Hoh Rain Forest

We drove through the rain for the last hour or so of the trip yesterday. Since we had rain for the whole week we were here last year, I expected that the rain would continue, but we awoke this morning to bright sun.

We decided to take advantage of the good weather by visiting nearby Hoh Rain Forest. We had hoped to go last year, but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. It’s about a 30-mile drive from the lodge to the visitors’ center. (See the map in yesterday’s post.)

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

Located 30 miles from the coast on the west side of Olympic National Park, Hoh Rain Forest receives about 140 inches of rainfall annually. Some of the largest trees in the world grow here. Western red cedar and western hemlock grow up to 200 feet tall, while Sitka spruce and Douglas firs can reach 300 feet.

Types of trees in Hoh Rain Forest
Types of trees in Hoh Rain Forest

The rain forest environment is also perfect for ferns:

Ferns love the rain forest
Ferns love the rain forest

We took the trail called the Hall of Mosses. Mosses cover the trees, making trunks and branches look like green fuzz.

The heavy moisture in the air muffles sounds. If you look up, you’re likely to see the tops of the evergreens swaying in a breeze that you neither hear nor feel.

Elk scat
Elk scat

Roosevelt elk live here, where they find a rich food source of all the plants that grow on the forest floor. Elk are especially fond of salmonberry bushes, which they keep trimmed well below their growth potential of 15 feet. We didn’t see any elk, but we did see evidence of their presence:


Three Things Thursday

Another Thursday, another edition of Three Things Thursday, the purpose of which is to “share three things from the previous week that made you smile or laugh or appreciate the awesome of your life.”

Three Questions and Answers

1. What’s that bird?

That’s the question we asked our waitress when we saw this bird:

Belted Kingfisher

We had taken the Tacoma Narrows Bridge over to Gig Harbor for a follow-up visit with the eye doctor after my cataract surgery. When we stopped for lunch after the visit, we saw this guy. Soon another bird who looked just like this one appeared as well. They both perched, though not together, where they could watch the water. We assumed they were probably watching for fish to eat.

The waitress didn’t know what kind of bird this was, so when we got home we consulted Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Nancy Baron and John Acorn.

Answer: It’s a belted kingfisher. And yes, they were having lunch, too, watching for fish to dive for.

2. What does that mean?

While watching the belted kingfishers, we spotted this sailboat moored nearby in the marina:

Sailboat Zaftig

When I asked my husband what zaftig means, he checked his phone.


adjective, Slang.
1. (of a woman) having a pleasantly plump figure.
2. full-bodied; well-proportioned.

—Source: dictionary.com

3. What WERE they thinking?

That’s what I thought when I saw these bushes for the first time:

hedge bushes

I wondered why anyone would sculpt their bushes into this suggestively phallic shape. When I noticed similarly shaped bushes at other houses, I assumed that the home owners must employ the same landscaping service.

On a recent Franke Tobey Jones outing, I heard a woman on the bus explaining this mystery to her friend.

Answer: The deer, which we have a lot of, eat the bushes. The tops of the bushes are wider because the deer can’t reach that high.

So I was right: The home owners do have the same landscaping service.

Road Scholar Program: Day 2

Today began with more of Dana’s presentation “How Nature Works.” He emphasized the way that fire serves to maintain nature’s balance. This is a salient issue because the recent wildfires in Washington burned close by but were stopped before reaching downtown Winthrop.

According to Dana, Ponderosa pines have developed thick bark that protects them from fire. Brush fires burn quickly, and when they sweep through a forested area, they are gone before they can burn through the bark of a Ponderosa pine and harm the interior, living part of the tree. These fires burn low-lying vegetation that competes with trees for nutrients from the soil. When allowed to burn freely, these fires keep down the growth of vegetation on the forest floor. But when the fires are routinely extinguished, low vegetation builds up so that, when a fire does arise, there is plenty of fuel for it to burn through. This is why the recent fires were able to spread across the area so quickly.

