Thursday, December 31, 2009

Coho Salmon Returning to The Columbia River in Record Numbers

It does not seem all that long ago that the picture being painted about the health of the salmon fisheries in Washington was very very dire, with salmon pretty much wiped out in the middle to upper Columbia River.

Coho salmon in the lower Columbia River received protection under the Endangered Species Act. Upriver there were no Coho left to protect. Now there are.

10 years ago on 12 coho salmon make it past Rock Island Dam by Wenatchee. In 2009, 19,805 made it past Rock Island Dam.

In the 1990s work began to try and restore the coho runs with fish hatcheries and making it easier for the fish to get past the dams to their spawning zones.

Biologists attribute improved conditions in the Pacific Ocean as also helping increase the number of salmon.

The number of hatchery Coho salmon returning far exceeds expectations. There is also an increase of returns from natural spawning. Which bodes well for the future of the salmon runs in Washington.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

BING's Seattle Skyline Winning Photo

You are looking at a photo of the Seattle skyline, taken by photographer Justin Kramer. If I had not read this was the Seattle skyline I would not have known that's what it was.

It's an unusual view of downtown Seattle.

BING, that being Microsoft's somewhat new search engine had a contest where BING solicited for photos of skylines from around the world, with the one determined to be the best being, featured on the BING homepage.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Seattle Most Literate City In America Again

That is the downtown library in America's most literate city, Seattle.

Seattle has been ranked #1 most literate a number of times. This time the criteria was based on the number of bookstores, Internet use, percentage of high school or higher graduates and newspaper circulation.

I am currently reading in Fort Worth, Texas, which is the #52 most literate city in America.

There are two things I always notice when I'm in Washington, after spending time in Texas.

One is that the people in the Pacific Northwest look deflated, like the air has been let out of them.

The other is I'll run into smart people where I'd never run into smart people in Texas. Like at a grocery checkout. In Washington it will be a well-paid, union member, adult doing the checking.

I remember being in Tacoma and the checkout person at the Metro store telling me about the trip she'd just taken to South America, her tale well told, with plenty of poly-syllabic words, properly pronounced.

I recently had a meeting with the Mayor of Fort Worth, educated by Texas schools. I had to explain to him what a Conflict of Interest was.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Wellington Avalanche: Most Deadly in U.S. History

1910 was the year, February was the month, the Washington Cascades was the location. The last 9 days of February, Wellington, Washington, a Great Northern Railway stop high in the mountains, was drowned in snow, falling as much as a foot an hour.

On the worst day 11 feet of snow fell.

Two trains were trapped in Wellington, a mail train and a passenger train, both bound for Seattle from Spokane. Avalanches and the continuing snow prevented snow plows from reaching the trapped trains.

Then on February 28 the snow was replaced by rain and warm temperatures and wind. One hour into March snow broke loose from Windy Mountain, sending a 10 foot wave of snow a half mile long and a quarter mile wide, straight to Wellington.

The avalanche missed some of Wellington's buildings, but slammed directly into the train depot and the trains, sending the trains downhill into the Tye River Valley. 96 was the total killed. Of those, 35 were passengers. 58 Great Northern workers on the trains were killed and 3 in the depot. 23 passengers survived, pulled from the wreckage by those who had escaped the avalanche.

It was not til late July that the remaining bodies were able to be retrieved. I believe the picture above is of some of the victims and rescuers soon after the disaster. By July there would not be so much snow on the ground.

19 years after the Wellington Avalanche the 7.79 Cascade Tunnel under Stevens Pass was opened. After the 1910 disaster snow sheds were built to protect the train track from avalanches. You can see those snow sheds to this day when you take Highway 2 over Stevens Pass.

The Wellington Avalanche and it being the worst of that type disaster in American history is not a well known piece of our history.

But, renowned Burlington, Washington Historian, Farmer, Photographer and Author, Martin Burwash, has made it his life's work to make sure the story of the heroics at Wellington gets told.

For decades Burwash has been accumulating massive amounts of information about what happened in 1910 at Wellington, and its aftermath.

Using this vast fountain of knowledge, Burwash has written an historical novel called Vis Major: Railroad Men, An 'Act of God'---White Death at Wellington.

Vis Major has received glowing reviews and is climbing the Best Seller lists. It's been reported that Burwash has been negotiating for screen rights to Vis Major, with Brad Pitt playing Burwash as the story's narrator.

I usually don't go to movies, I wait for them to come out on DVD, but with Vis Major I may make an exception.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

State of Washington Deep Freezes

Wow. I'd say I'm glad I'm not in Mount Vernon right now. 14.3 degrees. That is cold. Appears all of Washington is in the Deep Freeze today.

