history

A day at the mental hospital

No, this entry isn’t at all what you think it’s going to be.

The Heritage League of Pierce County, Washington, holds an annual outing for its members every summer, in which we (I’m a member of the board) showcase one or more of our members’ museums or other facilities.  In this case, three closely-related organizations.

At one end of Fort Steilacoom (STILL-a-come) Park in the city of Lakewood, which used to be part of the grounds of what was once called the Washington State Insane Asylum, now Western State Hospital and one of the largest facilities of its kind in the U.S., is a cemetery, where the remains of over 3000 early inmates and some staff members of one of the oldest facilities for the mentally ill west of the Mississippi are buried.  For many, many years, these graves were only marked with a number, and the records of who was buried where were kept private because of the stigma of mental illness.  In 2000, concerned citizens formed Grave Concerns, a group which eventually got state law changed so that these graves could have proper headstones with the proper information on them, and started raising the money to replace the old numbered gravestones.  They’ve made a lot of progress, and we spent an hour or so being taken by Laurel Lemke, the current president of Grave Concerns, on a tour of the cemetery, in a beautiful spot sprinkled with trees, between rolling hills.

After a picnic lunch in Fort Steilacoom Park, we crossed Steilacoom Blvd. to the current hospital grounds, where we met with Kathleen Benoun, who runs the Western State Hospital Museum, in the basement of the main building.  Because of its location, the museum is open only by appointment, but it’s well worth the trouble to call and make one.  The history of mental illness and its treatment is, in equal parts, scary and fascinating.  Some of the equipment, housed in the museum, for these so-called treatments is enough to give a person nightmares.  But seeing how the treatment of the mentally ill has changed over the last almost 150 years is heartening, too.

The hospital has a long history for this part of the world.  It opened its doors in 1871, the same year that our first national park, Yellowstone, was created.  It’s had a few famous patients over the years.  The most famous, or infamous, was Frances Farmer, the actress whose story was immortalized in the movie Frances, starring Jessica Lange.  The museum devotes a whole room (albeit a small one) to her.

The museum itself is housed in a few of the old treatment rooms, which definitely gives an air of authenticity to the whole place, especially with the echoing tile walls.

The third museum of the day was historic Fort Steilacoom itself, first built and manned as a defense against Indians in the 1850s.  It was decommissioned in 1868, and the land and buildings given over to what is now Western State Hospital, but several of the fort’s original buildings still survive on the grounds.  It’s open on weekends in the summer, staffed by volunteer re-enactor docents, and is also well worth a visit all on its own.  The main building houses exhibits as well as an enormous diorama depicting the fort in its heyday, and several of the smaller buildings are furnished as they would have been originally.

And that was my day at the state psychiatric hospital (to use the modern and more appropriate term).  I highly recommend a visit there for anyone.  Just be sure to make that appointment to see the hospital’s museum ahead of time.

Categories: exploring, history, museums, outdoors, parks, plants | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two weeks ago, Day 9

My last day on the road, alas.  I got up and out early, and drove north from Seaside to Astoria, where I had an appointment with the curator (the librarian was on vacation) of the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

But that wasn’t until later in the morning, and in the meantime I wanted to visit the Astoria Column.  I’d seen it in the distance any number of times on trips through Astoria, perched up there on its hilltop, but I hadn’t ever actually gone up there.  So Kestrel (my car) and I crept up the steep, narrow streets — Astoria is much smaller than San Francisco in every aspect but its hilliness — to the top of the highest – peak may be an overstatement, but you can certainly see forever from up there.

It was eight in the morning, clear as a bell, and the shadows were dramatic.  I’d had it in my mind that I was going to climb to the top of the tower, but I should have known better.  I always forget about my fear of manmade heights.  I don’t mind natural heights.  I’ve stood at Glacier Point in Yosemite, 3200 feet above Yosemite Valley, a direct drop below, without a hint of trepidation.  But when I visited Chicago I took one look at the then-Sears Tower and said, no way.  Absolutely no way.