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

Later, on a walk along the trails near the lodge, we saw the tall Ponderosa pines, with their distinctive orange bark:

Ponderosa pines
Ponderosa pines

Dana also took us to the nearby beaver pond. Despite the name, beavers no longer live there because the owners of the land now trap and relocate them when they show up. The reason, Dana told us, is that beavers would cut down all the aspens that surround the pond within about 10 years.

beaver pond

Although we didn’t get to see beavers, we did see both ducks and geese swimming on the pond.

The second part of today’s program was the introduction of “Northwest History in Story and Song” presented by Hank, a singer, historian, and storyteller. Hank discussed the European exploration of the Pacific Northwest. He punctuated his slide presentation with songs that capture the spirit of the people who manned the ships that came looking for the Northwest Passage. Such songs represent the oral history tradition that prevailed before most people could read and write. On the ships, the shantyman sang songs that provided the rhythm necessary for whatever job the men were performing: The more rapid the action, the more lively the song.

Road Scholar Program: Day 1

Since our move to Washington State, we’ve done most of our exploring along the coast, between northern Washington and San Francisco. Now that summer is over, we decided to head east over the Cascade Mountains. This is not a trip for summer, as the temperatures east of the Cascades are often in the 90s, sometimes even more than 100. We signed up for the Road Scholar (formerly ElderHostel) class called Nature at Work in the North Cascades, Northwest History in Story and Song, and Life in Methow Valley.

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

This morning we set out on our trip over the Cascade Loop:

Cascades Loop map

We decided we’d take the northern route out today and the southern route on our way back home. Highway 20 goes through the North Cascades in an area often referred to as the North American Alps. You can see the pointed, rocky mountaintop typical of this area in the photo at the top of this post.

Our destination was Sun Mountain Lodge, a resort on 3,000 acres with miles of hiking trails, on the outskirts of Winthrop, Washington. This area is known as the Methow Valley. Methow is pronounced MET-how. The river and its surrounding valley take their name from the Native Americans who originally traveled the land fishing, hunting, and gathering wild foods such as berries and roots.

The program began in mid-afternoon with a lecture entitled “How Nature Works” by Dana, a local botanist. His focus was on how plants convert energy from the sun into food. After his talk he lead us on a nature walk on one of the trails closest to the lodge. He showed us how to use a botanist’s loupe (small magnifying glass) to look closely at flowers, leaves, and seeds.

My big discovery on this walk was quaking aspens, which I had never seen and heard before. Or at least I’m not aware of having seen them before. According to my book about plants of the Pacific Northwest, aspens cover New England, where I grew up, but I don’t remember them. Perhaps I lived in an area that wasn’t high enough for them. Because aspens like cool weather, they are usually found at elevations between 5,000 and 12,000 feet (1,500–3,700 m).

The flat leaves of these aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, shake or quiver in the slightest breeze in an effort to take in as much carbon dioxide and to expel as much oxygen as possible. This behavior has given the trees the name quaking or trembling aspens.

If, like me, you’ve never seen and heard quaking aspens, here’s a short video for you (it really is short, just 17 seconds; be sure to turn up the volume on the video player so you can hear the quaking):

Going to the Fair!

For more than 100 years the fair held annually in Puyallup (pew-Al-up), Washington, was known as the Puyallup Fair. I know this because I used to have a pencil (unfortunately lost in our recent move) emblazoned with “Puyallup Fair 100 Years” that my daughter sent me in 2000. The fair’s tagline was “Do the Puyallup!” But in 2013 somebody (I’d keep my name out of it, too, if I had been responsible) came up with the brilliant idea to rename the fair the Washington State Fair. Whoever did this agreed to retain the “Do the Puyallup!” tagline, but it’s just not the same. According to the Washington State Fair Facebook page:

It’s a fact that since our beginning in 1900, our name has changed four times; the Valley Fair, to the Western Washington Fair, to the Puyallup Fair and most recently to the Washington State Fair. For over 60 years the fair was known as the Western Washington Fair. Our previous name, The Puyallup Fair, is a name that will always mean a lot to us, as well as the people that helped make this the great Fair it is today. We still love to hear the old “Do the Puyallup” jingle and we are proud to host the Fair in Puyallup every year. Puyallup will always be an important aspect of our identity, but the name change allows the rest of Washington to feel connected to the Fair as well.