Currently I am stuck in Fort Worth, Texas, not all that much warmer than Washington. Here it is currently 26 degrees with the Wind Chill factor making it feel like 16 degrees. A couple hours ago it was 23 with a Wind Chill of 14.

So, with that Texas Wind Chill Factor, I know how cold you're feeling right now up in Washington.

Here in Fort Worth, unlike up in Washington, there is no snow in the Texas forecast. The first snow of the year hit North Texas a week ago today. It didn't stick around for long.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Sun Lakes State Park & Dry Falls

Sun Lakes State Park was my favorite camping destination in my post-teen years. Sun Lakes was about a 4 hour drive from my location on the west side of the Cascades, in the Skagit Valley.

The campground at Sun Lakes could have a slightly crowded feeling, but I never minded. The campground wasn't the attraction. The beach and the lake, all day long, was the fun thing.

And as the sun went down on a hot day a very strong wind would be an added attraction. Something to do with the canyon's walls and dropping temperatures causing some effect, is it a Venturi effect? I don't remember. What I do remember is watching tents blown over and people panicking who did now know a strong wind was going to arrive.

I do not recollect the park ranger's giving warnings about the wind.

Sun Lakes State Park covers 4,027 acres with 73,640 feet of shoreline. The park is near the base of Dry Falls. Believed to be the biggest waterfall the world has ever known, 10 times bigger than Niagara. Dry Falls is now a 400 feet high cliff, 3.5 miles wide.

I remember my brother and me having fun exploring one of the small coulees (that is Washington speak for canyon) and we ran into a ranger who told us we should go no further because he'd just seen a lot of rattlesnakes in the direction we were headed.

At Sun Lakes you can boat, fish, swim, golf, hike, ride horses or just sun bathe. Sun Lakes State Park is on Route 17 at the head of the Lower Grand Coulee. At the start of the Lower Grand Coulee you'll find Soap Lake.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Soap Lake Washington's Healing Waters & Giant Lava Lamp

When I was a kid, growing up in Washington, almost every summer weekend we would take off and go camping. Birch Bay State Park, Ocean Shores State Park, Copalis, Sun Lakes State Park and Soap Lake.

Those are all my favorite places we'd go to in my pre-teen years.

Soap Lake is the name of the town and the lake. This was a favorite place to go because it was one of my mom's fond memories of when she was a kid. Her grandpa, he being my great-grandpa would take my mom on trips to Soap Lake.

Back then, which would have been during the Great Depression, before WWII, people went to one of Soap Lake's sanitariums, hotels and bath houses to partake of the Healing Waters of Soap Lake.

For a time, early in the Great Depression, a drought dried up much of Soap Lake. Then when Grand Coulee Dam began til fill Lake Roosevelt, irrigation brought water to the Washington desert. So much so that Soap Lake's mineral content began to be diluted. By the end of the 1950s wells and pumps had saved Soap Lake.

As a kid I can remember being particularly interested in my mom's tale of a nudist camp on the far side of the lake. At that time that seemed a shocking thing to me. In 2009, not so much. Come to think of it, I have been in Soap Lake sans swimsuit. The mineral/soap thick water can quickly cause an abrasion where swimsuit material meets skin. Au naturel is much more comfortable

To partake of Soap Lake you go out in the water, swim or just stand in it. Then scoop up some of the mineral rich Soap Lake mud, cover yourself with it, and then go back to the beach to dry the mud in the sun, taking in its curative powers. I was always amused, as a kid, watching people do this. I do not recollect if I ever took a mud treatment myself.

After the 1940s the number of people seeking the Healing Waters of Soap Lake diminished. But the town lived on and its life as a tourist destination lives on, not quite like in its heyday, when people came from all over the country for Soap Lake's legendary curative powers.

In 2002 the World's Largest Lava Lamp was added to Soap Lake as a tourist attraction. I can't remember if the Soap Lake/Grand Coulee area is a volcano zone where you find pumice and obsidian, so I'm not quite getting the Lava Lamp connection. It looks cool though.

Soap Lake is at the lower end of the Grand Coulee, which is abut a mile and a half wide, with steep basalt cliffs rising as high as 900 feet on either side. Soap Lake is in a desert climate with an average of 9 inches of rain a year. And an average 320 sunny days annual. So, you can see why the lakes of the Grand Coulee are a popular tourist destination for Washingtonians on the west side of the Cascades.

Getting to Soap Lake is an easy drive from Seattle or Spokane, it's only 20 miles north of Interstate 90 on Highway 17.