The Deadliest Avalanche in US History

As we drove across Stevens Pass here in Washington State, my husband told me the story of the 1910 Wellington Avalanche, the deadliest avalanche in US history to date. This was sobering, because it was May, and there was still snow on the pass, and here I was wearing shorts because we had come from, and were heading to, much lower, warmer elevations.

Back in 1910, weather forecasting was even less exact than it is today, so the passengers and crew aboard the Great Northern Railroad, along with a mail train that was following them, really had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They just thought they were taking a train from Spokane to Seattle, no muss, no fuss. (People really believed in engineering, and man’s ability to tame nature, back then.)

And it’s true, the railroad had employed snowplows to keep the tracks clear, and that had always done the trick until now. But now the two trains were stuck in Wellington, just west of the Cascade Tunnel. They couldn’t go forward. They couldn’t go back.

The snow kept falling, sometimes a foot an hour, for 9 whole days. One day saw an 11 foot accumulation. The drifts got up to 20 feet high, and avalanches were occurring to the east and west of them. The trains and their passengers sat there for what must have been a very scary 9 days.

Some of the passengers, in utter desperation, walked out of there in their street clothes, sliding down the hills on their behinds. All of those that chose to do so survived. But there were families with children aboard. There is no way that children could slog through those drifts. So they waited. They waited as the coal that heated the train and the food ran out.

And then early in the morning of March 1, 1910, the snow turned to rain and warm wind, and thunder began to rock the mountain, which was already not very forested due to a fire. Suddenly lightning struck, and a slab of snow, 10 feet high, a half a mile long, and a quarter of a mile wide, swept into Wellington and knocked both trains into the Tye River valley below.

A rescue effort began, and indeed 23 people survived, but all efforts had to be abandoned due to the weather. In the end, 96 people were killed, including 61 railroad employees and 35 passengers. Some of the bodies weren’t recovered until late July.

For some really interesting accounts from the survivors, read this Seattle Times article.

Later that year, the railroad renamed the town Tye, and built concrete snow sheds to protect the tracks from snow. In 1929, they built a longer tunnel at a much lower elevation, and the town was abandoned.

The old track is now called the Iron Goat Trail, and you can hike it and still see the snow sheds and remnants of the track. Some of the railroad employees are buried in the Everett Cemetery, their stones facing toward Stevens Pass, almost as if they can never quite be free.

1024px-Train_wreckage_from_Wellington_WA_avalanche_cph.3b13980

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Seattle’s Volunteer Park

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Seattle’s Volunteer Park for the first time. I don’t know how I missed this gem after living in this county for nearly 6 years. This is definitely a place I’ll be bringing visitors from out of town to from now on.

Volunteer Park was designed by the Olmstead Brothers, the same guys who brought us Central Park in New York City. That had to be the coolest job ever. They got to travel around and design huge city parks that are still appreciated today.

In this era, it’s too late for that. Everything has already been built up. You’re as likely to see a new city park as you are to see a new major airport. I’m glad cities had the foresight to carve out natural spaces while they still could, or no city would be livable today. (But nothing in life is that simple. More about the eminent domain atrocities in Central Park in an upcoming post.)

The City of Seattle bought the land for Volunteer Park in 1876 for $2,000. That land is priceless today. Consider this: This mansion, right across the street from the park, is for sale. You can buy it for a cool 6.3 million dollars. (If you want it, here are the details. My realtor husband can hook you up.)

Mansion

To design the park, they had to move a cemetery, and I sure feel sorry for those bodies and the people who had to dig them up, because they had been relocated once before. They started in what is now Denny Park, moved to what is now Volunteer Park, and were then shunted right next door to Lake View Cemetery. May they finally rest in peace. (Bruce and Brandon Lee are also buried here.)

Volunteer Park was once called Lake View Park, but folks were confusing it with the cemetery. J. Willis Sayre, who fought in the Spanish-American War, convinced the city to rename it for the volunteers who fought in that war. And it has been so called ever since.

