Wednesday, November 29, 2017

CwHD 32

If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link in the sidebar. To return, simply click the Home link. Older editions are archived and listed by date. Conversations with a Hypoxic Dog began on May 1 of this year. Words and Language and other Nonsense remains the focus; but a bit of History was added several weeks ago.


A Brief History of the Columbia River
Part 11


SKAMOKAWA
(Ska- mock-a-way)

" ... a cool wet raney morning we Set out early ... " Lewis and Clark had camped at Prescott Beach, just below Rainier on the Oregon side and Kelso-Longview on the Washington side. This area of the river, other than where the dams were located, is the most changed. The mill at Longview and the bridge spanning the river speak to the commerce that has developed along the Columbia's shoreline.

When Robert Gray sailed across the bar at the mouth of the river, only native villages dotted the shoreline. From Fort Vancouver, built in 1829, to Astoria, settled first in 1811, a number of small communities with their attendant commerce had begun to supplant the native villages. The industrial age had caught up with the Columbia. And with the discovery of gold in the interior Columbia basin and the development of canneries on the lower river, the die was cast.

Two brothers, George and William Hume, were major players in the development. In 1866, with declining salmon runs on the Sacramento River in California, they packed up and moved their operation north to the Columbia. With their partner, Andrew S. Hapgood, they built a cannery located at a place they called Eagle Cliff on the Washington side some 50 miles upriver opposite the mouth of the Clatskanie River. That year they packed 4,000 cases of salmon, 48 one-pound cans to the case, all done by hand. By the 1880s, more than thirty canneries lined the river from Astoria to the Dalles, and 600,000 cases of packed salmon were shipped yearly. By 1911, just 100 odd years since Lewis and Clark, the salmon catch peaked at 47 million pounds.
from The Oregon Encyclopedia

Increased boat traffic, from steamboats to double ended gill netters, created a need for a safe channel and aids to navigation. The river's seasonal rise and fall and its many shoals posed a challenge for the larger ships that began to sail up river. In 1877, Congress approved the creation of a channel from Portland to the mouth of the river. In 1891, dredging deepened the channel from 17 feet to 25 feet.

Skamokawa and the shoals at the west end of Tenasillahe Island mark the end of the river proper and the beginning of the Columbia's estuary. From Bradford (RM 41), once a booming logging town, across to the Elochoman Slough is just a mile and a quarter. Beyond Tenasillahe's western point, the Columbia widens to over six miles from Svenson Island in Cathlamet Bay to the mouth of Gray's River.
Tenasillahe Island from near Bradford; called the Marshy Islands by Lewis and Clark, the island's name is composed of two Chinook jargon words, "tenas," meaning small, and "illahe," meaning land

As with the character of the activities along its shoreline, the character of the river itself between St Helens and Skamokawa begins to change. Beyond the Cascades, across a wide plain, and through the less formidable Coast Range, the river slows and its course becomes dotted with islands, large and small. Their names speak to the nature of each island: Goat Island, Deer Island, Martin Island, Sandy Island, Cottonwood Island, Walker, Fisher, Hump, Crims, Wallace, Puget, and back to Tenasillahe.

All these landforms are products of the vast amounts of sediment that the Columbia transports. A good deal of that sediment is deposited at the mouth creating the hazards of the bar. Much is washed out to sea. Known as the Astoria Fan, this asymmetric wedge of sediment is 6000 feet thick and extends over 60 miles out to sea. The most obvious product of deposition though are the islands.

As a river meanders down its course, the flow on the outside of a bend will accelerate, and erode the corresponding bank. The flow slows on the inside of the bend, and this allows deposition of the silt, sand, and gravels carried by the river. One aspect of this corresponding erosion and deposition is the maintenance of a river's width. Often, an anabranch, or side channel, will cut a path through the easily eroded sediment and an island is formed.

From Clark's journal, November 7, 1805:

... A cloudy foggey morning Some rain. we Set out early ...fog So thick we could not See across the river, two Canos of Indians met and returned with us to their village which is Situated on the Starb. Side behind a cluster of Marshey Islands, on a narrow chanl. of the river ... Those people call themselves War-ci-a-cum ... we See great numbers of water fowls about those marshey Islands; here the high mountainious Country approaches the river on the Lard Side, a high mountn. to the S.W. about 20 miles ... and 18 miles of this day we landed at a village ... at the foot of the high hills on the Strb Side back of 2 Small Islands it contains 7 indifferent houses ... opposit to this Village the high mountaneous Country leave the river on the Lard Side below which the river widens into a kind of Bay & is Crouded with low Islands Subject to be Covered by the tides ...




