Saturday, March 29, 2014

Skagit Wildlife Area - Headquarters (Skagit) Unit - March 27, 2014

I was on the tail end of a nasty cold and cycling, skiing, or hiking didn't sound too good.  I opted for an easy drive up to the Skagit Valley for some easy walking and birding.  A stop at Pleasant Ridge Farm in Rexville and the Breadfarm in Edison would add a hunting and gathering element.  Plus the daffodils would be at peak but still too early for tulips.

The Skagit Wildlife Area - Headquarters (Skagit) Unit is one of 16 separate units in the Skagit region owned and managed for the benefit of wildlife by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW).  The Skagit Unit includes 190 acres of mostly estuary and tidal wetland.  This is also stop 64 on the Cascade Loop of the Great Washington State Birding Trail.

Great Washington State Birding Trail

I parked at the big parking lot at the eastern end.  I checked out the boat ramp where an old barge was tied.  I followed the only path here, which is the dike trail that is basically a gravel road on and next to a newly constructed dike.  The path forks at the tide gate on Wylie Slough so you have two options.  I took the left path, basically out and back, for a total of two miles for the day.  It was a beautiful day of clearing weather with big clouds and blue skies.  The trees had not yet leafed out but the salmonberry was in bloom as the harbinger of spring.  An eagle's nest was already active.

I ran into a gentleman on a bicycle along the way who explained some of the controversy surrounding a recent restoration project in this area.  He spoke with a Scottish brogue and had a beautiful and very friendly golden lab.  So bicycles and dogs are probably allowed here.

The recent controversy is the Wiley Slough Restoration Project implemented in 2009 to restore 157 acres back to tidal estuarine habitat primarily to help with Chinook salmon recovery.  The 157 acres had been formerly diked off from tidal and river influence and was readily accessible to walk-in hunters and wildlife watchers.  The recovery operation involved the removal of the old dikes and the moving of the Wylie Slough tide gate to open the area to tidal and riverine flooding.  New dikes were constructed further away from the river.  The restoration project reduced the area of access that hunters formerly had.  You can now see a lot of dead trees in the restoration area, trees that cannot tolerate wet feet or brackish water.

It was a great few hours here, added a new bird to my list (Greater yellowlegs), and I learned a little something.
Entrance to Skagit Wildlife Area
Old barge at the boat launch
Salmonberry
Dike trail
Cattails fading
Eagle's nest
Looking out to Skagit Bay
Satellite view and the route (adapted from http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/)
Bird list for the day:

Canada Goose
Trumpeter Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Greater Yellowlegs
hummingbird sp.
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
European Starling
Spotted Towhee
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow


Sunday, March 16, 2014

McClinchy Mile Bike Ride 2014

I have always wanted to go for this bike ride but circumstances have never worked out.  Ride day forecast was for the imminent rain to hold off until the afternoon.  Stoked with a bowl of granola and a fruit smoothie, I hit the road for the ride start in Arlington.  I landed a parking spot just steps from the registration desk.  It goes without saying that early start/early arrival has advantages, though parking appeared ample.  This ride is certainly not among the "big" rides.  I had pre-registered on Active, which was an exercise in offer-avoidance (ugh!).  No numbers were issued, just a green wrist band to wear.  The route cues were well marked on the road surface.

I opted for the shorter 34 mile semi-loop from Arlington to Stanwood out-and-back.  This was my first "longer" ride of the season; a kind of shake-down cruise.  It was the perfect distance for me at this time.  The route is mostly flat with a little roll here and there.  The vehicle traffic was light except through Arlington, Stanwood, and around SR530 and Interstate 5 where just a little additional caution was needed.  Much of the route is on uncrowded rural roads where the occasional passing vehicle gave wide berth.

The best thing about this route is that it traverses some gorgeous farm countryside in the lower Stillaguamish Valley with beautiful old barns, some well-kept, others crumbling in decay covered in blackberry brambles.  I passed an occupied nest of bald eagles high up in a cottonwood tree right next to the road.  In a few places the route hugged the Stillaguamish River for a short distance.

