Rockhounding Thunder Eggs at Richardson’s Rock Ranch

My daughter posing at the trailheadMy five-year-old daughter has been very interested in rocks, crystals, and minerals lately, an offshoot of her intense interest in faeries and the natural realm over which they preside. At her request, I pulled up several images from Google displaying a variety of agates, jasper, geodes and, of course, thunder eggs. This led to a short hike to a nearby creek, after which she discovered several examples of quartz and red agates polished by the stream. By the time this trip had ended, a new pebble puppy was born and my inner rockhound had been reawakened.

We happen to live in a very geologically active area and a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of beautiful minerals awaiting discovery. The Pacific Northwest is home to a family of volcanoes in the Cascade Range. Over millennia they would belch ash rich in silica on to the desert planes. This silica rich volcanic ash, known as ryolite, accumulated and eroded forming striking reddish cliffs that enhance the otherwise monotonous desert landscape. The silica, being water soluble, percolated through the porous rock, eventually settling in gas-evacuated hollow spaces of the hardened basalt. Over time this material solidified, forming the colorful agate centers of what we now call thunder eggs. With such rich geology a stone’s throw away we planned a family trip to mine some eggs and start an epic rock collection. A few rock hammer purchases later and we were on our way. [Read more…]

Lightning Above White Salmon, Washington

I should have paid attention to the weather report. A “severe thunderstorm” warning was issued by NOAA and I missed half of it before I saw the first bolt of lightning. The show progressed well into the evening so I was able to capture some good shots in spite of my late start!

Facing East along the Columbia River Gorge

Total Lunar Eclipse on 15 April 2014

Tonight we were treated to a rare astronomical event (for those of us willing to stay up late anyway). Starting around 11 PM on April 14th, the Moon passed through the shadow of the Earth cast by the Sun, darkening it and casting it in a reddish hue. Cloud cover threatened to spoil the event, but the clouds parted about 15 minutes before the point of maximum redness, around 12:45AM on April 15th. I was ready with my tripod and camera.

Also prominent in the photo is Mars, which is currently at its closest point to Earth in the past six years. I woke up my daughter and brought her outside to see the two bright red objects. She was very tired and cold but acknowledged seeing the moon and quickly asked to be brought back inside. I put her back to bed and before I left her room she asked: “Daddy, if you see any more cool stuff tonight please wake me up!”. I agreed.

Total Lunar Eclipse

The Sleeping Beauty Trail – A Commanding Vista Above Trout Lake, WA

Sleeping Beauty HikeSleeping Beauty is a bare rock outcropping perched high above the Trout Lake valley near Mt Adams. The hike is only 1.5 miles in length but gains over 1200 feet of elevation in that short distance. While some exertion is required to reach the top, the view is well worth it, offering incredible views of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The trail is open in early summer and closes around mid November. The name “Sleeping Beauty” was given to this rocky hill due to its resemblance of a sleeping woman when viewed from the town of Trout Lake. Curious Gorge explains this in deatil and provides photographic evidence.

To reach the trail head, follow Trout Lake Creek Road out of Trout Lake and merge onto Forest Road NF-8810. Follow NF-8810 for 6 miles, turning right onto NF-040. I marked the exact location of the trail head in Google Maps. The trail begins in a heavy forest and starts gaining elevation immediately. In fact, the vast majority of the hike takes place under a heavy canopy, reserving the majestic views for the end of the hike.

Shortly after departing, we encountered a paper wasp’s nest clinging to a pine tree, so I asked the group to wait while I “shot” it. Our friends didn’t realize I was referring to my Nikon, so they fled up the very steep trail expecting an angry swarm. After this hilarious misunderstanding we continued on uneventfully, stopping for water breaks as needed. We reached the timberline about 40 minutes later. Having hiked Dog Mountain, I believe these two hikes are very similar in their setting and trail composition, however this hike is shorter and perhaps not as steep. Both hikes offer amazing views at the end.

We started hiking around 4PM, so the sun was beginning to set by the time we reached the top, casting long shadows across the landscape and bathing the peak in golden light. We discovered a concrete foundation and some steel cables at the top. Apparently, the peak was home to a fire lookout that was destroyed in the 1960s. Today, all that remains are the foundation and a few anchor points drilled into the rock.

My daughter wanted to get a head start on her modeling career, so I was happy to help. After her photo shoot, we spent a half hour exploring the peak and enjoying the view before heading back due to dwindling light. I’ll definitely start earlier in the day next time I hike this trail.
Sleeping Beauty Hike

The Falls Creek Falls Hike – A Hidden Gem in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Cute kid with big backpackMy parents were in town this week for my son’s baptism. With the baptism behind us, my mom wanted to hike one of our many trails since she has only seen the amazing Gorge scenery from the freeway (and the air). Originally, I considered taking her to Horsetail Falls and pushing farther to reach Triple Falls. She vetoed that idea when it became apparent the hike would take more than a few hours. This led me to search for some alternatives and I was fortunate to stumble upon Falls Creek Falls, an easy 3.4 mile round-trip with an impressive waterfall at the end. While most of the local waterfalls can be found on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, this one is located in Washington near the town of Carson. The trail head is very accessible and provides an ample parking lot and bathroom.

