What I Did On My Goldener Oktober Vacation

Every once in a while (probably more often what with anthropogenic climate change), a kink develops in the weather, and the Pacific Northwest ends up with unseasonably warm weather. This can be torture in the summer, when desert air ambles up to say hello and desiccate everything. This time, it meant late summer weather in the fall, which was brilliant. especially since the antics with our vacation calendar meant I’d missed the latter half of summer. Only summer didn’t end on schedule.

There are many names for this summer reprise. It’s Indian Summer in America, which used to sound lovely before I became aware of the racism inherent in the term. What else to call it, then? It’s St. Martin’s Summer in Britain and Europe, which seems a bit too religious for my tastes. I quite liked All-hallown summer, as I love Halloween, and that’s not terribly religious despite the all-hallows root. Lots of Eastern European countries call it Old Ladies’ Summer, which is rather charming and conjures up basking in sunshine whilst chatting with old friends or perhaps doing that last little bit of gardening. Bulgarians call it Gypsy Summer, and I thought of using that, as we were wandering about. But for all I know, that’s an unkind poke at Gypsies, so perhaps best not.

I like Sweden’s Brittsomar, and Latvia’s Atvasara (re-summer) is delicious. Turkey’s pastırma – highly spiced – is nice. And I am in love with what the Chinese call it: qiu laohu – “a tiger in autumn.” Yes! The heat can be fierce and unexpected like that, the sun orange and sleek, the shadows stark black stripes, as those unanticipated extra summer days pounce seemingly from nowhere.

But the phrase that fits best is Germany and Austria’s Goldener Oktober. Golden October. The mild, sunny, summery-but-not-blazing-hot sunshiny deliciousness sometimes delivered up, warm and golden, in October. That’s exactly what this is. Glorious. Not to be missed!

Kitteh taking advantage of Goldener Oktober sunshine.

So I took a whole bunch of days off. And this is a summary of what I did on my Goldener Oktober vacation, complete with pictures.

Day 1: Erratics. Yes, I have found a ton of erratics this summer – and I took after some of them with the rock hammer. Sparks flew. Then I grabbed a grilled hot dog at a local stand, sat in the sunshine, and wrote out a full report for ye. That will be coming up soon.

One of the many lots of erratics I found exploring bits of the drumlin I’ve not been on. I didn’t take after this one with a rock hammer – yet.

Day 2: Drumlin. Didn’t have much time for adventuring, what with errands and all. I stopped by the local Barnes and Noble for a quick gander at their science section, and what did I see but the first actual book I’ve ever been published in, faced out bold as you please?

The book wot I am in with many other outstanding science writers. I know how the hell it happened. Doesn’t make me any less astonished.

So I grabbed them all, took them up to the Customer Service desk, and asked if they’d like to have them autographed. And they said, “Certainly!” and so I had my first-ever book signing. After which, I celebrated by getting the oil changed in my car. I know, I’m so exciting you just can’t stand it.

After that, I headed up on the drumlin to see what might be different in October. One thing: with it being so dry, a way was open that had never been open before. So I tromped through a formerly-marshy meadow up to the very tip-top of the drumlin, where I found a neighborhood I’d never before seen and got promptly lost. It was quite simply to find my way back out, though – merely a matter of following what looked to be a main road until I was back where I’d begun. Quite fun, that.

Day 3: Fishies. After a spectacularly lazy lie-in with the cat, I headed out for a long, lovely walk along North Creek, which I’ve reported some highlights from here. I spent an inordinate amount of time watching salmon.

There are salmon in this photo, I promise. You’ll see much more of them. Much, much more. I might have gotten a wee bit over-excited. There is video.

Then it was early to bed, because the real adventure was about to begin.

Day 4: Oregon! Lockwood and I didn’t have settled plans, but a hydrogeologic theme with a volcanic leitmotif emerged. We began in Corvallis, with a trip to Chip Ross Park, which has magnificent views and even more magnificent oaks.

Lockwood with a spectacular specimen. These oaks were gnarled and enormous, as proper October oaks should be.

You drive over the Corvallis Fault to get here, which is fascinating if you’re a geologist.

Then we crossed the Corvallis Fault once more, headed down to Avery Park. We had a wonderful walk along the Marys River, saw an old cut-off meander of it, played on a locomotive…

Moi with steam locomotive. This is just parked bold-as-you-please in the middle of the park, and you can climb about on it and get familiar with its bits, which will lead you to become impressed with human ingenuity.

…and visited a very large picnic table…

This picnic table is 85 feet long. And before you say, “Pfft, that’s nothing!” keep in mind this is made from a solid slab of wood. And there are six of them scattered about. I have quite the story to tell about that, but it might wait until I’ve dragged my intrepid companion round the mill it was sawed at.