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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

CwHD 31

If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link in the sidebar. To return, simply click the Home link. Older editions are archived and listed by date. Conversations with a Hypoxic Dog began on May 1 of this year. Words and Language and other Nonsense remains the focus; but a bit of History was added several weeks ago.


A Brief History of the Columbia River
Part 10


ISLANDS AND STREAMS

Just down stream from the city of St Helens (RM 86), the river narrows from more than a mile to less than a half mile as it runs just west of north. I had forgotten that the ship channel shifts to the Washington side leaving Columbia City astern as it wends its way through the wide flood plain marked by Burke and Martin Islands on the Washington side, and Goat and Deer Islands on the Oregon shore.



There I sat mid-river in my sea kayak contemplating the six mile breadth of the Columbia and its lowlands, and how geography was so much a function of hydrology. Water was the sculptor of the land. The place had not changed much in hundreds of years. Lewis and Clark saw what I saw.



I had the river to myself. No Chinook canoes; no container ships. Thought I would take a lunch break. Looked again. Nothing coming up the river, nothing coming down. I pulled up my spray skirt and fished below decks for my ditty bag.

The thing is, while canoes and kayaks do well to travel at 3 - 5 knots, cargo ships usually do 15 - 20 knots. A rule of thumb: if you can see the white mustache of a ship's bow wave, trouble is only minutes away. The numbers tell the story: At 16 knots, a ship will cover 8 miles in thirty minutes. In fifteen minutes, that same vessel puts 4 miles under its keel. In 7.5 minutes, 2 miles. In something less than 4 minutes, 60,000 tons of relentless steel will cover a mile.

Unwrapping my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I glanced upriver. A ship plain as day pushing a big bow wave. Salty language ensued. I stuffed my PBJ into my ditty bag and headed for the Washington shore. Not an ideal choice. Heavy riprap bolstered the bank. How close would the ship pass? How big their wake? Just where was the channel anyways? I dug a paddle into the river and spun the bow to face the thudding menace.

From William Clark's journal, November 5, 1805:

Separated from the Lard side by a narrow Chanel, on this Island we Stoped to Dine I walked out found it open & covered with Sm. grass interspersed with Small ponds, in which was great numbr. of foul, the remains of an old village on the lower part of this Island, I saw Several deer ...

I guessed wrong about the channel. This container ship would pass close by, too close. They had not given me the 5 blasts on the horn that indicate a potential for danger. That would be Rule 34d of the Navigation Rules worded as follows:

When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other and from any cause either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt shall immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle.

I wasn't even a blip on their radar screen. If anyone was looking at their radar screen. As it thudded by, no one came on deck to give me a wave. Saw no one at all. I steadied my little boat with blades flat on the water, watching for logs and other debris that ship backwash often kicks up. I waited for the wake.

Surprised and more than a little relieved, the ship passed by with just a bit of gentle swell and no debris. I took a breath. All things considered, would rather have paddled with Lewis and Clark. Canoes are far more agreeable than cargo ships.

Clark, November 5, 1805:

We met 4 Canoes of Indians from below, in which there is 26 Indians, one of those Canoes is large, and ornimented with Images on the bow & Stern. That in the Bow the likeness of a Bear, and in Stern the picture of a man- we landed on the Lard. Side & camped a little below the mouth of a creek on the Stard. Side a little below the mouth of which is an Old Village which is now abandaned-; here the river is about one and a half miles wide. and deep, The high Hills which run in a N W. & S E. derection form both banks of the river the Shore boald and rockey, the hills rise gradually & are Covered with a thick groth of pine &c. The valley which is from above the mouth of Quick Sand River to this place may be computed at 60 miles wide on a Derect line, & extends a great Distanc to the right & left rich thickly Covered with tall timber, with a fiew Small Praries bordering on the river and on the Islands; Some fiew Standing Ponds & Several Small Streams of running water on either Side of the river; This is certainly a fertill and a handsom valley, at this time Crouded with Indians. The day proved Cloudy with rain the greater part of it, we are all wet cold and disagreeable- I saw but little appearance of frost in this valley which we call Wap-pa-too Columbia from the root or plants growing Spontaniously in this valley only ... We
made 32 miles today by estimation -

Chinook canoe, historic photo from Lewis & Clark Today website



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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

CwHD 30

If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link in the sidebar. To return, simply click the Home link. Older editions are archived and listed by date. Conversations with a Hypoxic Dog began on May 1 of this year. Words and Language and other Nonsense remains the focus; but a bit of History was added several weeks ago.