The park is 48.4 acres, and includes lawns and wooded areas, and has a wide variety of trees and flowers. It’s about 1/20th the size of Central Park, but still seemed massive to me. There is a gorgeous conservatory, currently closed due to the pandemic, which was built from a kit purchased from the Hitchings Company of New York. A lovely carriage drive winds through the park, and it is easy to imagine the horse drawn carriages that must have once used it.

The park also has a concert grove with a small stage, and a water tower which I’m told has spectacular views of the city… when it’s not closed due to the pandemic. There’s also an intriguing Seattle Asian Art Museum in a cool Art Deco building, which is, yeah, yeah, closed. There is also a very large and placid reservoir in front of the museum which greatly enhances the view.

Between the museum and the reservoir is a piece of art called Black Sun which I was told inspired the song Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. If you line your camera up just right (which I did not, exactly), you get a great view of the space needle through this sculpture. (A few years ago, I also visited Seattle’s Sound Garden, which inspired the band’s name. Alas, the wind wasn’t blowing at the time, so the sound garden remained mute.)

Apparently there are also some tennis courts on the grounds of Volunteer Park, but I didn’t see those. In season, there are also dahlia gardens, koi ponds, and a wading pool.

I look forward to visiting this lovely park again and again. Here are some photos that we took during our visit.

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Doin’ the Cascade Loop (Sort Of) Part Two

Having woken up, surrounded by the linoleum, wood paneling, and extremely dated but comfortable furniture in the Idle A While Motel in the charming little town of Twisp, Washington, we looked forward to exploring that little berg and then continuing the Cascade Loop adventure that we had started the day before (and that I blogged about two days ago.)

It doesn’t take much time to explore Twisp, but I have to say that I felt quite at home there. If it didn’t get entirely snowed in every winter, it would be an excellent retirement option. The town is full of very cool public art, including a mural on the wall of the community pool building that shows, in a colorful way, every business that contributed to having it built. The Methow Valley is an art hub, and Twisp seems to be its epicenter. And it is also home to one of the coolest Little Free Libraries that I’ve yet to see. That, and I’ll say it again: I love saying Twisp. Twissssspuh.

After that, we looped on, often driving through swaths of devastation from the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire, which was a reminder of how vengeful nature can be. Entire mountainsides where the trees are now dead sticks. It was heartbreaking.

If you ever drive through this area, be careful. There are so many deer that an appalling number are run down on the highway each year. They actually keep a tally on a road sign so people will take it seriously.

From here, we took a little detour, via Okanogan, to Omak, to visit a friend from a safe distance. I have to say that my overall, limited, and brief impression of the area was that it is pretty industrial, and it’s much more desert than forest, but the distant mountain views were quite stunning.

I learned that I’ve been mispronouncing Okanogan my entire life. It’s not Awk-a-noggin. It’s Oak-a-noggin. Go figure. I’m officially sending this town an extra “a” for clarity. Next, you’ll be telling me that octopus should be pronounced oak-tapuss.

But I’ll forgive Okanogan it’s pronunciation, because it’s near Omak, home to some of the best and most unique-looking pizza I’ve ever eaten. If you are ever in the area, you simply have to check out Hometown Pizza. It was so good, I was totally fine with eating pizza two days in a row.

Next, we followed the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers through their identically named valleys. This is the apple capitol of the world. Orchard after orchard can be found in every nook and cranny here. I’ve never seen so many apple crates stacked up in my life. I hope this pandemic isn’t negatively impacting their crops, because moving to Washington has made me fall in love with apples once again.

While in the town of East Wenatchee, I got so see some of the places where my husband used to live. It was fascinating. He’s come a long way, baby.

From there, we passed through another town whose name I love to say: Cashmere. I’d love to say I lived in Cashmere. It just sounds so soft and luxurious and comforting. Cashmere is also home to candy called Aplets & Cotlets, which sound like they’re a lot like Turkish Delight to me, and since I didn’t find Turkish Delight very delightful while in Turkey, I gave these treats a pass as well. My husband says Aplets & Cotlets are known as old lady candies.