The trail follows Falls Creek up a gentle slope to the base of the waterfall, approximately 1.7 miles from the trailhead. The path is well groomed and provides multiple access points to view or wade in the creek, though I wouldn’t recommend the latter. My daughter tried this only to be met with frigid water that left her extremely uncomfortable. Yes, it’s August and the water is still frigid. She is adventurous, but also observant and pays attention when I point out potentially dangerous areas. There are a few spots on this hike where the cliff leading down to the creek increases in height and slope, necessitating hand holding and careful treading. If your kids are willing to take your hand and listen to words of warning, I’d recommend this hike as mostly family friendly.

Mirror surface and still creek. [Read more…]


My son was baptized today. After the sacrament, we headed to a nearby park and celebrated. My friend Athena was there with her camera and took some great photos.
Baptism baby portrait

Flower Photography at the Hood River Lavender Daze Festival

My daughter holding up her bag of ladybugs. Most of them had been released by this point.I learned about this festival just today, though my wife had been planning on attending for some time. Initially, I hesitated to join them in favor of cleaning my garage, but she told me one of the vendors had exotic birds so I grabbed my camera and hopped in the car. Upon arrival, I realized this place is a photographer’s paradise. The flower fields were in full bloom and the day was warm, clear and bright. While my daughter had fun releasing ladybugs and sipping a smoothie, I was in the flower fields, dodging busy bees and shooting everything in sight. After my camera card filled up, I was able to browse some of the vendors and ended up buying a Moroccan sandstone geode at The 3rd Rock’s booth. The festival was well attended and featured live music and great food courtesy of Solstice Pizza. [Read more…]

Fourth of July 2013 – Photos of Fireworks

We stayed home this year and watched our local city fireworks. Below are some photos. We had a great time and hope you did too.Fireworks [Read more…]

ARRL Field Day 2013 with W7RAG

As the sun sets the fun begins. Radio propagation is better at night.Since last year’s Field Day, I’ve upgraded my amateur radio license to General Class, but still haven’t spent any time on the air. Instead, I’ve been using my amateur radio privileges to down-link wireless video from remote control airplanes, so all is not lost. Field day is a great opportunity to get on the air and work the HF bands, making remote, long distance contacts from off-the-grid power and field conditions. Another great incentive for attending field day is conversing with other amateur radio operators (HAMs) about a variety of interesting and geeky topics. I end up learning a ton about amateur radio and other technical fields, so it’s always well worth the investment of time and sleep deprivation.

Immediately after arriving, I ran into another first person view (FPV) hobbyist who is also a HAM. He had a small quad copter with a wireless camera and we spent about an hour flying this little bird with down-linked video. Though it was small, it performed admirably in the wind. When the quadcopter’s battery finally died, he brought out his 20 meter mobile rig and used a slingshot with a fishing reel to string an antenna through an overhead treebranch. With so many amateurs competing in the field day contest, it wasn’t long before he made two contacts, one in Manitoba, Canada and another in Nevada. His entire mobile rig was easily transported in a hard briefcase and powered by a couple lithium polymer batteries, originally intended for powering remote control aircraft. I can definitely see myself with a similar rig, making contacts while camping on a remote mountain top.

As the sun set, we got down to business: eating junk food and talking about technical stuff. While there was a radio contest going on, we were too engrossed in our conversation about robotics, Linux, nanotechnology, processor design, etc. that we let hours pass before we finally sat down at the stations to begin DXing. I lasted until about 5AM after which my fatigue level left me mostly zombified. Every time I’m determined to pull an all-nighter with ease (like I did many times in college), I’m left disappointed and exhausted. I must be getting old! :(

Hopefully by this time next year I will have purchased my first HF radio and made some non-field day DX contacts. Time will tell.

Maternity Photos Take Two

Lost Lake Maternity PhotosOur new baby gave us an opportunity to take a new round of maternity photos, this time in the great outdoors. We headed up toward Lost Lake, stopping at a cherry orchard along the way. My wife had a few ideas for  poses that she found on Pinterest that  made use of the older sibling in the photo shoot. While Siena did cooperate for most of the photos, we had to bribe her with candy at least once. After the cherry orchard, we made our way up to Lost Lake, past the “road closed” sign and encountered a “resident” about 100 feet from the parking area by the lake. We were politely asked to “leave the premises” due to the imminent dangers posed by the ongoing snowplowing efforts. I scratched my head looking for imposing snow drifts and hazardous black ice, only to find bare roads and parked plows. Still, we complied with the request and returned a few days later. Our return trip offered us a chance to stop at the orchard again, with a different outfit . Our trip to the Lost Lake was successful this time as we parked and made our way to the shore. It was a gorgeous day and the calm wind almost made for a perfect refection of Mount Hood in the lake.