On the return back to Arlington, the wind had picked from the southeast making for a little extra effort.  I could feel the last few small hill climbs into Arlington that told me the relatively flat 34 miles was just right.  The rain held off.  Satisfyingly, I was passed by no one.  I did pass a number of riders myself.  Perhaps the strong riders opted for the 48 miler.  Maybe next year.  Either way, I'd do the McClinchy Mile again.

The McClinchy Mile Bike Ride is a fund raiser for B.I.K.E.S. Club of Snohomish County

Parking ample at the start.  Haller Middle School, Arlington, WA
Registration uncrowded.
The bucolic lower Stillaguamish Valley.
Midway rest stop at Stanwood Middle School, Stanwood, WA.




The Stillaguamish River, high and turbid.
Well kept old farm house in the lower Stillaguamish Valley.
The grain mill in Silvana, WA.
The route via http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=6236929

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kent Ponds - Killing Time

It was a Sunday and I had to be in downtown Seattle at 9 am and then pick somebody up from the airport around 1 pm.  This gave me a couple hours of tween time to kill.  Kent Ponds was the perfect place, only 15 minutes from the airport.  I had never been to the Kent Ponds which made it even more desirable a place to visit.

Kent Ponds is properly known as the Green River Natural Resources Area or GRNRA.  The GRNRA is 304 acres of open space that was converted from an abandoned sewage lagoon system into largest man-made, multi-use wildlife refuges in the United States.  It includes ponds, meadows, woods of alder and cottonwood, a trail system, and three observation towers.  It is also one of the region's birding hotspots.  More info on the GRNRA here:

City of Kent - Green River Natural Resources Area

The morning was clear and crisp as I hit the trail from the western side of the GRNRA.  The region had been under a cold spell for over a week of sub-freezing temperatures.  I followed one of the paths toward the large lagoon, then rounded the lagoon to the outlet works.  I saw no person except a jogger (btw, no jogging according to the sign).  I did see a nice, fat coyote, about 200 yards away who kept an eye on me as a viewed him through my binoculars.  The lagoon was almost entirely frozen over making for a safe resting pad for a number of ducks and one lone Trumpeter Swan.

West entry from Anderson Park off of Russell Road
Typical meadowland at GRNRA
View from the tower with Mount Rainier visible through the morning haze.
Observation tower
The lagoon with a lone Trumpeter Swan in the center.
The lagoon outlet.
The route, 1.7 miles round trip.
GRNRA map (Rainier Audubon Society)
Rainier Audubon - Kent Ponds



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Gear Up Expo - June 2, 2013

With Comcast Arena maybe a 20 minute drive from my front door I could not miss this event - the GEAR up Expo 2013 at Comcast Arena in Everett.  I pretty much showed up as soon as the doors opened at 10 am on Sunday, a gorgeous day as it turned out, one I could take advantage of if I sprinted around the exhibits.  Sprinting through the exhibits was not in the cards; just too much cool stuff and interesting people.  They had a passport booth crawl going on where you pick up a passport at the front entry, crawl around to the eight participating exhibitors to get your passport stamped, then drop it off at the show office to enter a drawing.  Needless to say, I didn't win anything on anything I entered at the show.