THE CHINOOK

From Broughton Bluff on past the town of St Helens where it bends sharply north, the Columbia runs fairly straight and wide. The prominent bluff, named for a British lieutenant who explored the river in 1792, overlooks the Sandy River. Named the Quicksand River for the consistency of its banks and bottom, the Sandy was just one of many rivers that debouched into the Columbia. The silt brought by these rivers and the shallow, slow water created many islands large and small along this reach.

While the larger tributaries brought silt, the smaller streams and creeks created waterfalls. The Cascades are relatively young mountains, and water erosion has left a few deep, narrow side canyons, but also many canyons in the making. Downriver, preoccupied with their destination, Lewis and Clark noticed and noted fewer details of the landscape than they did when they were homeward bound. From April 9, 1806, bound upriver, comes this journal entry from Merriwether Lewis:

... we passed several beautiful cascades which fell from a great height over the stupendous rocks which closes the river on both sides, the most remarkable of these cascades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side ...

After camping at the mouth of the Sandy, they paddled on. Encouraged by tidewater and the imminent success of their journey, they focused on the end goal and missed the Willamette River and the fertile valley it drains. They corrected this oversight on their return, but did have to backtrack to locate the river the native Americans had described. Clark traveled some distance up the Willamette, but not far enough to see Willamette Falls though native guides had described the area to the south and the fertile valley it drained.

From the journals as edited by Nicholas Biddle, this entry from April 3 - 4, 1806:

13 miles below the last village, he entered the mouth of a large river, which is concealed by three small islands ... The current of this river is as gentle as that of the Columbia; its surface is smooth and even, and it appears to possess water enough for the largest ship. Its length from north to south we are unable to determine, but we believe that the valley must extend a great distance ... being naturally fertile, would, If properly cultivated, afford subsitance for 40,000 or 50,000 souls.

Lewis and Clark meet the Chinooks

As the cultural changes of the native communities became as dramatic as the geographical changes of the landscape, the expedition of Lewis and Clark encountered a wide welcoming river, but taciturn, contrary natives. The cooperation they had come to expect was replaced by hard bargains and what they saw as petty theft by the natives known as the Skilloots.

This Chinookan speaking tribe occupied both sides of the river between the Washougal and Cowlitz Rivers. They had a fair sized village where the airport is located and a large village near the mouth of the Willamette; and they effectively controlled traffic and trade on the Columbia acting as middlemen for all tribes between the coast and the Dalles. Lewis and Clark commented on the many European articles, from guns to buttons, that the Skilloots had stockpiled.

The bounty of the sea, the river, and the surrounding woods made for large populations and the leisure to develop diverse local customs. Trading had become a major part of this way of life. Early 18th century population estimates place as many as 80,000 natives along the river. With the coming of European traders, the lives of the Chinookan people changed, and the change was not for the better.

Disease swept the tribes. By the time of Lewis and Clark, 1805-06, the native population was reduced by half. Initially smallpox emptied the villages, but successive waves of malaria, measles, and influenza also took a heavy toll. Population estimates tell the tale. By 1780 there were 20,000 natives. By 1805, the number was reduced to 12,000. By 1850, only 4,000 remained. By 1910, 1,000 clung to desperate lives.

Couple a skilled trader with a deep suspicion of Europeans and the attitude the expedition encountered is easy to understand. Lewis and Clark met the hostility with some aggression; but, in general, managed to avoid any major confrontation. As they paddled on through the Coast Range and the cold rains fell, they had a bigger issue to deal with: the Columbia itself.

From Clark's journal, November 4, 1805:

... N. 28ยบ W. 3 miles to a Stard bend & campd. near a village on the Std. Side passed one on each Side, proceded on untill after dark to get Clere of Indians we Could not 2 Canoes pursued us and 2 others Came to us, and were about us all night we bought a fiew roots &c ...

Post Office Lake, Washington RM 95 near Lewis & Clark campsite




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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

CwHD 29

If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link in the sidebar. To return, simply click the Home link. Older editions are archived and listed by date.


