In the Garden

It’s September. Normally we would be sliding gently towards Fall; but this year has been different. After a very wet spring, we’ve had an almost totally dry summer. It’s been great for doing things out doors; but all the grasses that grew so well in the spring have also been fueling forest fires in August. The smoke has been hard to take at times.


Here’s a satellite view. You can see the states of Washington, Northern Oregon at the bottom and Eastern Idaho at the right lightly outlined. The red dot is Seattle.

With all the sunshine this summer we added drip irrigation to our gardens; and everything did pretty well. Here are a few of the results.



The Hydrangeas have mostly turned the corner but a few bright stragglers give you an idea of how things looked most of the summer.


Rose of Sharon

The Rose of Sharon is still going strong. As you may know it blooms progressively for a couple of months so that there are constantly new blossoms opening and old ones falling off and cluttering up the planting beds. The bees love it (center close-up).

We tried a crazy experiment with our stock tanks this year:  Sunflowers.


Sunflowers in Stock Tank

We’ve tried all sorts of things in the tanks, especially vines like peas and beans that like to grow up the wire trellis. The idea with the sunflowers was to provide some seeds for the birds; but they’ve gotten so tall (10′ – 12′) that they’ve been collapsing of their own weight and we’ve had to cut some of them down before they’re fully ripe.

We also experimented with tomatoes this year, buying some starts from a neighborhood store, not knowing what we would get (Usually, only cherry tomatoes work here). We were not expecting pumpkin tomatoes !



They took forever to start ripening but in the last couple of weeks they came into their own and have made their way into salads and sandwiches.

And finally, a big surprise from our trumpet vine, which for several years has been a wispy little thing with not much trumpeting.


Trumpet Vine

The flowering parts of the vine come cascading down with the trumpets hanging within a few feet of the ground. The color and sculptural shapes are spectacular – and the seed pods (center close-up) seemed to emerge out of nowhere.

That’s 2017 in the garden for us. Hope yours was as splashy !


Road Trip – Boise to Seattle – 5

From our stop at the Maryhill Museum, we headed north to Yakima, WA and then west, up into the cascades towards Chinook Pass and Mt Rainier.


Gradually the land changed from this dry scrub land to greener forest.


Where the landscape permits, some settlement has occurred – modest amounts of agriculture, some horse pasture, some vacation uses such as this pond.


We had decided to stop one more night, rather than slog our way into Seattle late in the day so we checked into the Whistlin’ Jack, a place we had stayed once before.


As shown in this postcard, Whistlin’ Jack provides a restaurant, motel rooms, a bar and restaurant, a gas station, and nearby, a cluster of cabins.


There’s nothing within miles so it has to be pretty much full service. The place has seen better days but it does have one spectacular asset, the Naches River out back.


Our room had a bay window view.


There were birding opportunities.


and good views in both directions.



The dining room also looked out to the river so we had a pleasant dinner there, and then a good night’s sleep with the sound of the Naches in the background.


The next morning we headed west again, ducking under smoke clouds from forest fires burning to the north of the highway,


and headed for Chinook Pass, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the highway. It’s rugged country and though most every peak has been climbed, it’s not something you just jump up and do on a whim (at least not without consequences).


In this photo you can see Naches Peak, around which there is a terrific 5-mile loop trail that we have done a number of times as a day trip from Seattle.


You don’t actually hike to the peak here either, but rather along the ‘shoulders’ of the mountain. Part of the trail shares the Pacific Crest Trail. At the crest there is a lookout along the road where we looked (protected by a wall) backwards to the east .


The slash of the highway 410 along the flank of the mountains is quite clear. The white sky on the right side of the picture is not cloud but smoke from the forest fire.

A closer look to the north shows an area where the Pacific Crest Trail heads for Canada, essentially to the right of that big rocky, lumpy peak in the middle, below.


Finally up and over Chinook Pass, we were treated to our Northwest icon, Mt Rainier.


Since we’re up about 5,000′ the full 14,400′ height of the mountain is not so apparent, but it’s still an impressive mass of granite and snow. The cloud appearing to drape itself over the right flank is called a lenticular cloud. It’s formed by the wind patterns over and around the mountain. The saying is, “The mountain makes its own weather”.