Then there’s the whole claustrophobia thing, which I do not forget about.  I am very uncomfortable inside a plane if I’m not in a window seat, because I need to be able to see out, for instance, and I really do prefer my elevators to be glass, although I can manage regular ones if I have to.  But caves don’t bother me, so I guess it’s the manmade thing again.  Odd.  At any rate, the inside diameter of the Astoria Column is about eight feet across.  No windows. 164 steps to the top.  I took about ten steps up and could just feel it closing in about me.

So I came back down and decided I would a) be satisfied with the views from the hilltop, which really were spectacular, and b) take my pictures of the column from the outside, which was much more interesting, anyway, with its mural about exploration.

And here’s the photographic evidence.

The Astoria Column, backlit.

The Astoria Column, backlit.

Towards the northwest from the base of the column.  That's the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.

Towards the northwest from the base of the column. That’s the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.

A view of the column and its spiraling mural.

A view of the column and its spiraling mural.

To the southwest from the base of the column -- those clouds mark the coastline.

To the southwest from the base of the column — those clouds mark the coastline.

A close-up of the very top of the column.

A close-up of the very top of the column.

By the time I was done at the column, it was almost time for my appointment.  The Columbia River Maritime Museum is on the waterfront, appropriately enough.  It’s a fabulous museum, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even the faintest interest in western or maritime history or boats or lifesaving, or…  But today I was there to do research, so I headed back to the library, where I met with the curator.

He was a very nice man, and it was a very nice library, but the library was not his area of expertise.  He was persistent, though, and finally produced the main item I was there to see, a thesis written by a student of American Studies at, of all places, the University of Utah, on lighthouses and their keepers on the Oregon coast.  She’d done a lot of field work on the coast, and research, and interviews, and one of the three lighthouses she focused on just happened to be Heceta Head.  Gold mine.  Even though the museum’s copy turned out to be missing its bibliography.

The curator also found me a number of other interesting items, and I had a very productive morning.

But after a beer-battered scallops and chips lunch at the Wet Dog Café, a place I’d eaten at before and loved (and which, unlike Mo’s, more than lived up to my memories of it), it was time to head home.

It was only a three and a half hour drive.  But it started with being stopped near the very top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge by bridge repairs.  I did mention my fear of manmade heights, right?  Well, I managed to distract myself during the wait by taking photos from the car.  I bet I’ll never get any from this vantage point ever again.

Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.

The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.

Down, down, down we go, to Washington.

Down, down, down we go, to Washington.

The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge.  I suspect William Clark is the culprit, but there wasn't anything there to explain it.

The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge. I suspect William Clark is the original culprit, but there wasn’t anything there to explain the origin of the name.

When I arrived home, it was to find that the condo hadn’t burned down and that the cats were just fine, and that was the end of this year’s “long” trip.  While I had a good, and productive, time, here’s hoping next year’s holds more new territory and lasts longer.  Sigh.

Categories: cats, exploring, food, Ghost Light, highways, history, museums, outdoors, parks, research, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, Day 8

The beach just north of Lincoln City.

The beach just north of Lincoln City.

Two weeks ago today I drove from Lincoln City to Seaside, plus side trips.  The first one was down the Nestucca River National Backcountry Byway, as the brochure I picked up at the Yaquina Head Visitor Center the day before titled it.

This was the only real stretch of road on this trip that I hadn’t ever been on before, and I only drove sixteen miles of it.  But what I did see was lovely.  It started out very bucolic, with farms and cattle and crops.  Mostly dairy cattle — I wasn’t all that far from Tillamook and its famous cheese factory, after all.  Then it narrowed down to something of a real canyon, with twists and turns and a rapidly running river.  I came around one bend to find a deer at the side of the road staring at me about as avidly as I was staring at it.

I only went as far as the first campground, and I was happy to see that it, at least, had not been leased and/or ‘improved’ into an imitation private campground.  Tucking that away in my mental notes for the next time I came down here, I headed back to Hwy. 101.  Why is it that going in on a road like that always takes twice as long as coming back out?

My next stop was entirely serendipitous.  I saw a sign, out in the middle of nowhere along Hwy. 101, saying Quilt Shop.  Well, how could I not check that out?  I turned down a narrow little dirt road, and about half a mile in, came to the end at a house with a quilt shop underneath it (in a daylight basement).  I went in, and was amazed at what I saw out there in the middle of nowhere — lots and lots of fabric and notions, and samples pinned up wherever there was space.  I spent a little time in there prowling around, and came out with several fat quarters from a sale bin.  I suspect I’m going to regret that I didn’t get yardage of one of them — it was a really nifty tone-on-tone world map.