The main attraction here was, of course, the legendary Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest back in nineteen hundred and sixty three.  I made it a point to make Jim one of my first stops, to catch him while he was still fresh, before he was inundated by admirers.  He was there sitting in a chair while his wife, Dianne Roberts, tended to managing the book and poster sales.  Dianne rivals Jim in her own accomplishments but the star of the show today was Jim Whittaker.  I found Jim to be a most gracious human who generously autographed a copy of his book, "A Life on the Edge."  At the age of 84, Jim was still ramrod straight and appearing in fantastic shape.  I told him a story about way back in the 1980s when I and a friend climbed Rainier with RMI.  Our guides kind of took a liking to my friend and I because we were young then and the strongest of our group.  After we came down off the mountain the guides invited us to a party at Lou Whittaker's house in Ashford, Lou being Jim's twin brother.  At the party were several recognizable mountaineering luminaries including Nawang Gombu.  Gombu summited Everest that day in 1963 with Jim.  When I mentioned Gombu, Jim slowly said "Gombu" with a touch of far away sadness as Gombu had passed away a couple of years ago.  Jim asked me if I had summited Rainier (indeed I had).  He told me he still gets up to Camp Muir and hikes across the Ingraham glacier, but no longer goes for the summit.  I asked Jim how it feels getting old after leading such as active life and he replied without hesitation and a little laugh "It sucks!"  His advice, "Stay active."  Indeed I will Jim and thanks for making my day, a day I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Jim and me
Now a round-robin tour through GEAR:

