a bridge composed of several small spans for crossing a valley, dry or wetland, or forming an overpass or flyover. (Wikipedia)
a long elevated roadway usually consisting of a series of short spans supported on arches, piers, or columns. (Merriam-Webster)
Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct certainly was that. Unlike its more picturesque cousins around the world, this viaduct was not built of stone and did not have attractive arches. It was not a thing of beauty.
It was purely functional. Built of concrete and steel in 1953, it had two levels, one going north, and one going south. It stretched about two miles along the waterfront, affording very pleasant views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
That’s the thing that will be most missed by drivers. The views.
The elevated roadway reached the end of its useful life, helped along by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, which damaged the viaduct. Ever since then, the roadway was closed for a couple days every six months for safety inspections. It was slowly sinking, but every inspection gave the A-OK for it to continue to be used.
However, the debate about how to replace it spanned more than a decade. The final determination was that a tunnel would be built and the viaduct would come down.
After years of drilling the tunnel, the day of reckoning has finally come, a little behind the original schedule. The viaduct has been closed forever, and it’s three weeks till the new tunnel opens.
What are commuters and drivers to do? Take public transit and have a lot of patience!
Happily, I no longer have to commute. But two days into the new age, I ventured downtown by bus to have a look and take some pictures. What I found was a scene of tranquility. If it could only last.
Less than 100 years after Americans won independence from the British, way up in the Pacific Northwest, a little-known squabble took place between the two. In the late 1800s, Americans and British soldiers averted actually firing on each other.
A Bucolic Setting
San Juan Island, sections of which today are part of a National Historical Park, had a pleasant temperate climate, and farming, fishing and timber opportunities that appealed to several nations. In the 1800s, it had been visited but not yet claimed. Eventually, ships from England and the U.S. mainland brought military contingents to occupy the territory. Both staked claims to the island and in 1859 they agreed to jointly occupy the island, separated at the 49th parallel, until the water boundary could be settled.
The Land Divided
English Camp occupied the northwest end, while American Camp occupied the southern tip. Soon, British-owned Hudson’s Bay Company located a large sheep farming operation there. In time, other farm animals and agricultural operations were added. The large Belle Vue Sheep Farm was a strategic move on the part of the British to fully establish their claim to the land.
Underlying tensions persisted between the two. The Americans tried to tax Hudson’s Bay but no taxes were paid. Though both countries had military camps at opposite ends of the island, things remained relatively calm between the two communities. Officers and their families even visited with each other.
Changes in the Wind
Summer 1859, everything changed. An American settler shot and killed a pig belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company. He claimed that the pig had wandered onto his property and, therefore, he shot the trespasser. Though the pig’s owner, who ran the HBC operation, made little fuss about the incident, things escalated rapidly. The time is known as the Pig War crisis. Tensions continued to simmer, with more and more American settlers coming to the island, many squatting on HBC land.
The British wanted the American settlers removed from the island, but American officials said no way. British warships sailed to the harbor, while troops at both camps multiplied. Both sides stood their ground but no war ensued.
Finally, the disputed water boundary went to arbitration by a third party – Germany. An arbitration panel settled the boundary between Canada and the island, and the San Juan Islands became American possessions. In 1871, the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Washington, and a year later the British left the island.
The Pig War had ended diplomatically and peacefully.
Today, little remains of the two camps but visitors can wander their spectacular landscapes.
Birding at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge in Hoquiam, Washington, I walked from the parking area to the trailhead, past these old structures at the little Bowerman Airport.
The absence of people and planes, and the starkness of the hangars against the surrounding landscape and big sky drew me to photograph them.
The blue and white buildings; the blue and white sky; white building and white flowers.
Last time I was out here, the restaurant was still operating and was bustling with hungry customers. The retro décor and classic diner menu were lots of fun. Back then when my birding group stopped there for lunch I thought, what a strange place for a restaurant. But now I see it was likely a sort of landmark that drew birders, pilots, as well as locals for good food and company. Now, it was closed, enhancing or perhaps causing the atmosphere of abandonment.
Part of the Port of Grays Harbor, this airfield has one runway. The facility has fuel, a pilot’s lounge, rental hangars, and is touted as “jet-capable.”