After that, I drove on to Tillamook, where I ate lunch and went to the cheese factory.  You can’t go to Tillamook without going to the cheese factory and getting ice cream.  Well, you can get cheese, too, but you have to get ice cream.  Tillamook Mudslide, by preference.  Chocolate ice cream with fudge ripple and chocolate chunks.  Yum.  They used to carry a really delicious lemon pudding ice cream, too, but apparently they’ve quit making it.  Their other flavors are lovely, but I adore the Mudslide.

The afternoon was spent tooling up the coast to Seaside, via Garibaldi, a little town on Tillamook Bay, where I visited their historical museum, which was mostly about Robert Gray and his ship Columbia.  He was the one who discovered and named the Columbia River.

Another view of Tillamook Bay.

Tillamook Bay near Garibaldi.

An unusual (most Oregon iris I've seen are lavender) roadside iris.

An unusual (most Oregon iris I’ve seen are lavender) roadside iris.

And via Cannon Beach, where I went to their historical museum.  It was like Lincoln City’s museum in some ways.  Cannon Beach (named after a ship’s cannon found not far from there) is an upscale tourist town, and has been one for most of its life.

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon walking the beach at Cannon Beach.  I started at Tolovana Beach State Wayside, on the south end of town and walked all the way to Haystack Rock and back.  Haystack Rock is another cool place to see tidepools, and here’s the evidence.

Haystack Rock from Tolovana Beach State Wayside.

Haystack Rock from Tolovana Beach State Wayside.

Kites flying at Cannon Beach.

Kites flying at Cannon Beach.

A closer view of Haystack Rock with tidepools at its base.

A closer view of Haystack Rock with tidepools at its base.

Artificially-looking green but real sea urchins.

Artificially-looking green but real sea anemones.

A sea star.

A sea star.

Whelks.

Whelks.

A hermit crab in a whelk shell.

A hermit crab in a whelk shell.

The view headed back from Haystack Rock with the wind at my back instead of my face.

The view headed back from Haystack Rock with the wind at my back instead of my face.

You can also see Tillamook Rock Lighthouse from here, just barely.

A seastack with Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in the distance.

A seastack with Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in the distance.

Another view of Terrible Tilly.

Another view of Terrible Tilly.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse,  or Terrible Tilly as it was called, is one of the most remote, desolate lighthouses in the U.S., if not the world.  You can read about it at the link, but suffice to say it must have been one of the most dreaded postings in the lighthouse service.  It is awfully picturesque, though.  And then, at last, I drove up to Seaside and checked in at the Seaside Hostel.  I’ve stayed here before on several occasions.  It’s in an old motel, backing up to the river that flows through Seaside.  Comfortable, convenient, and relatively cheap, and that was all I really needed for my last night on the road.

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Two weeks ago, Day 7

Some good things, and one disappointment.

I got a kind of late start this morning two weeks ago, and I woke up to overcast skies and a fair amount of wind.  In my experience, the Oregon coast is a very windy place, and I’d just been lucky the day before.

I stopped in Waldport at a visitor center commemorating the bridge over the Alsea River, which was interesting, especially since the bridge they were commemorating (built in the 1930s) had been replaced by a more modern one just a few years ago.

Then I stopped at an ocean view pullout and wrote for a while since I hadn’t the night before, before driving on to Newport, where I arrived about lunchtime, by design.  I’d been looking forward to going to Mo’s, which is sort of an institution on the Oregon coast, famous for, among other things, its clam chowder.  I’d eaten there before and enjoyed it, but not this time.  As I wrote in my journal, it was “an absolutely wretched lunch.  A crab melt, which was watery and flavorless, and, oh, the bread was burned, and a small cup of chowder, which tasted pretty much like Campbells out of a can.  I don’t know what’s happened to Mo’s, but I won’t ever be going there again.”