Adventure NW is a glossy magazine that comes out four times a year out of Bellingham.  And it's free.  It's mostly distributed freely in the Whatcom-Skagit territory.  I haven't really seen it down my way in south Snoho/north King.  I'll look out for it now.  It is really a nicely done glossy magazine compared to the flimsy Outdoors NW.  It has some really excellent photography and some interesting articles including one in this latest issue about the vanishing glaciers in the North Cascades.  I chatted with John D'Onofrio, the publisher who hinted to me about a potentially upcoming history book about Mount Baker from Arcadia Publishing.  John obviously loves what he's doing and he has a great magazine going.  Adventures NW
Adventures NW and Suzanne Lundberg, Advertising-Sales
With a camera dangling from my neck, it would have been rude of me to pass by Ezee Camera Strap without stopping by for the obligatory booth chit chat.  I tried it out and it was surprisingly functional, and available in a host of drably functional colors and not so functional pink.  Sells for $49.95 and I could have purchased it online before midnight and received free shipping.  It comes down from Canada so they couldn't sell directly at the show because of regulations.  I liked the Ezee strap but I thought it best if I checked out other straps before I parted too hastily with my money.  Ezee Strap
EzeeStrap, and yes, these folks we real nice, very helpful, and not at all pushy
Mazama Bar ... gosh these two were just the nicest kids you could imagine, and passionate about their Mazama Bars.  I had visions of them being on Shark Tank and not wanting to see their faces as the sharks uttered those crushing two words ... "I'm out."  It has to be a long row to hoe to compete with the likes of Cliff bars or Luna bars but I'm rooting for these two.  I may even order some of their bars.  Supposedly they stay soft, even when it's below freezing.  This would be refreshing because my jaw aches even on a hot day chewing on the doggie rawhide-like Cliff Bar.  Mazama Bar
Truly a nice pair
Dwayne Lane's (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram) was a Platinum Sponsor of the show, but more importantly they were a passport booth crawl participant so I had to stop by and get stamped.  Actually, I'm glad I did because they were plain nice folks and they had good swag.  Dwayne's has been around since 1954, which says a lot.  They had a number of vehicles parked strategically throughout the exhibit floor, including a colorful jinormous Ram pickup.  I could almost hear Sam Elliott "Guts, glory, Ram ..."  Event Platinum Sponsor.  Dwayne Lane's
The good folks at Dwayne Lane's
Guts, glory, Ram ...
I love maps and back in college days we made our base maps using a Brunton compass and 100-foot tape later advancing to plane table and alidade map making.  I imagine they no longer teach those skills in school.  Green Trails Maps are the Gold Standard of hiking maps.  I had a lot of fun yacking with the Green Trails guys.  They were happy to know that I have purchased quite a few of their maps.  They've expanded a lot geographically including the SF Bay Area and even Arizona.  Event Gold Sponsor.  Green Trails Maps
The Green Trails Maps guys
Sweet Spot Skirts, they don't make your butt look big.  It was nice to chat for awhile, very nice, fun folks.  Sweet Spot Skirts
Spot and Sweet at Sweet Spot Skirt
I checked out Tentipi, a maker of large, teepee style tents out of Sweden.  The Tentipi rep I talked to said that this was their first entry here into the US market.  Cowboys and Indians have an almost cult-like following in northern Europe, especially in Germany (Der Indianer).  These look like roomy, rugged tents complete with a wood burning stove.  They look good for a long term stay of several days or more somewhere in the deep woods of Minnesota with plenty of available firewood.  I'm not sure these will replace the venerable tent trailer for practicality and ease of set-up.  But you'll be a hit at the next dress-up event.  I was told that they don't yet have a buffalo hide version.  Event Gold Sponsor.  Tentipi
Tentipi, it's warm inside
Marysville Bike Shop was one of several bike shops exhibiting.  They're located in downtown Marysville, not by the Tulalip retail extravaganza west of I-5.  All of the bike shops exhibiting naturally had mountain bikes and BMX bikes on display as well as accessories.  I'm happy with my vintage 1980s Gary Fisher Tassajara.  I'm looking for a road bike to supplement the Gary Fisher and my Specialized Sirrus commuter bike.  I could not find a website for Marysville Bike Shop.
Marysville Bike Shop
I stopped by Bubble Below because I needed their passport stamp.  Scuba shops were very well represented at the show with a lot of floor real estate.  My wife and I were certified years ago but never continued with it.  Scuba diving is one of the seriously gear-intensive sports that will burn a hole faster through your wallet than a flaming map of the Ponderosa Ranch on the opening of Bonanza.  Someday maybe I'll get back into it or just skin dive.  I couldn't find a website for Bubble Below, I think their server was down.  Event Gold Sponsor.
Bubbles Below
Eddie Bauer is legendary, a Seattle outdoor institution, right up there with REI.  I had an enjoyable chat with the Eddie Bauer folks.  They are planning to re-open a store in Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood that will feature mostly outdoor gear and not so much the clothing line of fashion wear.  I really liked their First Ascent Bacon pack that they had on display.  The Bacon is a pound and a half, 28-liter technical summit pack that is light enough to pack into your backpack for excursions beyond your base.  It rolls up on itself and would be perfect to pack into your luggage to have as a handy daypack on your next boondoggle business trip.  They gave me a 50% discount coupon and the Bacon may be ordered soon.  Event Gold Sponsor.  Eddie Bauer
Eddie Bauer
Eddie Bauer
My family loves whitewater rafting and we've done a few runs (NF Nooksack, Wenatchee, Tieton, SF American, and the amazing Westwater Canyon).  The White Salmon is on our list.  Zoller's runs the White Salmon, Klickitat, and the Snake River Canyon.  By all appearances, they look like a well established, family run operation.  I liked that about them.  Zoller's Outdoor Odyssey
Zoller's Outdoor Odyssey
