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…]

Baptism

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