The hangars have seen better days and I wondered whether there were any planes inside. What could be the purpose of the oddly shaped roofs?
I don’t know how often planes use the airport, but nearby, birds and birders flock to the wetland habitat at the wildlife refuge. Particularly in spring, the salt marsh and mudflats host thousands of migrating shorebirds. Raptors also are drawn to the abundance of prey.
This landscape is a magnet for wings of different sizes and shapes.
The tag on my souvenir bottle of Mount St. Helens ash reads:
On May 18, 1980, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake triggered an enormous landslide, uncorking a monstrous volcanic eruption which blew 1300 feet off the top and north face of Mount St. Helens. The blast relocated 1.5 cubic miles of mountain and flattened 230 square miles of timberland, killing virtually all life within its zone.
Superheated gas and clouds of volcanic ash shot more than 17 miles into the atmosphere and around the earth. Hot ash melted ice and snow, triggering a mudflow and flood containing more than 130 million cubic yards of debris.
Thirty-eight years ago this country witnessed a startling natural event within our own borders. I am old enough to remember the disastrous eruption of Mount St. Helens. I was living on the east coast at the time, so it was basically a drama unfolding on TV. Within a day of the blast, ash had traveled to the midwestern states, and a couple days later fine ash had even reached the northeast.
Back then, I never imagined I would move to the west coast or ever visit Mount St. Helens, but in 2007, after moving west, I did visit the National Volcanic Monument.
Approaching the volcano, I saw the path of the winds and ash: downed trees all facing the same way, layers of ash still in and around Toutle River.
The blast zone, I thought. The blast zone, where all things in its path were blown down, covered in ash or obliterated. Once green, forested lands were now gray.
It was a spooky landscape. Scary words like lahar, pyroclastic flows and blast zone echoed in my head.
The eruption had changed the shape of the mountain and filled Spirit Lake with ash, debris and trees. Fifty-seven people had died.
The visitor center has an excellent, sobering documentary about the volcano. Images of thick billowing ash clouds rising from the crater are singed in my memories. They are reminiscent of Vesuvius.
Today, vegetation continues to rebound, and the volcano still sends up steam.
From 2004-2008 the volcano reawakened with some dome building. There are frequent small, local earthquakes. Geologists continuously monitor its activity.
After driving through the Mount St. Helens blast zone back then, and experiencing ash fall from wildfires in eastern Washington just a couple years ago, I could imagine what it was like to suffer the ash clouds from St. Helens. I would never choose to live so close to a mountain that could erupt, or to forests that could burn.
Disclaimer: My images are 10 years old, so these scenes might look slightly different today.
Otherwise known as Elbe Evangelische Lutherische Kirche, the Little White Church sits next to the railroad tracks in the village of Elbe, Washington.
I had passed the kirche before. A couple weeks ago I decided to stop and photograph the bright white building in the morning light. But it wasn’t open then. This time, I vowed to stop if I saw that the church door was open. I approached Elbe and looked over to see that the church door was indeed open. I quickly pulled over and parked.
And, as luck would have it, a gentleman in red suspenders was doing some painting around the doorway. A real Norman Rockwell scene.
I stepped inside the wee church. Built in 1906, it’s a National Historic Place and one of the smallest churches in the country.
Its lovely wood pews can hold 46 people, though there is no organized congregation and no full-time pastor.
It’s a modest interior. No stained glass windows. The organ is the original Farrand-Votey, built in Detroit.
Services are held once a month, from March through November, and the church overseen by a nonprofit with a board of directors from area Lutheran churches.
The folks who originally settled in the area were immigrants from the Elbe River area near Hamburg, Germany. Locals built the church, which stands 46 feet high at the steeple. The bell is from a locomotive.
As I was ending my visit, I noticed a narrow rope hanging from the ceiling near the door, and a small handwritten note nearby that read “Ring the bell.”
What?? I can ring the bell?! I can ring a church bell! That would be something. So I asked the painter, just to make sure, and he encouraged me to do so. I gave a gentle pull and the bell gave a modest clang. That made my day.
It can make yours too. If you are driving to Mount Rainier National Park, toward the Nisqually entrance, you’ll go right through Elbe.