I then went to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (Yaquina is pronounced ya quinn’ a). I’d been there before, but I thought it might be interesting again, and it was.  The rooms are all decorated in period, and the lighthouse itself is in a state park.  I wish Heceta Head’s lighthouse and keepers’ quarters were the same building, because I suspect it would facilitate the plot, but I’ll manage.  Also, Yaquina Bay Light, which was only actually lit for three years (see the website for that story) is supposed to have a ghost, too.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.  You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.

The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.

The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens.  Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.

A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens. Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger and brighter, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.

A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

After that I drove the short distance up the coast to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.  I thought I was going to get blown away, but other than that it was a terrific stop.  They have a very nice visitor center with lots of interesting historical exhibits and a short movie about the lighthouse, and then there’s the lighthouse itself, which is the tallest one in Oregon (not in the northwest, that would be the Gray’s Harbor Light, which is in Westport, one of my favorite day trips from home).  Once I was done in the visitor center, I drove on up to the headland, parked my car, and hung onto my hat (literally — my hair is thin on top of my head, and I always wear a hat outdoors to keep my scalp from getting sunburned).  The views were spectacular again, but the tidepools were terrific.  They were seven stories worth of stairs to reach from the lighthouse parking lot, but the basalt beach cobbles and the sea stars and crabs and sea anemones and other interesting critters were well worth the climb back up.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.

Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.

Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head.  Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.

Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head. Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.

A sea star.

A sea star.

The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools.  The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.

The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools. The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.

A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Then I headed north to Lincoln City, where I visited the North Lincoln County Historical Museum.  They’ve done a very good job there, telling the story of that part of the Oregon coast.  Lincoln City is basically five small beach tourist towns that banded together to provide basic services to their citizens.   Lincoln City today is basically miles and miles of motels and strip malls and beach houses, but the history of the place — I was especially enchanted with the exhibit that told about the gathering of redheaded people that happened there every year, apparently for decades — was much more than that.

And I found a good motel in Lincoln City, too.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, food, Ghost Light, highways, hiking, history, museums, outdoors, parks, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two weeks ago yesterday, Day 6

Sorry, yesterday got a bit out of hand.  I’ll do today later on today.

I woke up early this morning two weeks ago today.  I always do that when I’m camping.  In the summertime this far north the sun rises pretty darned early.  The day didn’t start out all that excitingly.  I needed to do laundry.  So I got up and out and headed back to Florence to a laundromat I’d noticed the day before, which opened early, fortunately.

With clean clothes neatly packed back in my suitcase, I headed back to the public library, where I finished going through their local history section and attempted to look at some microfilm of the local newspaper for a couple of particular dates, but was utterly stymied, first, by the fact that the young woman who responded when I asked for help did not know, and made it clear she did not want to know, how to run the microfilm machine.  The machine in question made me realize how long it had been since I last worked as a librarian, too, because it was a fancy, newfangled variety attached to a computer, and it took me some time to figure out how it worked.  Once I did, however, I discovered that the roll I wanted to look at had been wound onto the spindle so that it viewed upside down and mirror-imaged.  Totally useless.  It could be fixed, but not on that machine, not by me.  So I made note of the name of the paper, and resolved to interlibrary loan the microfilm when I got home, so I could use it at my local library, where the librarians are much more helpful.

By that time it was lunchtime, so I found some lunch, then headed north, where my day improved drastically.

I was headed for Heceta (he cee’ ta) Head Lighthouse, my favorite place on the Oregon coast, and the setting for the new book, which is going to be a complete rewrite of a story I wrote a number of years ago — it won’t be recognizeable as the same book by the time I’m done with it, I suspect.

Heceta Head is named after a Spanish explorer, Bruno de Heceta, whose real claim to fame was that he was looking for the great river of the West way back when, and totally missed the mouth of the Columbia.  But he did leave his name behind on the headland, and when the lighthouse was built there it, too, took his name.

That lighthouse and I go way back.  My association with it started when I lived in Eugene in the 1980s and went through my first divorce.  The lighthouse was only a little over an hour from where I lived, and was my favorite escape hatch when things were getting too messy at home.  The keepers’ quarters, which are in the Victorian cottage near the lighthouse, are supposed to be haunted, too.  I didn’t know this when I saw something in one of the windows of the then-unoccupied house on one of my many trips there.  As it turns out, what I saw might have been the result of a prank.  But then again it might not have been.  I’ll never know.