We headed downhill to Greenwater for a stop at Wapito Woolies,


a store focused on hiking gear but smart enough to include an espresso bar and some breakfast sandwiches.


On a hotter hiking day we might have ordered milkshakes to conclude our trip.


It occurred to us as we drove route 26 across central Oregon that we were following (in reverse) the path of the total solar eclipse that would occur the following week; but since it was so far from home, we decided to enjoy the 93% of the eclipse we could see from Seattle, by creating our own projection telescope out of a modified birder scope.


By using tracing paper as our screen, we could also look at it both ways.


We also had the ‘official’ glasses but I didn’t have a set for my camera.

See you on the next trip !

Road Trip – Boise to Seattle – 4

The trip north from Bend takes you through a dramatic series of landscapes; although, at the same time, they resemble each other a great deal. I’ll just show a few.


Haze from forest fires obscures the mountains


Central Oregon – farmed where possible, otherwise left alone


Wheat fields with Mt. Hood in the distance


A couple of small towns with grain elevator landmarks


The future of electrical generation


Washington State on the horizon with Mt. Rainier


Heading down into Biggs, Oregon and the Columbia River



Looking beyond Biggs to the Maryhill Museum, our next stop


Across the Columbia with Washington wind turbines on the hills

We had previously been to the Maryhill Museum and learned about James Hill‘s convoluted life and variety of interests. You can read about that here.  This time we’re just checking in to see any new exhibits and have lunch. The building is both imposing and incongruous, sitting in its green oasis on this dry, brown hillside.


A few years ago they added a modern wing facing south towards the river to house current shows and provide a cafe.


A few pieces of sculpture are placed about the grounds, though they seem to me to be wandering a bit, looking for places to land. Here are three views of the one above.


From the new wing, the views of the Columbia and Oregon are stunning,


and even more dramatic from out on the terrace, where the green geometry of the orchards contrasts with the dry grass and quiet (because it’s dammed) river.


This view looks east to the bridge we crossed from Oregon.


Inside the museum they’ve organized their sizable collection of international chess sets, and give some background on the origin of the game (India), the name (an old French word with its origins in an earlier Persian word – ‘shah’ or king) and the origin of the collection as the result of a fascination of the first director of the museum.


Here are a few examples – there were a lot !


chess set by Inge Roberts


chess set based on Charlemagne


chess set by Scott Wolfe


chess set – Moors vs Christians

Wouldn’t it be nice to resolve today’s religious disputes by playing chess ?

The other new show featured local artists painting local scenes. A few examples:


Red Barn by Michael Lindstrom


Cascade Reflected by Scott Gellatly


Cascade Twilight – also by Scott Gellatly

and one truly in the spirit of parts of our Oregon road trip.


Valley Haze by Brenda Boylan

With that, and a bit of lunch we headed back out into the haze.

Road Trip – Boise to Seattle – 3

A couple of hours west of the John Day Fossil Beds we arrived in Bend, Oregon, Central Oregon’s largest city (owing to the low population density of the region in general), the 5th largest metropolitan area in Oregon. We stayed at the Mill Inn B&B.


Mill Inn Bed and Breakfast

This very comfortable B&B sits about 10 blocks south of the historic center of town and on the edge of a rapidly developing and urbanizing district, with all that that means in terms of variety and consistency of approach. Here’s what’s across the street.


Strictly Organic Coffee Co

This is a series of neo-manufacturing style buildings, probably building on a few actual manufacturing structures previously there. As a result it’s a little difficult to tell which parts are historic and which are not.


John L. Scott Real Estate

In the John L. Scott case, I’m guessing that it’s an old, original building dressed up with new windows and facade on the exterior and new office space inside. I just doubt that someone would go to that level of form-making in a new building.

Just a block away was an historic interpretation – from London ! – Mews Housing.


mews style housing

We saw housing somewhat like this (but smaller in scale) in London. Attached townhouses surround a courtyard used for vehicles and service. The main residences are up a half level, and a small courtyard gives access to office and/or residential space a half level below the sidewalk. The rear courtyard is lined with garages.