Outdoors NW is the free magazine you see at many outdoor stores (like REI) and likely your local library.  It's  an un-glossy tabloid-style publication that comes out monthly.  The Annual Event Guide issue is your basic planning guide.  I use it to mark my calendar for the main organized bicycle rides, like the Kitsap Color Classic, which I usually don't miss.  The articles are locally-oriented, well written and helpful.  The sister publications include Northwest Cyclist and Northwest Snowsports. 
Outdoors NW
Cabela's opened their first store in the Pacific Northwest in Lacey.  Now they have additional stores in Marysville and Post Falls.  I've only been to the Post Falls store and it's huge.  My impression is that Cabela's is more oriented to the hunting and shooting enthusiast, which seems to be where their quality gear is focused.  The fishing and camping gear is pretty good.  It's hard to be a master of all trades.  Not to say that the quality of their gear is not good, it's just that if you need something like a rain jacket or a good climbing pack, you'd be better served going to REI or Marmot or Second Ascent.  Same with footwear.  Cabela's even sells cargo trailers (I've been to the factory that makes them in Winnemucca) but again, you can find plenty of local places that sell excellent trailers.  Go to Cabela's if anything, for the experience.  You'll likely find something you just have to have and more than likely it will be available in camo.  Event Gold Sponsor.  Cabela's
Cabela's
I think our civil servants get a bad rap at times but most everyone I've met with the Forest Service is outstanding and truly love what they do.  It was great to see Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest here; perhaps the most scenic Forest in the country.  These are tough times for the Forest with budget cuts and maintenance backlog.  I used to volunteer for the Angeles NF many years ago as wilderness patrol and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Maybe when I retire I'll check into volunteering for the Forest Service again.  Love your forest, take care of it, and be nice to your civil servants.  They work for you.  Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Your Forest at your service
The Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau seeks to promote local tourism and access around the scenic Mountain Loop Highway and in so doing enhance local economic development.  What could be better than that for this awesome area so close to home?  Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau
Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau
The Sunset Bay Beach Camp is located on a wharf off Norma Beach somewhere between Meadowdale Beach and Picnic Point.  I know, because when the tide is right, it's a nice walk along the beach from my access point.  It looks like a great thing for kids.  Just check out the photos on the website.  It's only available for kids 17 and under, which leaves out my kids.  Sunset Bay
Sunset Bay Beach Camp
There are so many beautiful and fantastic places within a couple hours drive here in western Washington, and Whatcom County is one of my favorite destinations, especially the Mount Baker area.  Make it your next destination.  Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
Evergreen Escapes looks like the perfect thing for someone new to the area, tourists, or an out of town guest (maybe).  From chatting here and reading the website, I may draw the analogy of a "Rick Steves" tour for the Pacific Northwest traveler.  It seems very well rated from the reviews.  Evergreen Escapes
Evergreen Escapes
To prepare for the next Zombie Apocalypse, we have the Preppers Warehouse.  Stock your hidden bunker now.  I jest.  Everyone should have a little stash of food and water ready for a few days because the reality is that we are due for a major Cascadia subduction zone earthquake of a magnitude 9 plus, no joke.  But I am reminded of back during the Cuban Missile Crisis days when I was a very young lad and there were at least two families on our street who actually built bomb shelters.  My Dad thought it was a waste of time because he knew if an atomic bomb hit, we were all toast anyway.  Preppers Warehouse
Well
Preppers Warehouse
The Washington Trails Association, without a doubt, is one of the best local outdoor organizations that we have.  They advocate for trails access and more importantly, their volunteer network has maintained and enhanced miles and miles of trails, countless miles.  I joined last year (finally) and someday, when I retire, I'll help on the trail crew.  Super organization.  Their excellent magazine is worth joining.  So join, now.  Washington Trails Association
Washington Trails Association
I have to say that I was liking the Swing at Innova Kayak, and for $599 seemed pretty reasonable.  I liked the portability, just throw it in back with all your other gear.  I am determined to get a kayak at some point.  More shopping and Craigs List searching.  Innova Kayak
Innova Kayak
I highly recommend Mountain Madness as a guide service.  I went on a trip/climb of Mount Olympus a couple years ago with them, joined by my cousin out from Michigan.  For someone like me, who has some mountaineering experience but doesn't do too much of it seriously these days, it was great to be with competent and fun guides.  They do all the cooking, can't beat that.  Mountain Madness
Mountain Madness.  Tino, on the right guided my cousin up Mount Shuksan last year.
The North Cascades Institute is one of the finest venues for engaging yourself in the study of all things North Cascades be it nature, science, or history.  I've been on one trip with them to learn about the geology found along Ptarmigan Ridge on Mount Baker.  I knew the instructor, Dave Tucker, very well from previous field trips with the Mount Baker Volcanic Research Center, of which Dave is one of the directors.  Whatever your interest or focus, I'm sure the North Cascades Institute has something for you.  North Cascades Institute

North Cascades Institute.  These two were absolutely delightful.
Well, that's not quite the whole show, but it's a pretty good snapshot, with some slant to my interests or to exhibitors that were engaging and good at chit chat (and didn't mind having their picture taken).  I'm looking forward to next year.  And a tip of the hat to Comcast Arena for being such a great venue for this event and having a super friendly and helpful staff.

Gear Up Expo