prominent peak in a straight line.

This time it's Black Butte, a parasitic satellite cone of Mount Shasta.

A friend who travels the I-5 every year to visit relatives in Washington State had told us the best views of Mount Shasta were from the car park of a Taco Bell near Weed. Here we went, and indeed the views were spectacular.

To give a bit of perspective, here's Beth crossing a quiet road for a better shot.

Some sheds are more than just sheds.

And so... home.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Day 6: WVC to Reno, Nevada

The next leg of our trip took us West on I-80 past the south end of the Great Salt Lake,  which from the end stretches to the horizon and could be mistaken for the Pacific Ocean but for the lack of waves.

The lake slowly receded from our view as we crossed a line of hills, and then we entered the Bonneville Salt Flats State Park. 

You need to look at a map to appreciate the vastness of the salt flats. It was like standing on a snowfield, except hot and salty. This area is used for measured mile speed records, and our route ran almost due West in a dead straight line for at least 30 miles crossing it.  The State Park has a rest stop with information boards, and people were walking out on the flats, so we did too. 

Behind Beth's head you can see the rest stop. We'd walked only a hundred yards from the stop, and our eyes were already getting sore from the glare and dryness, despite sunglasses. This was easily the least hospitable landscape we saw on our trip, supporting no life of any sort.

The damp salt forms a crust on your shoes, but the considerate authorities had provided a hose with nozzle to wash them. I really enjoy these considerate and convenient touches, which are so common in the US and seem so rare in the UK. Beth is holding a box containing some genuine salt flat salt.

Soon after leaving the salt flats we entered Nevada, and  I appear to have slept for a while, as the next thing I knew we had reached the Forty Mile Desert.

The lorry in the picture above is on the eastbound section of the I-80, while we are westbound. In between and beyond is the 40-mile Desert, with no water sources, and a major hurdle on the California Trail.

Some travellers have been on this road a long time.

Today' drive was over eight hours, but we benefitted from gaining back the hour we had lost heading East, allowing us to arrive in Reno with a few hours left to explore.

Thus we arrived in Reno, having crossed almost the entire state of Nevada with nothing particularly interesting to photograph, and booked into a Days Inn just off the I-80, for which we'd picked up a coupon back at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Our room was at the end of the 2nd floor (1st floor in Britspeak, you can see the open door. The temperature was still over 100, so we wilted into our shady room and took cool showers to revive.

In the slightly cooler early evening we took a walk Downtown, an area which straddles the Truckee River. As it was a Saturday evening people were splashing in the river and enjoying the shade and coolness, and we saw several people floating down the river on rafts. Even in the cool of the evening our 2-mile walk was hot and tiring, and we ate at a Denny's in sight of the Day's Inn for convenience.

Our Motel was off the southeast corner of this map.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Day 5: A Day in Salt Lake City

We spent Saturday with our friends the Hellewells, and it was my choice to go Downtown and see the LDS Temple complex. I saw this six years ago on my last visit, but it was a wet day and I didn't have a very good camera, so I wanted to see it again. We all went in their Minivan, which gave Beth and me a welcome break from driving.

Since my last visit a couple of big changes have taken place. Right next to the Temple there used to be a city street, where opponents of the LDS Church demonstrated loudy and obnoxiously.  While not LDS myself, I have many LDS friends and they are the most generous and kind-hearted people I know, and they don't need yobs and louts on their doorstep.

The LDS Church's neat solution was to buy the street from the City (trading a piece of land they owned elsewhere that the City wanted) and turn it into a private pedestrianised concourse, with this oval reflecting pool as its centrepiece. The area is private, open to anyone who is not being a nuisance, but if you choose to make yourself undesireable then you will be escorted swiftly off the property. I'm very much a live-and-let-live person, so I like this solution.

It was a beautiful sunny Saturday, and LDS couples were getting married  here every 20 minutes (it felt like), so we saw several wedding parties, and probably appear in the background of many people's wedding photo albums. The concourse provides a tranquil haven in a busy city, and whatever your religious beliefs a bit of peace and quiet is always to be appreciated.