Then we rolled into the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth. I’ve been there a couple of times and I’ve blogged about it before. It was weird to have the whole town to ourselves. Usually it’s teeming with tourists. It kind of made me sad.

To cheer ourselves up, we then stopped at Flo’s 59er Diner for some takeout milkshakes. They have 20 different flavors on offer from blueberry to peanut butter to root beer to coconut. I feel like vacation calories don’t count, and if I’m feeling really guilty, I can always jog beside the car (although I never have.) This restaurant also has an extensive food menu, but we were still full of pizza, so no.

The next stretch of road took us over a still snowy Stevens Pass, elevation 4,061 feet, and through towns with cool names like Skykomish, Index, Gold Bar, Startup and Sultan, and then on to Monroe, which isn’t that far from home, so I hope I get to check it out in more detail at a later date. From there, the loop was close enough to home to where I was familiar with its ramblings, so we took a southerly turn in Monroe to remotely visit some more friends in the lovely town of Carnation, Washington, which I’ve also blogged about before. From there went straight home.

Our Roamin’ Holiday may not have been Italy, but it was still wonderful, after all.

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Doin’ the Cascade Loop (Sort Of) Part One

During the last bit of our Roamin’ Holiday, we decided to drive the Cascade Loop here in Washington State. No day trip, this. It would require an overnight stay somewhere. I had mixed emotions about that in this era of pandemic, but I was also itching to go somewhere, anywhere, and do something, anything. So off we went.

This road trip is something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. I’ve done bits and pieces of it, but never the whole thing, and I can now say that it’s highly recommended. It was a refreshing getaway that increased my love for this state.

The first thing to do is check out this awesome website that’s dedicated to everything related to the Cascade Loop. It breaks down the loop into 9 regions, and is full of amazing photographs, recommendations as to where to stay and what to eat and what to do, and it also goes into great detail about the history of each region. They even offer a free guidebook, which I dearly wish I’d had.

Map

One of the first things they recommend is that you drive the loop counterclockwise, as you get to see more spectacular views that way. Oops. We didn’t do that. That’s what I get for not doing my homework. Maybe next time. We also skipped the first region, Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, because we had just explored that area a few days before.

Since we were choosing to skip that leg of the journey, we decided, instead, to take a brief detour to explore Camano Island, the next island to the east of Whidbey. It’s a lot smaller than Whidbey, and has fewer amenities. It seems like a quiet, rural community. It did have a few intriguing shops, galleries, restaurants, a grocery store here and there, and some wineries. All but the grocery stores were closed due to the pandemic. We felt bad about not financially supporting this community, but in these viral times, we decided it was more socially responsible to remain socially distant. But Camano also has several parks, beaches, and fabulous views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, so it was still well worth the drive.

We picked up the Cascade Loop again in Skagit Valley. This is farm country. I love this area particularly in April, when the tulips are blooming and there are vast swaths of color in the fields. It makes me feel like I’m back in Holland again. I love looking at the farm houses and the barns, and imagining what life would be like out here. Quiet, but hard work.

I love the little town of La Conner, with its quaint little waterfront shops, and the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, housed in an amazing Victorian mansion. But again, those things are for healthier times.

Hamilton is probably full of tourists in normal times. We had the whole small town to ourselves. Sedro-Woolley is a loggers paradise. Apparently they host an annual Loggerrodeo. That sounds intriguing.

In fact, there are a plethora of festivals at different times of the year, all along the loop. It is a good idea to plan accordingly. But keep in mind that the North Cascades section is shut down in the winter, due to snow. We took our trip in May a few days after the road opened. A lot of places close down in the winter.

