Northern Tier 2010

July 7, 2010

Back to Anacortes

Filed under: Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 10:00 pm

Sadly, today was the last day of our vacation together — Jennifer will fly back to South Bend from Seattle tomorrow, and I’ll start my bike trip. Despite the sad cloud of Jennifer’s imminent departure, today was a good day.

We spent the morning walking the grounds of the bed and breakfast on Orcas Island, which included a visit with their surprisingly friendly sheep. We also made a final trip into Eastsound to explore the shops, before heading to Orcas Village to have lunch and catch the 2:30 ferry back to


We had an excellent dinner at a restaurant called Star Bar, and we’re now relaxing in our hotel room while I slowly do my final packing. I’m excited to start the tour, but it will definitely be a bummer to say goodbye to Jennifer tomorrow.


July 6, 2010

Here There Be Orcas!

Filed under: Geology, Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Well, we couldn’t resist the allure of seeing orcas in the wild, so we signed up with a charter company that, like so many, promised great sights to behold. And, I’m pleased to report: they delivered! We went with an outfit called Eclipse Charters out of Orcas Village on their fairly new 56′ “Orcas Express” charter boat.

We headed northwest from Orcas Village and had excellent views of the heavily glaciated yet quite volcanically active Mount Baker — one of the greatest volcanic threats in the entire Cascade Range.

Our guides (there were two naturalists in addition to a knowledgable captain) expressed reservations about seeing orcas from the outset, saying the latest reports had the “pods” looking for salmon near the mouth of the Fraser River, which is further north than they could take us. That’s actually an interesting story in and of itself: the local orcas only eat salmon, whereas more transient populations tend to favor seals, dolphins and other marine mammals. They’re actually all “killer whales,” but this is one of the reasons for why many refer to the Pacific Northwest population as orcas rather than killer whales (the name I grew up with).

I suspect they always sow such seeds of doubt in case they can’t deliver, but that doesn’t really matter; it helped to build suspense and added to the excitement for everyone on board when, sure enough, we came across a very active group. We trolled around for a couple of hours and saw many breaches, tail flaps, and displays of “spyhopping,” as shown in the photo above.

On the way back we made a couple of stops to see bald eagles and seals — completing the gamut of animals we hoped to see.

July 5, 2010

Top of the San Juans

Filed under: Geology, Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Despite a cool, misty morning, we made it to the top of Mount Constitution (and the CCC-built tower at the top) just in time for the sky to clear. We couldn’t quite see the Cascades, but the view was plenty good enough to justify the 6.7 mile hike to see it and get back.

We parked at the Mountain Lake trailhead and followed the Mount Constitution loop trail, which took us by Mountain Lake on the way back.

The best part of being so high up was that it gave us a great perspective of the San Juans — it is awesome to see so many islands so close together. And, it was fun to imagine what the scene would have looked like fifteen or so thousand years ago when ice, rather than water, separated the peaks.

There were myriad wildflowers, and a strikingly black slug (of much more interest to me than Jennifer) in addition to progressively grander vistas to keep us entertained on the way up.


On Orcas, But No Orcas So Far

Filed under: Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 10:00 am

After visiting Merrymere falls yesterday morning, we took two ferries to get to Orcas island: Port Townsend to Keystone and Anacortes to Orcas. There wasn’t much driving involved, but it took most of the day to get here due to time on and waiting for the ferries. That said, the ferries were enjoyable despite the surprisingly high cost ($50 for the ferry to Orcas).

We’re staying at the Turtleback Inn, which is inland on the island, but not too far from either Eastsound or Westsound. It is very pretty, and the photos in this post were taken during a jog from the inn this morning.

Today we’ll head over to Moran State Park and walk to the top of Constitution Mountain. At 2,409 feet, it is the highest point in the San Juan Islands. Unfortunately, it is currently foggy, but the forecast is for clear weather today, so we’re going to cross our fingers and go for it.

We’re still trying to decide whether or not to take a whale-watching cruise. I’d love to see some orcas in the wild, but there is so much to do here in just a couple of days

Flowers of ONP

Filed under: Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 8:00 am

This is by no means a complete collection — not even of the flowers we’ve seen and Jennifer has been able to identify — but these are the best photos we’ve been able to get. Actually, for full disclosure, the foxglove image shown at left was taken this morning on Orcas, but it was quite abundant along the roads through ONP as well. See below for a few more images.


July 4, 2010

Last Morning in ONP

Filed under: Geology, Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 3:00 am

Today was our last morning in ONP, and since we were anxious to get on our way to allow time for multiple ferries, we just took a short hike to Merrymere Falls. The trailhead for the falls is at the Storm King ranger station, which is close to where we’ve been staying, and where we visited yesterday to get information. We also had some fun in the station with Jennifer pointing out where we’ve been going on a wall map of the park (see below for photos).


July 3, 2010

Following the Hoh

Filed under: Geology, Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Today we went down in elevation, rather than up, and oh what a difference! After an informative stop at the Storm King ranger station, which was surrounded by gorgeous wild roses and daisies, we made our way to the coastal region of the park.

Following the ranger’s advice, we went to Second Beach, in the Mora / La Push region, and the weather was amazing — it was almost hard to remember the cool fog of yesterday.

