Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gobble Gobble

It's become a tradition.  Early Thanksgiving Day morn, I wake up and travel to our local zoo for the Oregon Road Runners annual Turkey Trot.

Pre-race with "Tom"

Since I know later in the day, I'll be feasting on a huge meal, it feels good to burn some calories in anticipation.  ( I tell folks I'm making space for the new fat cells)

No race numbers - just Gobble, gobble, gobble!

The race takes place outside the Oregon Zoo.  Runners are directed down a long, steep hill for two miles.  Upon reaching the Japanese Gardens, everyone turns around and runs back up this same hill.  The last quarter mile or so is run through the zoo itself, finishing near the elephant exhibit.

Lots of great turkey hats!

Last Thursday morning dawned, clear, chilly and dry (unusual for Portland in late November).  Packet pick up was held inside one of the World Forestry Center Buildings.  After getting my race bib and stowing my jacket, I hung out inside, trying to stay warm as long as possible.

Sunrise over the porta-potties

But....nature was calling so ventured outside to hit the porta-potties.  While standing in line, I got a chance to check out all the fun holiday attire.  One of the great things about this run is seeing the participant's numerous turkey-themed costumes.

These great hats looked homemade

This group all had matching crocheted turkey hats.  Super-cute!

A pumpkin pie hat!

This lady had a hat shaped like a slice of pumpkin pie.  Most of the hats here are some sort of turkey theme.  This was the first time I'd seen headwear that highlighted some other part of the Thanksgiving meal.

These young ladies get in the spirit of things

Loved these young ladies costumes!  Turkey feather tu-tus and matching "gobble" shirts.

My favorite costume of the day!

But this guy's costume was my very favorite.  He dressed up as a box of stuffing!  It looked like a difficult thing to run in, but when I saw him during the race, he was near the front of the pack.

Running downhill through Washington Park

Everyone lined up, the announcer counted down, and instead of "go" we all yelled "gobble, gobble, gobble!"  The pack took off, down the long, steep hill.  Running downhill does nothing to warm you up, and it wasn't until I turned around and headed back up that my body finally began to thaw.

The zoo entrance

This hill is a doozy!  It's very steep in parts and just moderately steep in others.  My goal was to run up the entire hill without stopping.  It was tough, but I did it.  I kept promising myself this would entitle me to a huge piece of pie.  Finally, our course topped out and a short, sweet downhill led runners to the zoo entrance.

Even Elvis was there!

Where Elvis greeted each runner as they passed by.  Now came my most favorite part of the trot - running through the zoo.  When else does one get to run a race inside a zoo?

Yahoo - the finish line!

I enjoyed the final leg of my journey - taking in the sights until the finish line came into view.  Although the race is timed, it's non-competitive.  I ran without my trusty Garmin, and didn't pay attention to the clock as I crossed the finish.  Today, I ran for the exercise, fun, and to burn some calories so I could pig out later.

More great turkey hats

After a drink of water and a banana, I decided to check out the nearby elephant exhibit.  Then, as I was wandering back to the zoo entrance, I spotted a couple of ladies modeling cute turkey hats.  They graciously allowed me to take a picture.  Next year, I need to find myself a clever turkey hat such as theirs.

A great way to begin Thanksgiving morning, I was back home with a Starbucks tea in my hand, before 10:00.  Okay - time to bring on the food!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Along Hwy 35

I've driven a lot of miles down Highway 35.  This road takes travelers from the Columbia River Gorge, up over the east shoulder of Mt. Hood, until finally connecting with US Highway 26 near Government Camp.  It forms the backbone to access the many great recreational activities on Hood's eastern side.  It's my "go-to" route for outdoor adventure.

A lone leaf

In the winter and spring, I follow this road's often snow-covered path to skiing bliss at Mt. Hood Meadows.  Summer months, the blacktop guides me to a multitude of great hiking trails.  But during the fall, trees along this road erupt into a wonderful riot of fall color.

Fallen leaves litter the trail

The Hood River parallels Highway 35's twisting path.  A jaw-dropping beautiful water body in any season, fall is by far the best.  After driving 35 on the way to some recent hikes, I made a mental note to return with the sole purpose of photographing the splendid autumn color show along this river.

But they made some great patterns

The last weekend of October, I finally got my chance.  But - the forecast called for rain.  No matter - I drove east anyway, hoping the showers would stick around Portland.  At first, things looked promising.  I parked at the Dog River Trailhead, with the intent of following this trail.  Having never hiked here before, it appeared this path would provide access to Hood River.