And I know I didn’t promise you a rose garden, but thee shall have one anyway, eventually. Spent an inordinate amount of time with roses. Yum!

Then we toured the remarkable geology used in the construction of Oregon State University, including a visit to the building where the new geologists are made, which left me hyperventilating a bit, and almost had me signing up for a degree on the spot. Mebbe when I’m rich…

Coolest geologic badge ever.

Day 5: Moar Oregon! We headed up the McKenzie River, visiting spectacular falls…

A rainbow from falls along the McKenzie River. I know, I’m cruel, making you wait for the full-on falls.

…a very Clear Lake…

Fall foliage growing on the aa basalt lava flow that dammed Clear Lake, reflected on the lake, as seen between evergreens. How perfect is that?

…and lava flows made lovely by fall foliage. That’s one of the most scenic stretches of road in the world. We left it to climb up the cirque we’d come down on our previous visit to the area, and did the bits at the Dee Wright Observatory we’d not had a chance to do. Note to readers: allow time for the interpretive trail. Allow lots of time. It is made of awesome.

Shot of a road sign from the interpretive trail, which makes it look like the lava’s engulfed the road. The road’s there, just not visible from this angle. And yes, it’s very, very twisty-turny.

Then drive in to Sisters for a delicious sandwich at the Depot Deli. This is one of my favorite sandwich shops in the universe. It also serves wine. You will love it.

Depot Deli door. It’s one of those great places that’s all rustic in decor and thoroughly delicious in food, with just the right amount of hip.

When you drive back to Corvallis on a clear, dark night, don’t forget to stop and stare up at the stars. This will complete the awesome.

Day 6: Even Moar Oregon! We’d meant to do the Gorge, but when we got there, it was full of haze, smoke and fog, and not full of water. The falls were trickles.

Multnomah Falls from the parking area off I-84. Rather pathetic compared to what it normally is. On the other hand, you can easily see the geology it plunges over…

So we decided a change o’ plan was in order. We stopped in Cascade Locks to reassess, where we saw a nifty old steamboat and the Bridge of the Gods. People, I will soon be telling you stories of a landslide so big it dammed the Columbia River. Yes, that Columbia river – the one that is the fourth largest in the US and the largest in the Pacific Northwest. That’s one hell of a landslide.

We turned inland and did the loop round Mount Hood. We saw much scenery, most of it of a quality that makes geologists lightheaded, and ended up at Timberline.

View of Mount Jefferson and the Cascades from Timberline, which is on Mount Hood, with Mount Hood towering over it. Simply incredible, even on a very hazy day.

People at that lodge are a bit obsessive about the whole “bits of The Shining were filmed here!” thing. It became somewhat creepy. But the lodge itself is a confection of American West architecture, the art inside is lovely, and the views of Hood outside are spectacular.

Summit of Mount Hood, towering over the rest of Mount Hood. Utterly gorgeous. Very little snow up there, which is highly unusual and makes me glad we got there when we did – you can see much more geology.

The hydrogeologic theme continued as the mountain demonstrated why streams and rivers aren’t dry after over three months of no rain. As a bonus, most of the snow had melted off, exposing the geology wonderfully. We did not, alas, see the famed Saint Bernards, but there were compensations, and it’s not like we can’t go back with my intrepid companion and Suzanne in tow, and stake the place out.

Day 7: Home again. I’d meant to work in a visit with Suzanne and my boys, if possible, but we finished late on Day 6, and after breathing all the crap in the air, I was developing an annoying cough. So I made a beeline for home, where I promptly succumbed to a brief bout of bronchitis. That’ll teach me to go to Oregon when I’m still sick and the air is full of all of the parts of Oregon that are on fire. I watched the last day of Golden October pass through the window, as the kitteh and I lounged abed in the sunbeams, and dozed, and basked, and dozed again. Bit of a taste o’ a cat’s life, there. I like it. I could get used to it.

Now the rains have come, the skies are gray, the temperatures more cognizant of the calendar. For the rest of my vacation, which begins today, I shall be shifting to winter writing mode. There is much to research, many geologic delights to amaze you with, and plenty of Doctor Who to watch.

I’ll miss this endless summer, although I’m glad it’s no longer tempting me away from my work. I hope Goldener Oktober will come again next year. A Goldener Februar would be splendid as well….

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: The Sound of Music

Eskered, who sent us a quite nice weka a while back, could use our help.

UFD #1 was taken in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. This bird is a song bird, have a rather pathetic video of blurry forest as I frantically looked around for the bird, but the audio is great.