It also looks as if there are roof decks on the top but I wasn’t sure about that.

Just a half block away, there was a different approach to city living.


For those who like modern lines, these were pretty attractive. I personally thought they needed more of the ‘carved-out’ balcony spaces to be really livable; but I liked the way the street level entrances were handled. These kinds of forms would also lend themselves to skylights and green roofs but I couldn’t see if any of those were provided.


And then, just a couple blocks away, another mews but in a different style.


mews housing 2

I’m assuming the chimney forms serve fireplaces in the corners of living rooms.


One feature I appreciate is that the front porch is large enough for a table and chairs. Another is that the two story space and windows add a lot inside and out.

After breakfast we spent some time walking in the older part of downtown before getting on the road again. Bend is located on the eastern edge of the Cascade Range along the Deschutes River. Here the Ponderosa Pine forest transitions into the high desert, characterized by arid land, junipers, sagebrush, and bitter-brush. Originally a crossing point on the river, settlement began in the early 1900s. Bend was incorporated as a city in 1905. Economically, it started as a logging town but is now identified as a gateway for many outdoor sports, including mountain biking, fishing, hiking, camping, rock climbing, white-water rafting, skiing, paragliding, helicopter tours and golf. In 2015, Men’s Journal ranked Bend as one of The 10 Best Places to Live Now. The city has made real investments in a walkable and genuinely pedestrian-friendly downtown.


The sidewalks are wide and brick-paved with generous curb extensions and ADA crosswalks at all the intersections. Many apartments with retail at the street level are stepped back at upper levels (above) to provide more light to the street – and at the same time add balcony outdoor space to the apartments.


The general impact along the street then is of a two story facade that works well with the older two story buildings (background above). Styles are a bit of this and that, though there is a fair amount of brick to hold everything together.

Main Street continues this general approach but with a bit more variety;


and here we discovered a passage that was intriguing.


The city of Bend has learned to take advantage of its natural setting, to link to it, and to treat the backs of its buildings with some sensitivities. These two views below are of what was undoubtedly an ‘alley’ running behind the buildings that has now been developed into a shared car/pedestrian space. Well done !


The direct view from the passageway leads you to the river.


The name Bend was derived from “Farewell Bend”, the designation used by early pioneers to refer to the location along the Deschutes River where the town was eventually platted, one of the few fordable points along the river.


The scale of the river makes it an incredible amenity, bordered here by downtown and a large city park.


Past the ‘bend’ the area is more residential on the far side. The town side continues the park walkway behind the commercial district.


The bright daylight at the end of the passage draws you back to Main Street,


where one of the shops provided a little local humor.


This part of the street contains a few of the civic buildings, old and new.


Some are older and include retail with housing above.


Others continue to function pretty much as designed, though the Tower is more than just a movie theater these days.


Tower Movie Theater

In this day of emails and texting, post offices don’t require the space they used to.


This one has been re-purposed into office space and a home for the Chamber of Commerce, both good downtown uses. A block away the library makes a good neighbor.


It adds a more modern look; but again, the use of brick gives it continuity in its context.

So, you ask, where’s the real stuff ?

And here’s the answer – over on business 97, the route we’re taking out of town, heading north to Washington State.


And accidentally, the photographer at work.

Road Trip – Boise to Seattle – 2

For a few miles west of Prairie City we drove through scrub and some scattered farms;


but then the Mascall formations and overlook rose up out of the ground.


Mascall Overlook

This is an area just south of the John Day fossil beds and the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. Before the arrival of Euro-Americans in the 19th century, the John Day basin was frequented by Sahaptin people who hunted, fished, and gathered roots and berries in the region. After road-building made the valley more accessible, settlers established farms, ranches, and a few small towns along the river and its tributaries. Paleontologists have been unearthing and studying the fossils in the region since 1864, when Thomas Condon, a missionary and amateur geologist, recognized their importance and made them known globally. Parts of the basin became a National Monument in 1975.


The view from the overlook shows these distinctive formations.


The formations result from alternating sequences of eruptions, ash and lava flows, and subsequent eruptions. Not much fun while it was happening but spectacular to see now. Here’s an overview for those of you who would like more detail.