The North Cascades section is probably my favorite part of the loop. With its mountains and valleys and waterfalls and lush greenery, it reminded me a lot of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Well, sort of. Here, the mountains are taller and more jagged, the valleys are deeper, and the predominant trees are evergreen, not deciduous. But you get the idea. There are also 300 glaciers along the route. Hard to imagine that I’d never seen a glacier 6 years ago. The lakes and rivers are spectacular as well. There are a lot of camping and hiking and fishing opportunities here.

We passed through the town of Concrete in about 5 seconds. As you can probably guess, it used to be a cement production center. I just love that there’s a town called Concrete somewhere on earth.

Coming down from the mountains and entering the Methow Valley, we were feeling kind of peckish, and decided to stop in for some takeout pizza. One thing I’ve learned is that you can always count on pizza, even in a pandemic. We ate a lot of pizza in our travels. This time it was East 20 Pizza in Winthrop.

I hope to visit Winthrop more extensively in better times. It feels like you’ve been transported back to the wild, wild west. You can walk along its wooden sidewalks and explore tons of cute little shops. It’s also known for its fine dining. But alas, every single thing was closed while we were there, except the pizza place. I half expected to see tumbleweeds piling up in the corners. What a sad state of affairs to find ourselves in.

Then we continued on to the town of Twisp, where we spent the night. Can I start off by saying that I adore the name Twisp? I’d move there simply to be able to say Twisp multiple times a day. It sounds like a cross between the sound a potato chip makes and a squirt of honey in your mouth on a hot day.

We stayed at the Idle A While Motel. What a blast from the past. These buildings were built in the early 1900’s for the forest service. And now they have been converted into individual motel cabins along with a two story strip of rooms that looks like your typical 1950’s cheap motel. You could kind of tell that about half the place was occupied by seasonal residential types, but it was clean and felt safe, and they allowed pets, so I was happy. That, and we were able to do our check in over the phone, and I sanitized the place obsessively before and after.

Internet was sketchy and it was a bit chilly out, so we hung out and watched cable TV that evening. We watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which was filmed in 1963, and it now seems quaint, like the hotel, rather than scary, as it seemed to me as a child. (Given our setting, I’m kind of glad they weren’t showing Psycho.) After that, we drifted off to sleep.

Here are some photos from our travels. More about day two in a day or two!

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Mount St. Helens

If forced to choose a favorite day of our Roamin’ Holiday, I’d have to say our day trip to Mount St. Helens has that distinction. I love any opportunity to look nature in the eye and say, “Yeah, you win. It wouldn’t even be a fair fight.”

When this volcano famously erupted on May 18, 1980, I was 15 years old and 3000 miles away, on the other side of the continent. I was fascinated by the event, and read everything I could about it, but somehow it didn’t seem real to me. It was something that was happening “over there”, in a place that was practically a foreign country, and one I was certain I’d never visit. I knew no one who had witnessed the event, and it didn’t impact me directly in any way.

Little did I know I’d be gazing upon this very volcano two days prior to the 40th anniversary of its eruption. And what a stunning sight it was. I don’t know what it is about Western vistas, but the horizon seems 10 times farther away out here, and this mountain is so… mountainous… that it makes me feel even smaller. I love that feeling. It makes me realize how insignificant my problems actually are, in the overall scheme of things. A short respite from my cares and worries is always welcome.

Thanks to the pandemic, I didn’t get to see the state park visitor center at Silver Lake. There was, however, a little shack that had been converted from a snack bar to a gift shop, so I was able to remotely point at and purchase a magnet for my fridge and a postcard or two. The Forest Learning Center, operated by Weyerhaeuser, was also closed, as was the Science and Learning Center operated by the Mount St. Helens Institute, and the Johnson Ridge Observatory operated by the U.S. Forest service. I also couldn’t get my coveted National Parks Passport Stamp at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

All of this was a disappointment, as I do love visitor centers. They teach me a great deal, and therefore enrich the travel experience, but hey, there’s still the internet, and the interpretive signs at the various overlooks along the route were still there. I just had to wait, patiently, and properly bemasked, at a distance, if anyone had arrived there before me. And for the most part, we had the park to ourselves. The Pandemic certainly has changed the travel experience.