Somewhat blurry photo, alas. We all know what it’s like trying to snap these buggers in uncertain light with all the obstructions the camera’s trying to focus on instead, and the little barstards move the second you get focused on them, if you ever do.


Regardless of blur, we’ve this song, and a visual, and surely, someone here can work wonders with them.

I’ve three more from Eskered. I’ll be doling them out slowly as time goes by. There’s one, especially, that geologists are going to identify with. It’s definitely our kind o’ bird.

Fun Moments in the Field

Oy, am I tired – been out having fun in the field. Which ties in wonderfully with Evelyn’s Accretionary Wedge #50 theme, so that works out splendidly.

We’ve definitely had some fun moments on this field trip so far. I’ll start with one from a place that I definitely want to take Evelyn to – she’ll adore it. It’s called Clear Lake. I looked at it and immediately thought of kayaks. This is a lake that begs to be slowly explored from a few inches above the water. I shall have to purchase kayaks (no kayak rentals, alas) and then get Evelyn and Jackie out here. I’ll post pictures soon that will have all of you clamoring to come along.

Oregon’s all about basalt, and there’s plenty there. Here are some nice basalt pebbles.

Basalt pebbles at Clear Lake

Nice, aren’t they? You can see the variety of colors basalt can take on – there’s some black, and gray, and rusty orange. They’ve got a little bit of stuff growing on them, but still, they’re fine examples of the local rock.

Also, they are underwater.

Ah, look, that’s some very cold, clear water on top of the pebbles.

Hard to tell before I stirred things up, wasn’t it? That’s why it’s called Clear Lake, my friends – it is clear.

Making more ripples, because.

It’s fun to dabble in that water, but it’s near-freezing year round, so don’t dabble your digits in it too long, unless you don’t mind freezing them off.

We also did some fieldwork up at the Dee Wright Observatory. Here I am having some quality hammer time with the lava flow.

Fake fieldwork at Dee Wright.

Mind you, I’m faking it, not making it – Dee Wright is not a place where you start wanging on rocks with hammers. But holding a hammer gently against the flows for fun and scale is perfectly all right.

And, for our final fun moment, a bit of basalt that looks like a Pokémon.

Which Pokémon is this, do you think?

Nearly died laughing when I saw that. Pareidolia is teh awesome. So is this trip – and I can’t wait to show you the rest!

Mystery Flora: I Am Flower, Hear Me Roar

I think these flowers might be monkeying around. Then again, flora isn’t my forte – which is why I’m grateful to have you lot. I can traipse around in the wild (or domestic) looking for pretty plants to photograph, and then come back to my experts.

I love you guys.

There aren’t so many flowers in late September, but these were happily blooming along the Iron Goat Trail.

Mystery Flora I

These look like little purple lions to me, roaring in the face of impending winter. Life is harder up here than it is in the Puget Lowland. It snows deep and often. Everything erupts in the short summer, taking advantage of every second of sunlight.

Mystery Flora II

Several of these were busy getting their bloom-time in while they could. Absolutely lovely.

Mystery Flora III

I’m so glad evolution headed in the direction of flowers. Regular plants are beautiful and all, and some of them can be quite fascinating, but there’s nothing quite so showy as flowers.

Makes you wonder what it’s been up to on other worlds, eh?


Una Aventura Más

In a few hours, I shall be off to Oregon for one last adventure while summer lingers. I know some of you are experiencing horrible weather, and I’m sorry. I truly am. I’ll be rubbing your nose lightly in the fact that we’re in the 70s and dry as a bone for a few days more. But I’ll make it up to you by bringing you back some really delicious geology. I don’t even know what, yet – Lockwood and I are kind of playing it by ear.

I’m hoping to see my boys and Suzanne while I’m there, but I’m not sure where we’ll be, so it’ll be one of those call-at-the-last-minute-to-see-if-they’re-free sort of things. Here’s hoping! Then it’s back home, and possibly one last day of sweet sunshine before the rain and the cold arrive at last.

I’ve put some time off and the weather to good use. I haz things for ye. I have erratics, and flowers, and birds, and salmon, and even an insect or two. Yes, proper insects, not spiders. Although I’ve got some outstanding spider footage, which you shall have soon. I have some really lovely shots of various and sundry, one of which you may have now:

Last roses of summer.

Bloom’s not quite off the rose yet.

And I finally got a shot of that thing I’m convinced is probably a nutria.

Nutria I

I’d been booking it full-speed for home at that point, and would have missed this if a woman hadn’t been staring at it and asked me what it was as I passed. Not a beaver, she said. Muskrat? No, not that. And I remembered it started with an n.