On the opposite side of the concorse from the Temple is the 27 storey church office building, and this provides a great viewing platform for panoramas of the city. To the North lies the State Capitol building with its dome. Beth thinks that all the State Capitols are built to a similar plan, copying the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

To the South lies the Temple, and behind it the blimp-like roof of the Tabernacle, home to the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir .

The second big change since my last visit is the building of the Conference Centre to the West of the Temple. This houses a 21,000 seat Auditorium, which I believe to be the World's Largest. There are three tiers, each seating 7,000, set in a semi-circle facing the main stage. We tried to sneak in and look but soon got diverted to join a guided tour, which took longer than we planned but I found fascinating. The three younger members of our party soldiered on and were very well behaved, far better than I was at their age I'm sure.

The Conference Centre is mostly sunk underground, so that it doesn't overshadow the much older Temple across the road. This meadow forms part of the roof, and is home to wild flora and fauna. It is mown once a season, but is otherwise untended (it may have sprinklers, I forget). Standing here it is easy to forget that after a metre or so of concrete and steel there is a drop of several hundred feet to the auditorium floor.

The tour concluded, we walked to the Gateway Mall for lunch, and the kids played in the fountains in the Olympic Legacy Plaza therein. This is very popular in the hot weather, and a reward for their patience.

On the way home we had ice cream at Leatherby's, which chilled the kids nicely after their fountain drenching. This is Nia tackling her kid's portion.

After ice cream we returned to the house for a couple of hours. Another friend of Beth's was planning a music session that evening, and all day she'd been trying to get him to text her his address, as he had moved (and got married) since her last visit. I didn't feel sociable enough for a session by the time we got the necessary directions, so Beth went on her own and I stayed with John and Kiirsi and the kids to see the fireworks at a local park.

No pictures of the fireworks, but here's a Policeman standing on a tricycle, which is nearly as good.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Day 4: Grand Junction to Salt Lake City

The next morning we spent a couple of hours in Grand Junction before hitting the road back to West Valley City. Beth went back to Mack's house to collect a Dremel tool she'd forgotten, and I visited the Museum of Western Colorado, in the mistaken belief that I'd see some dinosaur-related material. Actually I saw some fascinating exhibits relating to the Ute American Indians (who gave their name to Utah), the early Spanish explorers, and the later fur trappers who populated the western territories before the Oregon Trail was opened up. 

From the roof tower (lift up, stairs down) I took some panoramic shots of the city and the surrounding

To the East the mountain ridge has a jagged appearance

...while to the West there is a Mesa, site of the Colorado National Monument . The building with arched windows is the Amtrak Station. It is possible to catch a train from Eugene to this station, but at $211 (one way) and taking a minimum 40 hours, it's not surprising few people choose this option.  

Returning to the Motel to meet Beth, I passed along Main Street, part of the delightful Downtown area. With cafes, shade trees and street art, I enjoyed the all-too-brief walk, despite the 100 degree heat. I was particularly taken by this frog prince.

This leaf angel won second place in a competition, though I am hazy on any further details. I liked it. 

As in any roadtrip, all too soon we were back on the road heading West towards Utah. This area around the Colorado/Utah border is rich in dinosaur discoveries (there's even a town called Dinosaur), and looking at the crumbling sedimentary layers in the hills, it is easy to imagine dino bones just below the surface, waiting for the next heavy rain or rockslide to uncover them.

Leaving colorful Colorado

Entering Utah (Life Elevated)

Pausing at a rest stop, we took some shots of the desert. I wouldn't want to be here for long without shade and water. Luckily we brought both in the car, as otherwise there's next to no shade and less water. We discovered Beavertail Prickly Pear cacti, various other desert plants, and a lizard.

I liked this cloud formation.

Climbing back into the mountains near Helper.

This hillside still has some visible coal. Just behind me is a massive coal-fired power plant.

At the end of another long hot drive we are welcomed back by our friends the Hellwells, who happily put us up for three nights of our trip, fed us, entertained us, and provided an oasis of family and fun. In this picture are Beth, Bran, John, Ciara and Nia. The last time Beth or I were here Nia was still a toddler with very few words, and now she's older than her big sister Ciara was back then.  We spent a wonderful evening chatting and playing board and card games, before retiring to bed in the Hellewells' RV (camper van).