Note that the explanation above makes reference to the “Yellowstone hot spot”. This refers an on-going geological phenomena in which a weak spot in the earth’s crust that allows lava and steam to escape from the molten core below (eg Old Faithful) has been actually moving (at glacial speeds) from central Oregon across Idaho (Craters of the Moon park) to its current location in Wyoming. Stick around and it’ll be in Montana !


The John Day basin remained largely unexplored by non-natives until the mid-19th century. Lewis and Clark noted but did not explore the John Day River while traveling along the Columbia River in 1805. John Day, for whom the river is named, apparently visited only its confluence with the Columbia in 1812. In 1829, Peter Skene Ogden, working for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), led a company of explorers and fur trappers along the river through what would later become the Sheep Rock Unit. We were headed for the Paleontology Center, accessed through a cut in the hills which you can identify by the ribbon-like strata of old lava flows.


From the ground the ‘cut’ seems more serious.


Here’s the stream that’s been doing the cutting, flowing along side the road.


Once through the cut a couple of miles we found a really dramatic landscape, discovered by some of the earlier Oregon Trail settlers.


After passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 and the discovery of gold in the upper John Day basin, a fraction of these newcomers abandoned the Willamette Valley in favor of eastern Oregon. Some established villages and engaged in subsistence farming and ranching near streams. The fossil beds were discovered in a related way.  In 1864, a company of soldiers sent to protect mining camps from raids by Northern Paiutes discovered fossils in the Crooked River region, south of the John Day basin. One of their leaders, Captain John M. Drake, collected some of these fossils for Thomas Condon, a missionary pastor and amateur geologist who lived in The Dalles. Recognizing the scientific importance of the fossils, Condon accompanied soldiers traveling through the region. He discovered rich fossil beds along Bridge Creek and near Sheep Rock in 1865. Condon’s trips to the area and his public lectures and reports about his finds led to wide interest in the fossil beds among scientists. One of them, paleontologist Othneil C. Marsh of Yale, accompanied Condon on a trip to the region in 1871. Condon’s work led to his appointment in 1872 as Oregon’s first state geologist and to international fame for the fossil beds. Specimens from the beds were sent to the Smithsonian Institution and other museums worldwide, and by 1900 more than 100 articles and books had been published about the John Day Fossil Beds.


Sheep Rock Mountain

Sheep Rock mountain sits across the valley from Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.


Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, a $7.5 million museum and visitor center at the Sheep Rock Unit, opened in 2005. Among the center’s offerings are displays of fossils, murals depicting life in the basin during eight geologic times ranging from about 45 million to about 5 million years ago, and views of the paleontology laboratory. A casting of one of the fossils gives a sculptural welcome to the center.


And inside, here’s the paleontologist himself


Thomas Condon – Paleontologist

The center was a nice mixture of dioramas, showcases and specimens.


This helped to put the specimens, many of which are small, into context. In addition, the center presented the process by which fossils from the field are stabilized.


Here are a couple of examples.


Archaeotherium Caninus

AC was described as following:  “Enteledonts were large, powerful animals related to pigs and hippos. They had elongate faces with mysterious flanges on the skull and large grooved canines. These omnivores could eat anything, plant or animal.”


The tortoise was thought to be similar to those we have today.

Most compelling for me were the small, almost crystalline plant fossils.


Lauraceae (bottom left) – Avocado

Stepping back outside also put our small human selves back into perspective as well.


So we headed back through the cut to the next leg of the trip, destination Bend, Oregon





Road Trip – Boise to Seattle – 1

After our visit to Boise, we decided to head due west, across Eastern and Central Oregon, to the city of Bend. This would take us across high agricultural plains and through some dramatic fossil bed formations. After leaving the sprawl of Boise behind, we quickly encountered farmland, occasionally interrupted by dramatic geologic formations.


The nature of this part of the world is one of extreme contrasts, created by constant movement, eruption and erosion, that has left both dramatic mountains and broad plains behind. One other factor, the line of the Cascade Mountains to the west, interrupts and captures rain clouds from the Pacific and thus guarantees that the climate is arid and forces reliance on managing surface water for survival.