Nutria II

Then she remembered “nutria” and between that and the photos, we felt pretty good about our day’s work.

Nutria III

Cute little bugger for an invasive species, but then, it seems, most invasives are. They might not be around North Creek for long. They’re not welcome in Washington State. So I’m glad I got a photo while I could, because even though they’re destructive bastards, they’re still interesting.

Right. I’m off to pack, then, and shall see you shortly. I’ve got some posts ready to roll so you won’t be neglected, and hopefully there’ll be some shots from the road. Fun times ahead!

Cryptoinsect: Wide Web

(For our first official cryptoinsect, arachnophobes may wish to leave the cantina.)

All right, some of you have been clamoring for insects. I am nothing if not (occasionally) obliging. Besides, I developed a brand-new love for insects when I got the camera with the good macro mode. Things I used to dodge with a shudder, I now stalk, crooning things like “whose-a-good-bug-then?” and “you’re-beautiful-yes-you-are” as I shove the lens in their bizarre little faces. I’m happy to report that, despite provocation, nobody has stung, bitten or otherwise maimed me yet.

One problem remains: I’m a geologist, not an entomologist. So the vast majority of the time, I have no idea what I’m looking at. I know its broad category: bee, ant, caterpillar… But as to species, no clue. Feeding habits, mating strategies, fun factoids, and other interesting tidbits are right out of reach. So I don’t post the results of my macrobug mania very often. I hate doing the “I have no idea what it is, but it sure is purty!” thing.

Yet some among you occasionally mention an interest in insects. Perhaps there are even those among you who can pontificate upon pollinators, burble about beetles, rhapsodize about roaches, and, generally, inform us about insects. And I can provide you the fodder. So why not?

Right. Allow me to set the scene for you: it’s a fine late summer afternoon in the North Cascades. There’s a wonderful trail along Highway 2 called the Iron Goat Trail that takes you along some quite interesting remains of the old railroad that ran through it about 100 years ago. We’ve just done a nice amble along the concrete wall of the old snowshed (which has some fascinating and unexpected geologic features I shall be awing you with in the future). And we’re on the way back when the sunshine breaks through the trees and gleams from a gargantuan support thread that seems the size of a guy wire.

So we stop, backtrack a few steps, and look for the spider responsible. We soon find this gray-brown guy perched in the center of a maclargehuge web.

Cryptoinsect I

It’s the size of a very plump Rainier Cherry – fairly stout by local spider standards. It’s hanging about at eye level, between the two widely-spaced trees it’s using as supports. And there’s nothing between us and the spider.

What else can you do when you have a camera with a great macro mode, an eye-level spider, and no obstructions but step up, shove the camera in its face, and snap away?

Cryptoinsect II

Saying to the very large spider all the while, “Please don’t bite me.” Which, happily, it didn’t. It didn’t even seem fussed by a camera getting thrust into all eight eyes.

Cryptoinsect III

So, it obviously doesn’t eat people. Any ideas which PNW spiders are gray-brown, weave enormous waves, and enjoy posing for photo ops?

The Quest for Dave Crockett’s Car

One of my favorite survivor’s stories of all time is up at Rosetta Stones. Go meet Dave Crockett, watch the video he shot as he struggled to survive on the slopes of Mount St. Helens in the middle of the eruption, and marvel at the fact that both he and his car survived.

There’s a personal story to be told about that car. You see, as I was researching for that piece, I discovered that his car had been recovered and was displayed at 19 Mile House. “Yay!” said I when I discovered that’s where a highly-rated little restaurant called Patty’s Place is. “We can have homemade cobbler, scenery, and Dave Crockett’s car!”

Only Cujo did some sniffing round the intertoobz, and discovered it’s been moved to the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center. Not a problem. They have cobbler, too. (And, it turns out, the best homemade ranch dressing I’ve ever tasted.)

But they haven’t yet got Dave Crockett’s car displayed. It’s been stashed down by the fuel tanks for the helicopters. The folks at the center didn’t seem to think it would be a problem for us to head down for a look, but the huge signs saying “Don’t even think about it” persuaded us otherwise. We saw a Volvo, but it turned out not to be the Volvo. [Nevermind. Got me cars crossed – shall quest for the Mercury Monarch, and might have a bit more success.] Sigh.

We’ll await the day when they decide where to publicly display Crockett’s car, then make another pilgrimage. It’s worth it for the cobbler alone. Yum! Also, the views from Hoffstadt are outstanding. And you can watch helicopters take off for flights around the volcano.

We did Patty’s Place on the second day, because cobbler, and theirs is also delightful. Also, they have this logging truck parked out front. It obviously was a witness to the eruption:

Suzanne et moi standing in front of a logging truck that did not weather the eruption unscathed.