Not many leaves left on the trees

Starting out from the parking area, things looked promising.  A small creek (Dog River, I presumed) was gushing nearby.  A thick carpet of fallen leaves covered the trail.  Some orange and yellow colored foliage still clung to a few tree branches.  But I soon discovered the fall colors were now past their peak, and most of the leaves were either on the ground, or an ugly, dry brown.  Oh well, maybe there was still some nice color along the river.

Scenic Dog River

I'd only traveled a quarter mile when the trail began switchbacking uphill, away from all water sources.  This wasn't what I wanted!  So, I turned around and headed back.  Peering through the trees, I could see the creek a short distance away.  That's what I wanted to photograph.  But how to get there?

Leaves caught in the current

I spied a clearing through the woods.  Stepping off the trail, I made the decision to do a little bushwhacking.  The creek didn't look very far - I knew I wouldn't get lost.  I crashed through the bushes, stepping around fallen logs and through a few spiderwebs (Eeeewwwww!!!!)  But my persistence paid off - in no time at all I had reached the leaf-covered bank of a very beautiful creek.

A leaf-littered bank

I'd found my scenic river shot.  Although not the Hood River, this creek was a mighty close second.

 After a lengthy photo session, I packed up and headed back to my car.  Timing is everything - I'd no sooner unlocked the door, when the skies began to shed raindrops.

Mother nature's canvas

Where to go now?  It was still early afternoon, and I wasn't ready to call it day.  I drove to nearby Tamanawas Falls, thinking that would be a nice quick hike.  But as I pulled into the parking area, the intermittent showers turned into a full-on downpour.

More on the ground than on the trees

Although I've been known to hike in the rain, my heart wasn't in it that day.  So I turned my car around, heading for home.  As my vehicle swung around the bends of Hwy 35, the Hood River came into view, and with it the lovely golden trees lining its banks.  I needed to photograph this!

Gorgeous golden colors line the Hood River

Luckily, there's a few auto pullouts spaced along this road.  Spotting one ahead, I parked and unloaded camera and tripod.  I also discovered an old umbrella behind the front seat.  As the rain was still coming down, it was a lucky find.

I set up my camera and tripod in the pouring rain.  Balancing my umbrella in one hand over top of everything, I worked the shutter and controls with the other.  I'm sure it was a funny sight to people passing on the highway, but I didn't care.  (One guy even pulled over to see what I was up to)  Through the downpour, I was able to get a couple of photos that adequately captured this wonderful scenery.

Roadside scenery

I didn't log many hiking miles that day.  I probably spent more time driving than I did taking pictures.  But I was able to capture the last of the fall colors along Highway 35 before they were gone for another year. 

Besides, any day spent outdoors is way better than sitting at home cleaning bathrooms!

Sharing with:  Sweet Shot Tuesday and Weekly Top Shot.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Birth of a Bridge

I'm a civil engineer who works for the local transportation bureau.  Although my job consists of designing streets and sidewalks, I occasionally get an interesting, unique assignment.

Our transit agency has an extensive network of light rail tracks that's ever expanding.  Their current project includes building a new bridge across the Willamette River in downtown Portland.  As one of the local agency review engineers, I had a small role in the preliminary design phase of this bridge.  Now that construction is underway, I sometimes get opportunities to tour the construction site.  Is there anything cooler than watching a bridge being built? (Especially to a nerdy civil engineer!)

Towers rising out of the river

Construction started in the summer of 2011.  To build the bridge piers, giant cofferdams were placed in the river, the water pumped out, and huge shafts drilled into the river bottom.  Filled with concrete, these became the foundations.  Then, throughout the year, two towers slowly rose out of the water.

West tower

These photos are from September 2012.  The tower near the west shore was nearly 2/3 complete.

Tower close-up

A close up of the west tower.  Look at the long staircase workers must climb to reach the top!

Concrete pour from the workbridge

For access from shore, a sturdy workbridge was built.  This enables delivery of construction materials to the work area and easy access for the workers.  Concrete trucks can drive very close to the towers.  The long green arm is a pump that gets the concrete up to the work platform.  As you can imagine, it takes a lot of concrete to build a bridge of this size.

Towers on the east shore

A look at the east tower.  Not very far along at this point.  The green rectangles you see are rebar cages that form the skeleton of the towers.  Forms will be placed around the rebar and the cage will be filled with concrete.  As you can see, there's a workbridge on this side of the river too.  Cranes balanced on huge barges do the heavy lifting.

We engineers love this stuff!

Some facts:  This will be a cable-stayed suspension bridge.  When completed, the bridge will serve light rail trains, streetcar, buses, pedestrians and bicycles, but no private autos will be allowed.  It will be approximately 1,720 feet in length, and the towers will each be 180 feet high.  It's the first new bridge built across the Willamette River in nearly 40 years.