Although it seems superficial in appearance, the irrigation system is managed closely. It would be the end of farming to do otherwise.


Here, the mountain geology is self-evident, as is the fact that there’s no attempt to tame it with development or agriculture, which sticks to the level spaces (below).


A landscape this sprawling requires something to knit it together, and in this part of Oregon, Route 26 is it. Not many kicks on Route 26.


Eventually we encountered the next set of large hills / mountains and worked our way up into and through them. As we did so the trees became more common, until


near the peaks the evergreens were fairly dense, framing our view of the next valley.


This valley contains Prairie City, a small town, and enough river water to provide pasture land for raising cattle and other agriculture.


Prairie City grew out of the former mining camp of Dixie, established in 1862 about 3 miles up Dixie Creek from the John Day River. Prairie City, at the mouth of the creek, was chosen after placer mining rendered Dixie unsuitable for a town-site. The new city’s post office was established in 1870.


A narrow-gauge line, the Sumpter Valley Railway (SVR), ran 80 miles from Baker City west to Sumpter and on to its western terminus at Prairie City, which it reached in 1907. It carried passengers as well as freight shipped by ranchers, mining interests, and timber companies until its piecemeal abandonment in the 1930s, only about 25 years later. In the 21st century, a heritage railway operates on a segment of the original line between Sumpter and McEwen. Today, this town of about 1000 people includes an eclectic collection of buildings, some historic, some more recent.


The economy includes ranching, retail stores, a wood-fueled power plant, and public services. Prairie Wood Products, a mill that produces fine-grained studs from timber from nearby forests, is in Prairie City. We took a lunch break in a local park and then walked along the 3-block long Route 26 main street.


None of the original uses survive so there is the inevitable contrast between the basic, economically constructed buildings and their current functions.


And of course this is the Northwest, so there is espresso.


Actually, this multi-function shop had been renovated pretty well on the inside.


It also appeared that the commitment to craft-work was sincere, at least in terms of supporting anyone who was serious about weaving.


Of course some local creations were more specialized. The birder was tempted.


On the way out of town we passed the local ranger station. I suspect that we don’t appreciate the contribution that these facilities make to the local economy by providing jobs and drawing tourists like us to stop.


Next stop – John Day Fossil Beds


Road Trip to Boise – 3

We spent part of our visit downtown, revisiting some familiar parts and seeing some new. I captured a more detailed view in our previous 2016 visit ( here ) so this time I’ll show mostly new things. As a transition we checked out the Farmers Market, running at full tilt this time of year.


Here’s a sample of the variety of melons available.


We stopped at a place Brandon recommended, the St Lawrence Gridiron, for lunch.


St Lawrence Gridiron Restaurant

It’s typical of many of the newer eateries, casual with an exploratory menu.


Jane, her daughter Ellen, and Brandon

Jane, Ellen and I then made our way to the Boise River and Julia Davis Park, passing the Boise Art Museum on the way (We didn’t stop in on this trip).


The park is part of an extensive greenbelt along the Boise River.


The area was originally developed by the Thomas Jefferson Davis Family as an orchard in 1864, that planted 7,000 fruit trees. Eventually the land was donated to the City; and it is now the site of a wide variety of activities, in this location, tennis.


Julia Davis Park and the Boise River run parallel through this part of downtown; and it’s obvious that the park was at one time flood plain for the river. Boise State University sits immediately on the far side.


A very nice walking / biking trail follows the river along the edge of the park.


At intersections with key arterials the system is grade-separated, with pedestrian connections to the crossing avenue above.


Casual seating provides a rest stop.


And an adjacent bridge leads to the university across the river.


It also gave us a good view of a favorite local summer pastime, floating the Boise.


In the other direction there’s quieter floating available – and refreshments.


On our way back to Ellen and Brandon’s house we passed the State Capitol where there was some sort of a bicycle rally underway.


It looked like an all-day affair with groups clustered under the trees in the park.


There’s an active cycling community here; and Ellen has met up with some of the groups for local rides.

With that we took our leave of downtown for this trip, passing by an in interesting Art Deco-ish office building on our way home.


Next time – across the open spaces of Eastern Oregon