But the star of the show, the volcano, was certainly there, and we were lucky enough to be there on a day when it wasn’t obscured by clouds. Some of the photographs that we took at the time appear below. As good as I think they are, they don’t really do it justice.

What really impressed me was how much the area has recovered in the last 4 decades, given the scope of the destruction. I’ll let Wikipedia describe what happened.

Mount St. Helens is most notorious for its major eruption on May 18, 1980, the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in US history. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche, triggered by an earthquake of magnitude 5.1, caused a lateral eruption that reduced the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 ft (2,950 m) to 8,363 ft (2,549 m), leaving a 1 mile (1.6 km) wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The debris avalanche was up to 0.7 cubic miles (2.9 km3) in volume.

An eruption column rose 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states and significant ash in two Canadian provinces. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars (volcanic mudslides) that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles (80 km) to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, but not as destructive, eruptions later that year. Thermal energy released during the eruption was equal to 26 megatons of TNT.

Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over $1 billion in damage (equivalent to $3.4 billion in 2019), thousands of animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side.

So, yeah, I’d say that this destruction was rather a big deal. And you can still see evidence of it everywhere. The mountain used to be a relatively uniform cone shape. Very picturesque. But the eruption reduced it’s height by 1314 feet. To put that into perspective, the shorter of the two twin towers, prior to 911, was 1362 feet. So that was a heck of a lot of mountain to be there one minute and gone the next. And now there’s this giant lopsided crater marring the previous symmetry. And you can see where the slide went in many of the photographs below.

It’s also quite obvious when you enter the blast zone. That area has been reforested, for the most part, but there’s a very abrupt change between old growth forest, and, for example, the acres of trees planted by Weyerhaeuser, which are so identical in height and shape that it makes your eyes do a blurry double take. You can also see a lot of dead and flattened trees still floating in the area waterways.

But life will out. The trees are, indeed, growing. Wildlife abounds. The waterways flow again. It would be easy to forget if we had no video of the disaster, and no written history. To the untrained eye, there would only be hints here and there. For example, the A Frame house pictured below still stands, and the upper floor can still be seen. The mud flood that came through there, just two days after that house was built, was 5 feet deep and 100 degrees. It was the consistency of wet cement and was traveling at about 35 miles per hour. Now that whole area is at a higher elevation, and people, ignoring history and wanting to profit from tourism, have rebuilt all around it.

If I could sum up what I learned from this trip in one sentence, it would be, “Time marches on.” And when it’s nature that’s doing the marching, you’d best get the hell out of the way.

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A Scenic Drive along the Hood Canal

The first thing that you need to know about the Hood Canal, which is a body of water that lies between the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas here in Washington State, is that it isn’t a canal in the strict sense of the word. It’s not an artificial waterway. Far from it. It’s actually a fjord that was created 13,000 years ago by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet.

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The hood Canal is part of Puget Sound as well as being part of the Salish Sea. Recently I had the pleasure of riding along its westernmost shoreline for about 50 miles. It was idyllically rural, following the natural coastline with forested hills on one side and the waterway on the other, though the occasional one intersection town. If I had all the money in the world to play with, I’d love to retire to one of the waterfront homes there and watch the orcas swim by.

We started off on the north end of the canal, crossing the Hood Canal Bridge. We stopped in the community of Quilcene to pay a socially distant visit to a friend who recently bought a retirement home out there. This little community has a population of about 600, mostly nestled deep in the woods, with gorgeous views of Quilcene Bay. On a good day, you can see Mt. Rainier off in the distance. I left, wishing this friend would adopt me.

The booming metropolis boasts a brewery that apparently makes phenomenal wood fired pizza, but thanks to the pandemic, it’s only open for a few days a week for takeout, and we weren’t there on one of those lucky days. So on we went, to explore the canal.