Conversations with a Hypoxic Dog began on May 1 of this year. Last week a new format was introduced. Words and Language and other Nonsense will remain the focus; but a bit of History will be added. Additionally, I will now publish just once a week, on Wednesdays. This edition continues downriver with Lewis and Clark just 125 miles from the sea.


ROCKS

My daughter sat on the foredeck and my wife and I filled the small cockpit of our West Wight Potter, a jaunty little sailboat just 15 feet in length. Leaving the glassy calm backwater behind Rooster Rock State Park, we eased down a short channel, gave the rocky submerged point some clearance and turned the bow upriver.

The quiet water of the narrow channel from the park mooring posed no problem for the Potter. Once on the Columbia, the current became a different kettle of fish. A crown like that of a roadway marked the deepest water of the main channel as it flowed along at three or four knots. Our little 2 HP outboard could push the boat at two or three knots. I shaded the main flow and pointed her bow upriver. We were on our way, sailing to Cape Horn.

Cape Horn Columbia River, Carleton Watkins, 1867

Intrepid though the this first voyage on a new boat was, the notorious Cabos de Hornos at the tip of Tierra del Fuego was not our destination. That Cape Horn and this Cape Horn are similar in size, but both the weather and sea state are vastly different. The Columbia is not the Southern Ocean.

Historically, several shoreline outcrops on the river were daubed 'Cape Horn.' Two remain. Our goal was the basalt cliff outcrop brooding over the Columbia at RM 132. On November 2, 1805, William Clark located the prominent feature at "... S. 47° W. 12 miles to a Stard. point of rocks of a high clift of black rocks ... " Strong local winds characterize the area, and the winds along with the general appearance apparently gave rise to the name.

Our Cape Horn is an exposed section of Columbia River basalt. The rock was a product of several hundred fissure lava flows which covered most of Washington and Oregon and parts of Idaho. These flows were events of the Early Miocene, 17 to 5.5 million years old. The estimated volume of these eruptions was at least 700 million cubic miles, the largest such flows in the earth's history.

A reporter for the Utah Desert News, Andrew Jensen, filed this report as he traveled the river in 1895:

... As we proceed to the lower end of the gorge through which the Columbia passes through the Cascade Mountains, we notice across the river, in the state Washington, the so-called Cape Horn, also called Gibraltar ... [It] is composed of solid rock of apparent bark formation, rising abruptly from the water's edge ... These rocks are at the upper portion surrounded by cone-shaped pillars known as the Needles ...

Jensen's 'bark formation' is columnar basalt. From Wallula Gap to Astoria this type of rock provides a clear picture of the region's geologic past. After the massive lava flows of the Miocene, it was the relatively recent Bretz Floods of just 10,000 years ago which eroded the earthen layers and exposed the basalt. A good source for more information on the geology of the river is here:

CLICK on photo to link to video

Passing the beach at Rooster Rock Park, we were tempted to join the folks swimming in the warm shallows. The boat has a flat bottom with a lifting center board, and it would be a simple matter to beach her and have a swim. Noise from the bow seemed to be insisting on a change of course; but the Captain was having none of it. The mate suggested lunch. We pressed on. Phoca Rock, that curious phallic lump near the center of the river, became the Captain's goal. We would double Phoca mutiny or no.

From Clark's journal, November 2, 1805: "... at 17 miles passed a rock near the middle of the river about 100 feet high and 80 feet Diamuter ..." Though they make no mention in their daily journals of seeing seals in the area , the rock was named for them. Phoca in Greek means 'seal.' In his notes from the winter camp at Fort Clatsop, Clark writes: "... 11 miles to the Pho ca rock in midl. Rivr. 100 foot high, Saw Seal's; ..." These were probably harbor seals, frequent visitors on the river from the mouth to, historically, the Dalles.

Phoca Rock , Penny Post Card ca.1910

The rock sits just 30 feet above the river today, erosion doing its work. As we motored on, the afternoon warmed and the wind came up from the northwest. Up went the mainsail, out rolled the jib. We sailed past Sand Island and came abeam of Cape Horn. Appropriately, strong gusts now saw the Captain taking in sail. It had also occurred to him that the return trip would find the wind on the nose, always a more difficult occupation. Wind against current began to creat chop. Confidence waned. The mate feared sea sickness. We gybed away from Phoca Rock and began to beat down river.

Putting into the lee of Sand Island, some lunch, and a general lull in the afternoon breeze restored our confidence. We returned without incident to the shelter of the moorage behind Rooster Rock.