A year later.....

Fast forward to November 2013.  Not only are both towers at full height, but the concrete bridge decks, anchored by long cables, extend from both sides of each tower.  The abutments on both shores are well under construction, and the bridge decks are getting ever closer to reaching land.

Form traveler on the west end

Last week, I got another opportunity to visit the construction site.  Not only that, I was able to go up on the bridge itself!  Not many people are allowed to get so close.

This shot is two photos stitched together.  It shows the form traveler on the west end of the deck.  The deck is built outward in both directions from the towers, keeping each side in balance.  The form traveler moves with the extension of the deck.  As construction progresses, cables are cast into the deck's underside.

Underside of the west tower

I think this is an interesting view of the bridge's underside.  A lot sure has happened in a year!

The decks are getting closer...

Eventually the deck will touch the abutments on each side of the river.  And the other ends will meet in the middle of the river.  In this photo, it looks as though the decks are getting close to touching, but I'm told this closure won't happen until next May.

Soon they will meet!

Here's a view of the deck's underside, suspended over the river.  I think it's so amazing that a bunch of steel cables can hold up so much concrete!

I see the cables up close and personal

This is my view from the bridge deck.  Is this awesome or what?  Each of these white pipes house over thirty individual steel cables.  The cables run through a hole in the tower, and are cast into the bottom of the deck on both sides.

View from center span

Walking in the middle of the deck, where the future tracks will be laid, gives you an idea of the huge scale of such a structure.  Tracks will be located in the center of the bridge, and each outer side will have a wide path for bikes and pedestrians.  In the future, it will be great to walk across this bridge and take in the city and river views.  Someplace to bring my camera, that's for sure!

Cables radiating out from the tower

It's fun to see a project move from words in meetings, to lines on a plan sheet, to an actual steel and concrete structure.  Scheduled for completion in late 2014, I can't wait to tour the finished product.

For more information, check out the transit agency's website.

Sharing with:  52 Photos Project and Weekly Top Shot.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Larch Madness

It all began with a trip report I read on the Portland Hikers website.

Lovely Western Larch

During lunch breaks at work I like to read through hiking reports on this site.  You get good information on wildflower blooms, trail conditions, and most recently, where fall colors are peaking.  One day I came across a post that described an beautiful hike from Lookout Mountain to the Flag Point Lookout Tower.  It included some amazing photos of the Western larch trees in full fall color.  One photo in particular caught my attention.  It was a shot taken from the lookout's top perch, of a green forest, intermixed with golden yellow larch trees.  To top it off, Mt. Hood, white and regal, anchored the horizon.  

My trail for today

Okay, now I just had to go there!  I wanted to get that same shot for myself.  Checking the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend, I discovered our nice sunny dry month of October was due to turn cold and rainy by Friday afternoon.  That wouldn't bode well for views.  Knowing I had a couple extra vacation days yet to burn, I knew there was but one thing to do - take a weekday "mental health," work hooky, hiking day!

Mt. Hood peek-a-boo

For those that have never heard of the larch, it's the only cone-bearing conifer that loses it's leaves in the fall.  Or rather, loses its needles.  And before the needles drop, they turn a stunning yellow-gold.  Many different species of larch trees grow throughout the US, but only two are found in the Pacific Northwest.  Of the two, the Western larch is the only species native to Oregon.

Hood's grand view from Lookout Mtn

Closest to Portland, Western larches are found east of Mt. Hood, near the Badger Creek Wilderness.  This area, in the rain shadow of the Cascade range, has a drier climate, conducive to hemlock, Ponderosa Pine, and of course, the larch.

Eastern Oregon view from Lookout Mtn

So on a cold, but sunny Thursday morning, I packed my car and headed east for the long drive to the Lookout Mountain Trailhead.  It had been many years since I'd hiked this trail, so after meandering down a bumpy gravel Forest Service Road, I came to a meadow that I thought was the trailhead.  After parking my car in a nearby pullout and putting on my boots, I was ready for some larch hunting!

No flowers - just these puffy pods

But where exactly was the trail?  I thought it was somewhere close by.  I wandered through the meadow until I finally stumbled upon a path worn into the grass.  Following it up through a forest of hemlock and gnarly whitebark pines, I wasn't sure it was the right way until I spotted Mt. Hood peeping through a gap in the trees.

Trail junction

I climbed steadily up through the woods.  Although at the trailhead temps had been frosty, I was soon shedding layers.  As the forest began to thin, I was treated to some grand views of my favorite mountain.  Just over a mile later, I was trudging up the rocky slope of Lookout Mountain.