The Hood Canal is 177 feet deep, and has an average width of one and a half miles. Its surface area is nearly 150 square miles. The natural beauty there is beyond words. Unfortunately, due to humans, the canal has suffered from a number of algae blooms due to lack of oxygen in the water. Much of this is the fault of septic tank run off and global warming. But on the day we were there, the water was crystal clear.

Many of the rivers that flow into the canal have typical Pacific Northwest names. Skokomish. Hamma Hamma. Duckabush. Dosewallips. Tahuya. Dewatto. Just traversing this area makes one feel poetic.

It was a glorious drive on a glorious day. I’m so happy to live in such an intensely varied and beautiful state! Here are some pictures we took during our ramble. Enjoy!

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The Paris Catacombs. Who Knew?

When I first visited Paris in the early 80’s, one of many things I did was visit the catacombs beneath the city. You can wander for miles down there, amongst the bones of more than 6 million people. It’s grisly, but fascinating.

I really enjoyed the adventure, right up until the moment when the power went out, and I was plunged into the most profound darkness I’d ever experienced before or since. Suddenly I felt as though the bones were, I don’t know, aware, or something. I felt outnumbered. I instantly grabbed the hand of the person closest to me. I have no idea whose hand it was. Fortunately the lights came back on about a minute later, or I might very well have lost my mind. Instead, I had a nice nervous giggle. That is one of those travel memories that stay with you for life.

So, I was quite fascinated when I came across an article entitled, The Secret History of Paris’s Catacomb Mushrooms. It discusses the fact that many of Paris’ iconic buildings were built from limestone quarried from beneath the city. A lot has gone on beneath the Paris streets indeed.

The article does discuss the well-known ossuaries down there. After several cemetery cave-ins in the late 1700’s, the bones of those Parisians were stacked in the quarries and remain there to this day. But there is even more to these catacombs than that.

It seems that they were used by members of the French Resistance to hide their activities from the Nazis, and also as a hideout for deserters from Napoleon’s armies. Quite a fascinating history. Who knows who or what is down there today.

But what is really interesting, at least to me, is that someone discovered that the Parisian mushroom thrives down there. It likes the temperature and the moist environment. Back in 1880, the article says, “more than 300 mushroom farmers worked in Parisian quarries to produce 1,000 tons of Paris mushrooms each year.”

Apparently these mushrooms were very flavorful and popular. But when they started building the Paris Metro above the quarries in 1896, most of the mushroom farmers left, because the quarries were already getting dangerous due to disrepair. Now there are no mushroom farmers under the city.

The Paris mushroom has survived, but it is mostly produced in China. One half of one percent of all Paris mushrooms are produced in France, and those are now mostly grown in an industrial setting. They don’t taste remotely as good as they once did.

What a pity. I do love a good ‘shroom. Especially one with an intriguing history.

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The Hood Canal Bridge

As a bridgetender, whenever my travels take me anywhere near a movable bridge, I have to check it out. And the Hood Canal Bridge, which connects the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas in Washington state, is a unique bridge indeed, with an interesting history. The entire bridge is 7,869 feet long, and 6,521 feet of that floats. It’s the third longest floating bridge in the world, and the longest one located in a saltwater tidal basin.

The reason it was made a floating bridge is that the water depth ranges from 80 to 340 feet, and therefore support columns would have cost a fortune. Not that this bridge has been cheap by any means. The floating design has always been controversial because the tide difference averages 16.5 feet, and the wind, weather and current in the area can be rather severe.

The bridge first opened to traffic in 1961, and did well, until February 13, 1979. That’s when a disastrous windstorm with sustained winds of 85 mph and gusts up to 120mph hit the bridge broadside. The bridge was closed to traffic, and drawspan sections of the bridge were left open to reduce water pressure, but the western half of the bridge broke loose and sank. Fortunately the bridge crew and all members of the traveling public were off the bridge by then, so there were no casualties.