But I digress. Today our activities director drove about 10 of us down for a visit to the Washington State Fair. On a weekday after the start of school, the grounds were not at all crowded, and we had gorgeous weather.

The fall fair began in 1900 as a way to showcase the crops that flourished in the rich soil of the Puyallup River valley. (See related post for more background.) Since then it has grown to include farm animals and produce from all over the state, as well as carnival games, rides, vendor booths, and LOTS of food.

But my husband F. and I headed straight for this year’s featured exhibit, Star Trek: The Exhibition, which traces the history of the Star Trek franchise from the original 1960s television series up through the latest motion picture. We got to see lots of photos, costumes, and props from the various television shows, as well as a 7/8 scale mock-up of the bridge from the original series. (It had to be downsized a bit so that it could be moved.)

Star Trek: The Exhibition
Star Trek: The Exhibition

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

We were not allowed to take photos inside the exhibit, but the link above will take you to the exhibit’s official web site featuring lots of photos and video clips.

After that we headed for the animal barns. There were lots of traditional farm animals on display. My grandfather was a dairy farmer, and I have a soft spot in my heart for cows. But I’ll restrict myself to just one photo:


Most of the sheep had been shorn within a few days of the fair:

Sheep (shorn)
Sheep (shorn)

I was expecting them all to look like this:

Sheep (unshorn)
Sheep (unshorn)

But one of the youngsters displaying sheep explained that they have to be shorn for competition because the judges want to be able to see their bodies, not just their wool.

There were also lots of goats, pigs, and rabbits. Another animal that I did not realize is so popular with 4-H kids is the llama:


Next we took a look at the fruits, vegetables, and flowers. A lot of people won ribbons for their flowers:


I am always fascinated by the artworks created by Grange chapters across the state out of their local products. One that particularly caught my eye was this one featuring a replica of the Washington State flag:

Vegetable Art
Vegetable Art


Vegetable Art: Close-Up
Vegetable Art: Close-Up

And of course there were awards for the state’s largest pumpkins and squashes:

Huge Pumpkins & Squashes
Huge Pumpkins & Squashes

For lunch we chose The Mad Greek because I arrived at the fair hoping I could find a gyro. I was so busy eating that I forgot to take a photo. But these are a few of the MANY other eateries available:

Killer Kielbasa
Killer Kielbasa


Deep Fried Butter Stand
Deep Fried Butter


Bacon!!! Stand

I’ll end with a photo of an iconic fair ride that also shows what a beautiful day it was.

Ferris Wheel
Ferris Wheel

Until next year!

35 Years Ago Today: Mount St. Helens Erupts

Today is the 35th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, a mountain in the Cascade Range, located in southwestern Washington State.

At 8:32:17 a.m. PDT on Sunday, May 18, 1980, an earthquake caused the north face of the mountain to slide away, producing the largest landslide ever recorded that moved at 110 to 155 miles per hour (177 to 249 km/h). The eruption column rose 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. Strong winds carried ash east of the volcano at an average speed of about 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). In Spokane, WA, 250 miles away, visibility was reduced to 10 feet (3.0 m) by noon. Noticeable amounts of ash fell in 11 states. Some of the ash drifted around the world in two weeks. The eruption lasted about 9 hours.

Volcano Illustration
Volcano Illustration (click to enlarge) (photographed at the Washington State History Museum)

The U.S. Geological Survey reports the following data about the 1980 eruption:

  • 1,314 feet (400 m): elevation lost
  • 2,084 feet (635 m): depth of crater formed
  • 0.60 cubic miles (2.5 cubic kilometers; 3.3 billion cubic yards; 165 million large dump trucks): volume of landslide deposit
  • 80,000 feet (24,000 m): height of eruption column reached in less than 15 minutes
  • 0.26 cubic miles (1.0 cubic kilometers): volume of volcanic ash produced

Destruction caused by the eruption covered 150 square miles:

1. 57 people were killed.