Still some fall colors on the forest floor

In the summer, Lookout Mountain's summit is overrun with a colorful riot of wildflowers.  But in the fall, it's just a bare rocky summit, the foundations of a long-ago fire lookout the only thing of interest.  But - oh - the views!  Mt. Hood is front and center, filling the western sky.  To the north, Mts Adams, Rainer, and St. Helens line the horizon.  And to the south, Mt. Jefferson juts up from the surrounding hills.  And to the east, I was pleased to see the dark green forests spotted with splashes of golden larch.

Mottled huckleberry leaves

Time to find some more larch trees!  From Lookout Mountain's summit, I followed the Divide Trail as it dove steeply downhill, through another area of dense woods.  Although there wasn't a lot of fall colors to see as I passed by, there was still some nice yellow huckleberry bushes on the forest floor.

Palisade Point

After descending quite a bit of elevation (that I realized I'd need to regain on my return) I began climbing again.  Topping out, I came upon the rocky ledges of Palisade Point. 

Flag Point lookout is barely visible

Standing on the cliff's edge, I could see for miles back towards Mt. Hood.  Looking to the south, I was pleased to see the adjacent hills had a high concentration of golden orange larch trees brightening up the green hills.  And way in the distance, barely visible on the next ridge, was the fire lookout tower at Flag Point (it's just to the left of center on the above photo).  My destination.

Larch sighting

Continuing on the Divide Trail, I began to enter larch-land.  First one, then two, and finally I spotted several trees sporting golden orange.  A lovely sight to behold! 

Extreme close-up

However, I noted that most of the trees were past their prime - at peak color the larch are more of a yellow-gold.  And the forest floor was already littered with needles that had dropped from the trees.  Good thing I didn't wait much longer, I would've missed the entire show.

Flag Point Lookout

The Divide Trail eventually intersected with an old road.  Following the road another 3/4 mile took me to my destination - Flag Point and it's fire lookout tower.

View east from the tower base

The place was deserted.  Although the tower is manned during the summer, by late October, the place gets closed up for the winter months.  The view eastward from the tower's base was pretty incredible.  I could see all the way to the brown plains of Central Oregon, and the wooded hills between.  Judging by the amount of orange interspersed with the green, those forests were definitely larch country.

Let's climb up!

But I longed to get my Mt. Hood shot.  Only one way to get it - climb up that tower!  Although the living quarters on the very top were locked tight, the ladder was still open all the way to the door.  Leaving my backpack by the tower's base, I stepped onto the first rung.

The coveted shot

Yeah, the tower was high.  And, yeah, the ladder was a tiny bit rickety.  But once I reached the highest point, all was forgotten.  I was rewarded with a magnificent view of Mt. Hood and the surrounding forest.  This was the shot I'd come to capture.

Jaw-dropping Hood view

And capture I did!  Although the larch trees were not as golden as in the photos I'd seen online, it was still a pretty darn nice scene.  And I'd picked the perfect day to come.  The weather was clear and sunny.  Mt. Hood was lit up perfectly against a brilliant blue sky.

And the bathroom was open!

After shooting a gazillion images, I finally tore myself away from the high perch and returned to earth.  After a quick lunch at the tower's base, I was getting ready to head back, when I spotted the nearby outhouse.  Although I don't mind hiding behind a tree to do my business, I'll always chose a sit-down potty first.  I was happy to find this one unlocked and - BONUS - it even had toilet paper!  The caretaker had thoughtfully protected the TP in a large ziplock bag.  I was so tickled I just had to take a photo (yes, I'm weird like that!)

Larch trees decorate the forest

Tummy full, and bladder empty, it was time to hit the trail.  I retraced my steps down the road, back to the Divide Trail.  Back through the larch forest, the afternoon light illuminated the trees a rich orange color.  And a break in the forest gave me a final parting glimpse towards the east.

Gnarled ghost trees

Back at the Palisades, some gnarled old trees caught my camera's attention.  For some reason, I missed them when I'd passed by earlier.  I took one final look towards Flag Point and the tiny lookout tower silhouetted against the sky.  It now seemed so far away - hard to believe I had just hiked there.

Golden needles

One little larch tree then caught my attention.  Unlike the others, this one lagged behind in the fall change.  It's needles were a splendid golden yellow.  A fitting end to my hunt, I happily shot a few images to memorialize the find. 

I'm glad I was able to get out on one of the last nice fall days, and see the grand larch trees before their fall color was completely gone.  This is one trip I'm putting on next year's calendar - but just a little bit earlier.

Stats for the day:  11.5 miles, 1600' elevation gain.

Sharing with:  Sweet Shot Tuesday.