It took nearly 4 years to replace the span, and during that time, people either had to take a 50 mile detour or ride the hastily reestablished ferry system. The ferry took some time to set back up as the state had to reacquire the land and build the needed infrastructure. The bridge replacement cost 143 million dollars.

They then replaced other portions of the bridge from 2003 to 2009 to the tune of 471 million dollars. The pontoons and anchors for the bridge were built off site, and they had to relocate that site after two weeks when it was discovered that they had uncovered an ancestral burial ground belonging to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. Not only did they have to purchase new land and relocate, but they had to rebury all the remains that had been uncovered and pay the tribe 2.5 million dollars in damages.

What interests me in particular about this bridge is the movable span. It is one of the few movable bridge designs that I’ve never had the opportunity to operate. I would love to!

The hood canal bridge doesn’t open very often. You have to make an appointment at least an hour in advance to get it to do so. And then, it’s a fascinating process. Check out this video if you’d like to watch an opening with an explanation. And here’s an explanation from WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation:

How long does it take to open and close the Hood Canal Bridge? 

The length of time it takes to open and close the Hood Canal Bridge for a marine opening can vary from about ten minutes to 45 minutes.

To open the bridge to allow marine traffic to pass (as required by the Coast Guard), WSDOT has three spans on each side that are hydraulically raised. Once they are raised, the floating spans can be retracted back under those spans to provide the opening. Depending on what type of vessel is passing through, WSDOT may only have to retract one side of the span. If it is a sail boat that darts through, we will only open one side and it will take less time for traffic to get moving again.

Submarines and the support vessels that accompany them take longer and require both sides to be retracted. Submarines are not very maneuverable on top of the water and they will request the opening early. Ahead of the submarine will be smaller escort vessels that cross through first and then the submarine. As soon as all the vessels are through, the operator will start the closure of the two 300-feet floating spans moving towards each other. These are massive and take time to get moving and then slow down until they are together and locked. A crew member verifies that the lock is engaged, and then the three spans on each end of the opening that were raised up for the opening, these will be lowered back down. Once they are in place, the gates can be opened to vehicle traffic.

If there are any malfunctions in the system, the process will take longer. There have been times when cars would not start after they stopped for the bridge opening. This can also cause a delay in the time to clear traffic.

You can read a lot more interesting questions and answers about the hood canal bridge here. It also includes a link to live traffic cameras if you’d like to see what’s going on right this minute. Meanwhile, here are some of the pictures I took while crossing this fascinating bridge. I hope you get to cross it, too, someday.

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Deception Pass

During my recent visit to Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, I had the opportunity to have a small but intriguing taste of Deception Pass State Park. This is the most visited state park in Washington. Sadly, because of the pandemic, the campgrounds were closed, and the Civilian Conservation Corps interpretive center at Bowman Bay was as well. I’d have dearly loved to have checked that out. I hope to do so in happier times. No boat or kayak rentals were available either.

It sounds like I did nothing. But in fact, the trails were open, and they provide spectacular views of the pass. You wander among some of the oldest growth forests still extant in the state. You walk under and/or over the breathtakingly high bridge, and look down upon the waters rushing through the narrow pass when the tide is going in or out. The current can get up to 8 knots, and can produce standing waves, whirlpools and eddies. You might even catch a glimpse of seals or whales going through (we didn’t). You’re even more likely to see boats waiting for the tide to change direction before they make transit.

The park is 3,854 acres, some on the Whidbey side, some on the Fidalgo side, and it also includes 10 islands. There is plenty of fishing, camping, hiking, boating, beaching and tidepooling (which isn’t a word, but you get the idea) to do. I’m particularly intrigued by the rentable cabin that is only accessible by rowboat.

Deception pass was named by the explorer George Vancouver, because he felt deceived by that narrow pass. He thought it was simply a river, and didn’t even realize that Whidbey was an island until his lieutenant, Joseph Whidbey, circumnavigated it. That’s why Vancouver named the island after him. But as with all European “discoveries”, the Coast Salish tribes had already settled the area.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I highly recommend that you visit Deception Pass State Park. Here are some of the pictures we took during our all-too-brief visit.