2. More than 11 million animals died, including:

  • 1,500 elk
  • 5,000 deer
  • 12 million salmon fingerlings

3. More than 4 billion board feet of timber, 230 square miles (600 km2) of forest were knocked down, though some lumber was later recovered.

4. Also destroyed:

  • 200 houses
  • 27 bridges
  • 15 miles (24 km) of railways
  • 185 miles (298 km) of highway

The number of human lives lost could have been much higher. Because the eruption occurred on a Sunday, more than 300 loggers were not working in the area.

Eruptions since 1980

During the summer of 1980, five more eruptions occurred. Geologists also carefully watched incidents of volcanic activity between 2004 and 2008.


Dzurisin, D., Driedger, C.L., and Faust, L.M., 2013, Mount St. Helens, 1980 to now—what’s going on?: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2013–3014, v. 1.1, 6 p. and videos. (Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2013/3014/)

I used the PDF of this fact sheet for much of the information here. The web version includes videos.

Mount St. Helens Erupts

Because the May 18, 1980, eruption was preceded by more than two months of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes, people began to doubt that danger was imminent. This four-minute video from History.com condenses the history of the eruption and gives a good idea of how people reacted, both before and after, the eruption. Be sure to notice the remarks of local Mount St. Helens resident Harry R. Truman, who is buried, along with his 16 cats, on the mountain.

Note: Music accompanies this video. You can turn it down or mute it, as you wish. You have been warned.

35 years after Mount St. Helens eruption, nature returns

This CBS News report covers the return of life to the Mount St. Helens area in the 35 years since the eruption. It’s an uplifting story to see after reading about all the devastation.

Scotch Broom

Along the banks of highways all over the Pacific Northwest, you’ll see these bright yellow flowers. But don’t be fooled by their pretty color: They grow on a plant called Scotch broom, Cytisus scoparius, a member of the pea family, which is not a decorative plant but an invasive, noxious weed.

Scotch broom is native to Britain and central Europe. It was introduced in North America in the 1860s as a garden ornamental and was planted along roadsides and open banks to prevent soil erosion. But because Scotch broom can tolerate a wide range of soil and moisture conditions, it quickly became invasive. Invasive species create monocultures, dense areas of growth that displace native and beneficial plants and cause loss of grassland, such as pastures, and open forest habitat. These monocultures impede movement of wildlife and increase both the frequency and intensity of fires.

Scotch broom is a fast-growing deciduous shrub from five to 10 feet tall. Each shrub may live as long as 30 years. An excerpt from the book Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States lists the weed’s range as:

The entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Alaska to British Columbia to California, and from Nova Scotia through Georgia.
Also Idaho, Montana and Utah, as well as one Hawaiian island.

According to Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon in Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, revised edition:

‘Broom’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon brom meaning ‘foliage.’ The word was applied to shrubs that were used for making ‘besoms,’ which are bunches of twigs us as brooms.

Scotch broomPeak flowering time for Scotch broom is from March or April until June, but some blooms may appear sporadically during the year. The plants often drop their leaves during dry summer months and may be leafless for most of the year. Seeds are produced in seedpods at the end of the summer. When mature, the pods split open and eject seeds up to 20 feet. According to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, each plant can produce thousands of seeds each year, and the seeds can survive in soil for more than 30 years, with some estimates as high as 80 years. This enormous production and long life of its seeds is another reason why Scotch broom is so invasive.

Washington State University Extension warns that, if eaten, all parts of the plants are toxic to livestock, horses, and humans.

The yellow flowers may look pretty, but they represent vegetation devastation. A 2011 article in The Olympian, the newspaper in Washington’s capital of Olympia, reports that Scotch broom causes around $100 million in agricultural and forestry losses each year in Oregon and Washington.