The geological highlight for me was to see such well-developed sea stacks. Sea stacks are blocks of rock apparently, and inexplicably, left alone by the steady advance of coastal erosion. They stand alone, out in the water, amidst the crushing waves that have eroded the rest of the coast much further inland. However, after watching the waves work the coast for a while, one sees cracks and breaks in the cliffs that seem perfectly reasonable, and one can imagine that once those weaknesses are exposed the waves really take advantage — eventually working their way through and isolating some “lucky” leftovers. In the ONP area this has been enhanced by rising sea level since the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. And, I expect, the crust has been popping back without the weight of the glaciers pushing it down.

In addition to the sea stacks, we explored the tide pools that were teaming with muscles, starfish and sea anemone — it took some coaxing, but Jennifer eventually agreed to try touching one. Surprisingly, she didn’t even shriek when it gently grabbed her finger.

After spending the morning at the beach, we made our way inland following the Hoh river and ultimately to the Hoh rainforest area of the park. The Hoh River is actually meltwater from the Hoh glacier way up on Mount Olympus, but the rainforest forms as the prevailing Westerlies push moist air from the Pacific up and over the mountains of ONP.
The air cools as it rises and drops somewhere around 140 inches of rain annually over the Hoh rainforest (for comparison, Seattle and Chicago each get around 40 inches per year, and that is considered high). We’re already coming out of the wettest time of year, but the trees, lichens, ferns and mosses are clearly doing quite well!

As a final point of interest, we learned today that we’re in the heart of “Twilight” country. Apparently there’s some plot relevance to the little town of Forks because just about every business has some reference to the series in its name. We followed the lead of some other tourists (more specifically: teen girls with very accommodating mothers) and stopped to take a picture of ourselves by the welcome sign. Not everyone is a fan, however, because before we could take the photo, someone in a passing pickup shouted “Twilight is for losers!” (Actually, that’s a slightly censored quote for the blog, but it goes better with the photo we took anyway.)

July 2, 2010

Fog, as Far as the Eye Can See

Filed under: Geology, Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

We’re staying at the Log Cabin Resort on Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park (ONP) for three days, and tonight will be the second. It is particularly interesting for me to be here because just the week before last I lectured about the geology of this park, yet I hadn’t seen it first hand. Briefly, ONP is an excellent example of an actively forming (and simultaneously eroding) accretionary wedge: a rugged landscape formed from material scraped off of the seafloor as the Pacific Ocean’s Juan de Fuca plate subducts beneath North America — this has been going on for tens of millions of years!

Accordingly, the rocks one sees in ONP are from the seafloor, such as sandstones, shales and basalts. Basalt is a volcanic rock, and much of the basalt in ONP shows telltale signs that it erupted under water: as the molten rock poured from fissures at the bottom of the ocean, it was quickly cooled by the water, and as it solidified it impeded the flow of more lava in the same spot. Each new pulse of lava was stopped in its tracks and frozen in time as a rigid blob. Some think the rigid blobs look like pillows, despite have no comfort qualities, and they are usually referred to as “pillow” basalts for this reason. I’m pointing to an individual pillow in the picture above, but entire hillsides are formed from them. We took this particular shot along the Hurricane Ridge Road.

The sandstones and shales are often found as alternating layers in outcrops, and form as submarine landslides move accumulating sediment from shallow waters nearshore down steep slopes to deeper waters. These flows are referred to as a turbidity currents. Notably, the relatively coarse sand-sized grains settle out first, and the finer grains that eventually make shale take much longer to settle. Each new flow produces this progression, and the resulting layered rocks are called turbidites. The image at left shows a not just a turbidite, but one that has been tilted up at an angle and faulted a bit — not surprising given that these rocks were scraped off of the seafloor.

We also saw lots of wildflowers, and some deer and marmots during a hike we took up the Hurricane Hill Trail. Unfortunately, it was too foggy to see any good vistas, but it was very cool to feel like we were walking into a cloud. And we were!

July 1, 2010

Greetings from Seattle

Filed under: Pre-Tour Vacation — Henry Scott @ 10:00 am

Other than a cramped and noisy flight between Chicago and Seattle, our trip has gone very smoothly so far. We landed on time, picked up our rental car and easily got to the home of our friends Greg and Ali around 10:00 p.m. We both had a wonderful night’s sleep, and enjoyed an excellent breakfast with Greg, Ali and their two daughters, Annalise and Sylvia — complete with fresh eggs from their two chickens, Cluck and Sunshine. It turns out that having pet chickens is the latest craze, but this was news to me 🙂

After breakfast, we went to the flagship R.E.I. (where we spent way too much time and money!), and then to Amtrak to pick up my bike and gear. I was very impressed by the experience: everything was there, the employees were friendly and, most importantly, the bike was in great shape. We then made our way to Pikes Market where we had a good lunch with Greg (he works nearby), and then got down to business with the spectacular fruit that was for sale.

We then made our way up to Olympic National Park, via the Edmons-to-Kimgston ferry, where we will stay for the next few days. Tomorrow, Friday, we’ll start hiking to explore the local geology.

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