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Forts Casey, Flagler, and Worden

Recently, while visiting Whidbey Island, Washington, I had the opportunity to wander around Fort Casey State Park. If you were to approach this park from the water, you’d see nothing but a nice, green, well groomed hill, flanked by Admiralty Head Lighthouse. You’d have no idea that there was a well designed, sneaky little fort behind those hills.

By 1901, big guns were mounted on disappearing carriages. They’d only pop into view when they were about to fire. It’s quite a stealthy design, but one would assume that it would have only taken one battle for the world to know about it.

I got to wander around on the concrete batteries of this fort, taking in the spectacular views and thinking about how much money it must have taken to build the place. Because, yeah, that’s how my mind works. It turns out that the entire harbor defense system was finished in 1905, and cost 7.5 million dollars, which, adjusted for inflation, would be 218.5 million today. But I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Fort Casey began construction in 1897, to help guard the inlet to Puget Sound. That fort, along with Fort Worden at Port Townsend and Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, formed what was called a “triangle of fire”. If any enemy ships were to attempt to enter the sound, they’d have been very quickly destroyed.

The thing is, none of the three forts ever fired a single shot. When airplanes were invented in 1903, the face of warfare changed drastically, and these forts became obsolete. The guns were taken for use during World War I, but most were scrapped by World War II. The fort itself was used as a training facility until the end of World War II. Your tax dollars at work.

But, yeah, in 1955 Fort Casey was turned into a lovely 999 acre state park where you can camp and picnic and fly kites, so there’s that. You can also check out the lovely lighthouse, but on the day we were there, it was encased in scaffolding, and was most likely closed for the pandemic.

Before describing the other two forts (below), here are some photos that we took at Fort Casey:

I did not get a chance to visit Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, but it sounds beautiful, based on what I’m reading in Wikipedia. Again, it was quickly obsolete after its construction, but actually didn’t close down until 1953. It, too, was made a state park, in 1955. This one also has a lighthouse, but it’s not nearly as pretty, and it’s always closed to the public.

Fort Flagler state park has camping, boat launches, and historical buildings that can be rented out, as well as a museum. You’re welcome to wander its 1451 acres. I hope I have the opportunity to do so someday.

I did get to visit Fort Worden a day after I visited Fort Casey. This one is located on the edge of very developed and extremely charming Port Townsend, so the parks department was only able to grab up 433 acres in 1973. Before that, from 1957 to 1971, it was used as a juvenile detention facility, or, as some called it, “a diagnostic and treatment center for troubled youths.” I bet there are a lot of interesting and probably tragic stories from that period.

But before that, it was arguably the most active of the three forts. It was the headquarters of the Harbor Defense Command of Puget Sound. It was used as a training center during World War I, and many barracks were added to house the men. An observation balloon hangar was built there in the 1920’s, to the tune of $85,000 (or 1.1 million today). These observation balloons were used as aerial platforms for intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. It remained a military fort until 1953.

I instantly recognized Fort Worden when I visited, because the movie An Officer and a Gentleman was shot there. So I walked in the footsteps of Richard Gere. Woo hoo! The movie The Ring was shot there as well, it is claimed, but I just rewatched that movie and didn’t recognize a thing.

Again, we explored the concrete batteries, but were unable to visit the museum, the School of Woodworking, the Marine Science Center, or any of the restored quarters that are available for vacation rentals, because, you know, pandemic. I wasn’t even aware of the military cemetery until I started research for this blog post.

Two pictures of our visit to Fort Worden appear below. One is someone’s humorous idea of an art installation. It kind of gives me the willies. (All the other photos included my husband, and he prefers not to partake of my modest blog fame.)

If you’re ever in the area, these forts are definitely worth checking out!

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