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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

CwHD 28

If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link in the sidebar. To return, simply click the Home link. Older editions are archived and listed by date.


Conversations with a Hypoxic Dog began on May 1 of this year. This edition launches a new format. Words and Language and other Nonsense will remain the focus; but a bit of History will be added. Additionally, I will now publish just once a week, on Wednesdays. This edition continues downriver with Lewis and Clark just 140 miles from the sea.


WIND AND WEATHER

The prominent thrust of Beacon Rock found the explorers through the mountains and now at tide water. On October 31, 1805, Clark wrote:

... a remarkable high detached rock Stands in a bottom on the Stard Side near the lower point of this Island on the Stard. Side about 800 feet high and 400 paces around, we call Beaten rock ...

And from his journal of April 6, 1806, on their return trip, he noted:

... the river is here about 1 1/2 miles wide; it's general width from the beacon rock which may be esteemed the head of tide water ... it is only in the fall of the year when the river is low that the tides are perceptible as high as beacon rock ...

As the river widened, the current slowed and became shallow with sandy beaches at what the explorers called 'bottoms.' The weather, too, changed. Once through the heart of the Cascade range, the arid eastern reaches gave way to a " ... countary a high mountain on each side thickly covered with timber, such as Spruce, Pine, Cedar, oake Cotton & & ... " And more often than not they woke to " ... cloudy rainey disagreeable morning[s] ..."

Drawing by Roger Cooke, Washington State Historical Society
Lewis & Clark Today

The journals of Lewis and Clark noted 128 "rain days" from November 1805 (Beacon Rock) to March 1806 (Fort Clatsop). An average winter for northwest Oregon. Astoria, for example, recorded 127 days of rain during the winter of 2003-2004. "Rained all the after part of last night," wrote Clark on November 5. "I slept very little ... " And on the 6th, " ... A cool wet raney morning ... "

As wet and disagreeable as the conditions were, when the wind began to blow their troubles multiplied. The Gorge, as is well documented, is a wind funnel. When high pressure sits to the east and low pressure flows in from the coast, the resulting pressure gradients create strong winds that increase in velocity as they wend their way through the constrictions of the Gorge. Folks in Corbett, a small town perched on a bluff above the western end of the gorge, like to tell visitors that they use anchor chain for a wind gauge. If the chain hasn't lifted off the ground, it's not really windy.

From Lewis (January 31, 1806, Fort Clatsop):

The winds from the Land brings us could and clear weather while those obliquely along either coast or off the Oceans bring us warm damp cloudy weather. The hardest winds are always from the S.W.

This is a typical weather pattern for the winter months on the Oregon coast. Had he spent a summer in the Northwest, he would have noted a shift in the pattern. The wind, he would find, would come primarily from the northwest. With this shift, the rain relents. Winter months in the Coast Range bring 140 inches of rain; summer months receive less the ten inches.

November 14th Thursday 1805

rained all the last night without intermition, and this morning. wind blows verry hard ... one of our canoes is much broken by the waves dashing it against the rocks ...

In the summer of 2004, I paddled a sea kayak from Beacon Rock to Cathlamet (RM 40) and then, off the river, through the sloughs to Skamakawa and on to the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Refuge. My journey was done in stages over the course of the summer. No broken canoes or lashing rain and wind.

Not far down river from Beacon Rock, paddling the Washington side to stay out of the main channel, I picked up a bit of breeze and some chop. When the wind is from the west, against the river's current, it can kick up waves and white caps in short order. Running your hand against the lay of your hair gives you the idea. The river was getting the least bit tousled.

Into this head wind, I sat up and put a little more muscle into each stroke. Ahead on the river were two aluminum fishing boats bobbing up and down in the mouth of Skamania Island's north channel. "Can't be too bad," I thought. "Just the wind getting funneled past Skamania. No problem."




I put my head down and paddled harder. Chop became two foot waves with their tops blown off. I began taking water over the bow as I slapped into the face of the waves. I knew the boat was up for the conditions (it was a sea kayak after all); but the paddling was beginning to get too much like work.

I peered down river looking for my fishermen. They, more prudent than I, were gone. One more faceful of water made up my mind. I steered for the east end of the island, into the relief of shallow water and respite from the wind. Laughed at myself.

Turned tail and skedaddled, ya did, I thought. But then, as the old climbing adage goes: there are bold climbers and there are old climbers; but there aren't any old, bold climbers. I eased over to the lee of a bend on the Oregon shore and paddled down river.



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