But that’s the basis for the story I’m going to write.

I spent most of the afternoon at Heceta Head, touring the keepers’ quarters, which are now a very expensive bed and breakfast, and visiting the lighthouse.  I was too early for the re-opening of the lighthouse itself to tours, after a two-year renovation, by a week, alas, but I did get to see what I needed to see.  And I also got to see lots of shorebirds on the seastack nearby, through a telescope set up by volunteers at the foot of the lighthouse.

Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers' quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.

Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers’ quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.

The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The keepers' quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The keepers’ quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.

One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.

The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.

The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.

The trail to the lighthouse.

The trail to the lighthouse.

A closer view of the keepers' quarters.

A closer view of the keepers’ quarters.

The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers' quarters.

The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers’ quarters.

The parlor in the keepers' quarters.

The parlor in the keepers’ quarters.

A closer view of the lighthouse itself.  You can't see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they're done.

A closer view of the lighthouse itself. You can’t see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they’re done.

Cormorants and seagulls through the telescope at the lighthouse.

Cormorants and common murres through the telescope at the lighthouse.

Westward, the next stop is Japan -- from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.

Westward, the next stop is Japan — from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.

And I spoke with the man who runs the bed and breakfast, who gave me some photocopies of some research he’d collected, and spent the better part of an hour with me, talking about his experiences there and the history he’d learned.  Which was extremely helpful.

After taking far too many photos (research, I tell you!), I walked back down to the beach, where I noticed that there are caves at the base of the headland.  Thinking they might end up in the book, I went and checked them out, too.  You never know…

It was getting on late in the afternoon by the time I left Heceta Head, but I had one more place I wanted to visit before I stopped for the night, Cape Perpetua (pronounced like perpetual without the L).   It’s one of the highest points on the Oregon coast, and there’s a winding, narrow road leading to a viewpoint at the top.  The view is one of those curvature of the earth things, where you’d swear that you were seeing more than 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.  I’d somehow managed never to go up there before, but I’m glad I did this time.

The southern view from Cape Perpetua.  The highway below is 101.

The southern view from Cape Perpetua. The highway below is 101.

The northern view from Cape Perpetua.

The northern view from Cape Perpetua.

By the time I got back down to Highway 101 it was getting late, and while I was only going as far as the tiny town of Yachats (ya’ hots, not yach’ ets as my father teased when we were here when I was a kid), it was time I got there and settled in.  To a nice little mom and pop motel, where I spent a very comfortable night.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, Ghost Light, highways, hiking, history, museums, outdoors, parks, research, travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two weeks ago today, Day 2

I love research.  Yes, I’m a history geek as well as a writer, and that’s just the way it is.  First thing in the morning I caught a bus to downtown Portland and walked the couple of blocks from the bus stop to the Oregon Historical Society Museum.  Fortunately, the weather had cleared up nicely, and was even warming a bit.

 Their library didn’t open until the afternoon, but the museum opened in the morning, and since I’d never been there before I wanted to see the exhibits. The early history exhibits were well done, but the part I liked the best was the recent history room, highlighting Oregon’s somewhat schizoid politics.  I lived in Eugene, Oregon, for several years during the mid-80s, and had been rather struck by them then — Eugene at the time was a cross between a college town, a logging and other resource-heavy economy, and the hippie equivalent of the elephants’ graveyard.  The juxtaposition was, fascinating, I think, is the term I want to use.  I’d forgotten a lot of that bemusement, and the museum brought it back to me.

 After the exhibits and before the library, I walked up the park blocks, a lovely thing to find in the middle of a city, to Pioneer Courthouse Square, in search of some of Portland’s quasi-legendary food carts.  It was a good place to look for them.  My choices included burritos, cheese steaks and several others.  I chose a cheese steak, which was as good as the ones I’d had in Philadelphia, their hometown, if a sandwich can be said to have a hometown, years ago.

 But the fun part was the quiz the proprietor gave me, based on a page-a-day calendar about famous mustaches, of all things.  The first question described Cesar Romero as the Joker in the old Batman series, and the second Raul Julia in the movie version of The Addams Family.  I got them both right, which won me a very surprised proprietor and a free soda. 

 After enjoying my cheese steak, and my soda, and watching floral decorations being installed on the square for the upcoming Rose Festival, I ambled back to the museum by way of the Multnomah County Library‘s main branch, where I wandered into the children’s room, named after Beverly Cleary, who is a Portland icon, and upstairs to the history section, where I wrote down the titles of some books that looked useful for research that I will interlibrary loan later.  I was very surprised that they didn’t have a local history room.  The Multnomah County Library is, I suspect, the biggest Carnegie library I’ve ever been in (it certainly fits the style, architecturally), but no local history room? 

And then there was the library at the Ohio Historical Society Museum.  Maybe that’s why the public library doesn’t have a local history room?  What I do know is that the librarian pulled a number of goodies out of her closed stacks, including a forest service document, book, really, of all things, discussing the early history and architecture of Heceta Head Lighthouse and its keepers’ quarters, which is going to be the setting of my new book.  So that made my day.

 After several hours in that library, I decided to check out Portland’s streetcar and see where it went, since I had the all-day pass, which includes the streetcar and light rail as well as the bus.  The streetcar went to northwest Portland and the trendy shopping district on NW 23rd.  I hadn’t been there in years, and it was only a couple of blocks from the end of the line to the New Renaissance Bookshop, another favorite bookstore.  So I strolled there and browsed for a bit, but it was getting late and I was tired, so I wound my way back to the hostel via streetcar and bus, and collapsed in a heap on my second evening on the road.

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34F at 500 feet, 64F at 5400 feet

Or, to put it in non-American terms, the high temperature for yesterday was 1dC at my home at 470 feet/143 meters altitude in the Puget Sound lowlands, and almost 18dC at Paradise at 5400 feet/1646 meters on Mt. Rainier.

The cause of this?  The technical term is temperature inversion.  If you want to know more about it, you can read this entry in Cliff Mass’s weather blog.  He’s a meteorology professor at the University of Washington and an expert on Pacific Northwest weather, and writes an interesting and entertaining blog.

But to this layperson, what it means is that my neighborhood has looked like this for most of the last two weeks:

My neighborhood in the fog yesterday.

My neighborhood in the fog yesterday.

So my friend L and I decided to go up to Paradise, which literally was a paradise in comparison, yesterday.

We got to Longmire, at 2700 feet, late in the morning.  It was already clear there, but still pretty cold, and more snow than I’ve seen there in most winter visits I’ve made (we had a lot of precipitation — rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains — in December).  However, there was some evidence of melting and freezing in the form of these icicles hanging off the museum roof.

Icicles at Longmire

Icicles at Longmire

The gas station at Longmire is no longer functional, but contains an exhibit about the changing modes of transportation in the park in its 100+ years of existence.  It was actually colder inside the building than out, so we didn’t linger there.

Antique gas station and transportation museum at Longmire.

Antique gas station and transportation museum at Longmire.

The melting and freezing resulted in some seriously beautiful ice crystal formations, too.  The crystals on this rock were almost an inch long, and the expanses of them on the snowbanks looked almost like fur.

Ice crystals on rock.

Ice crystals on rock.

Snow covered in crystals at Longmire.

Snow covered in crystals at Longmire.

After wandering around Longmire for a little while, we headed on up to Paradise.  The road from the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire had been more than a bit slippery — plowed but icy — and I’d been a bit concerned about going on, but another effect of the temperature inversion was that the higher we went, the better the road conditions were.  By the time we got halfway to Paradise, it was bare and dry most of the way, if hemmed in by plowed snowbanks higher than the car.

Plowed road at Paradise.

Plowed road at Paradise.

We ate lunch at the visitor center, then went out and walked around one of the several snowcatted trails.  The one we took went around behind Paradise Inn, which is closed in the winter.  The cornices and other wind-blown snow formations were spectacular.  The sun beamed down and it was warm enough that a jacket was almost too much.  Just absolutely glorious.  I could feel the funk I’d been in since we’d first gotten socked in just evaporate.  It was wonderful.

Sledding at Paradise.

Sledding at Paradise.

Paradise Inn half-buried in snow.

Paradise Inn half-buried in snow.

The Mountain, as we refer to it in this part of the world.

The Mountain, as we refer to it in this part of the world.

The Mountain behind the Inn, and the snowcatted trail.

The Mountain behind the Inn, and the snowcatted trail.

It was very hard to come back down to the gloom when the day was over.

But it was one of the best things I’ve done so far this year.  I love living two hours from Paradise.

Categories: exploring, hiking, history, Mt. Rainier, museums, national parks, outdoors, parks, weather | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 40

aboard the MV Taku, on the Alaska Marine Highway on our way to Prince Rupert, BC

Wednesday, July 25, 1973

Our only full day on the ferry was spent going from town to town.  First the ferry stopped at Juneau, “early this morning, so early that the street lights were still on.”  In 1995, I spent three days exploring Juneau.  Here’s a picture I took on that trip:

Juneau, from Douglas Island, in 1995

We arrived in Petersburg about 1 pm, and Wrangell late in the afternoon.  I’ve not been back to them.  We didn’t go to Sitka.  Not all of the ferries do.  When I went to Sitka as part of my 1995 trip, I took what I thought of as the “milk run” ferry, a smaller vessel from Juneau, which sailed in the morning and stopped at several small settlements along the way — Hoonah, which was a Native village, Tenakee Springs, which was sort of counter-cultural and didn’t allow cars, and Angoon, another Native village — before arriving at Sitka at about four in the morning the next day.

The settlement of Tenakee Springs — classic SE Alaska.

We got to Ketchikan around 11:30 pm, and as my diary says, “I don’t remember Ketchkan very well.”  I do from my 1995 trip, however, because I spent several days there going through the totem pole park and visiting Creek Street, which is so named because it is basically a series of walkways directly over a creek, with buildings on stilts on either side that used to be brothels until the 1950s, and are now touristy shops, one of which was where the woman told me Ketchikan was fine as long a you could get off the rock.  Here’s a picture of Creek Street, and one of Ketchikan’s waterfront from 1995:

Part of Creek Street in Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s waterfront.

And that was our whole day on the ferry.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, exploring, history, outdoors, travel, True Gold | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Klondike Gold Rush, the Old West’s last hurrah

Today I’m over at Romancing the West again, with an article on the Klondike Gold Rush.  I’d love some company there, if you’d like to read and comment.

Categories: blog touring, history, True Gold, writing | Tags: | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 38

Haines, Alaska

Monday, July 23, 1973

On our last full day in Haines, we went shopping in the morning.  My father bought a foot-tall sticker of a totem pole to put on the trailer, to add to one of a Dall sheep that he’d apparently bought earlier in the trip.

In the afternoon, we took the ferry to Skagway.  The trip takes an hour, according to the Alaska Marine Highway website, and at the time, the ferry and the railroad were the only way you could get to Skagway, back in the days before the highway to Whitehorse was built and there were so many, many cruise ships the way there is now.  But it was still two more ways than you could get to Skagway back in True Gold‘s heroine Karin’s day.  During the Klondike gold rush, the only way you could get to either Skagway or Dyea was by boat, and not the clean modern ferries that make the run today, either.

Skagway, Alaska, as Karin would have seen it in 1897.

 

And Skagway, Alaska, today

Karin arrived in Dyea, which is just across the head of Lynn Canal from Skaguay, as it was spelled back then for a Tlingit word meaning home of the north wind, in August of 1897.  She spent over two months there before heading north over the famed and snowcovered Chilkoot Pass, where she spent a long cold winter on Lake Bennett with several thousand other people, building boats and waiting for the ice to break up on the long chain of lakes and rivers feeding into the great Yukon River leading to Dawson City and the Klondike.

We, on the other hand, spent our afternoon poking around the town, population 900 at the time, visiting a museum, and  seeing the infamous con man and city boss Soapy Smith’s grave.  The Klondike National Historic Park, another unit of which is in Seattle, did not exist yet in 1973.   We did some more shopping, too.  My mother bought a set of cufflinks, and I bought my last souvenir of the trip, another set of miniature bone china Dall sheep to add to my collection:

Which I promptly dropped on the seat belt buckle in the Chrysler’s back seat when we got back to Haines.  Which broke the hind leg off of the papa sheep.

Bone china Dall sheep from Skagway.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, animals, exploring, history, museums, national parks, outdoors, travel, True Gold | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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