One of my research projects for this winter is to try to run down that truck’s story.

If you make the trip to Mount St. Helens, I can personally recommend the cherry cobbler from Patty’s Place. Get it to go, warm it in the microwave a bit, scoop some vanilla gelato atop it, and have a foodgasm. I think seeking out strange relics from geologic events at wayside eateries is going to become a new thing with me, because the results are delicious, even when the relic isn’t the one sought.

One of you mentioned the possibility of field trips a while back. I am not averse to this idea, so if any of you want to join me in these excursions, let me know. Bring an appetite.

Geopuzzle: One of These Three Postulations is Right Out

Those informational signs at various attractions can sometimes be more aptly described as mis-informational. This tends to frustrate the geotraveler: responses may include groans, gripes, and rolling eyes. One severely-annoyed geologist at Summer Lake, Oregon took matters (and a Sharpie) into their own hands, and engaged in a little correcting-their-fieldwork.

Summer Lake Sign

Close up of the correction.

If it’s educational, is it still vandalism – or a public service?

One sign that’s just begging for the Sharpie treatment is this one at Deception Falls.

Mis-Informational sign at Deception Falls

The relevant bits. It reads: No one knows for sure why the river turns.1. Was the river diverted by the massive stack of logs piled during a flood?

2. Could the water be following a layer of soft rock that runs at right angles to the stream’s original course?

3. Does the stream turn right to flow along a fault line? Fault rocks erode easily since they are cracked and damaged when the earth moves.

It’s displayed at a fascinating part of the Tye River, where it goes from a broadish (if rocky) channel

The Tye River upstream from the falls.

to a rather vigorous falls

The falls (which actually aren’t Deception Falls. There are lots of falls at Deception Falls).

and then makes a razor-sharp 90° turn and flows through a narrow, straight grandiorite channel for a bit.

Hairpin turn. Rivers don’t normally cut angles like that…

Wow, right? That’s some dramatic geology, that is. Rivers don’t usually do that.

The sign gives three speculations as to how this odd feature formed. See if you can spot the laughably ridiculous one:

1. Log Jam: Did logs carried down and crammed in during a maclargehuge flood dam the river long enough to divert it 90°?

Logs tossed about by the river and left stranded in the dry season.

2. Dike. Did the river erode away a dike of softer rock?

Small andesite dikes cutting through bedrock. There are several large dikes around the area as well.

3. Fault. Did the river attack the crushed and broken rock of a fault, finding it easier to remove than unbroken bedrock?

Flowing through a fault, perhaps?

Bonus geoblogosphere points shall be awarded to those who make a case for one or both of the remaining options.

Overview of the whole puzzle.

And, for those who like falling water, you can haz some video I shot.

Lovely, isn’t it? Shame about the sign. Who’s bringing the Sharpie for our next visit?

UFD: This Bird is a Badass

So here’s the thing about ocotillo: it’s not nice. Oh, I grant you, it can be lovely to look at, especially when it’s blooming. It’s a wonderful desert plant, and I’m sure it’s ecologically important, and one or two in a xeroscaped yard look very classy and Southwestern indeed. However:

The Ocotillo is a bajada resident that can be relied on to bloom annually, even without leafing in particularly dry springs. It is an inverted, funnel-shaped desert plant with several woody, spiny, whip-like, straight branches angling outward from the base and rising as high as 20 feet.

Key word: spiny.

Ocotillo thorns. Definitely spiny. Image taken in Anza Borrego by David Corby.

Not to mention whip-like.

Whip-like. Yup. Image courtesy MoveableBookLady.

So, yes, spiny (and whip-like). Roses have thorns, and crimson ocotillo spikes, Shakespeare might have said.* Except he didn’t, because a quick trip to the desert Southwest of the Americas wasn’t in his stars. I don’t even know if ocotillo had been named yet. But I’m relatively sure that the first European explorers in the Southwest didn’t miss it – it’s rather in your face.

And the Native American population had been familiar with the stuff for thousands of years: they were using it to make sweet summer drinks, candy, flour, footbaths, and medicine. Also, they built things with it. This is the desert. Wicked-sharp spines are no deterrent to clever people with limited plant resources.

Still. You don’t look at this stuff and think, “That would make an ideal chair.” Unless, of course, you are the most badass fucking hummingbird in the desert.

UFD I, aka the Ocotillo Kid. Taken at Joshua Tree State Park, southern California, May 2010. Image courtesy MoveableBookLady.

Seriously, that is a hardcore bird. The spines on an ocotillo could skewer it. Yet here it is, completely unconcerned, probably smirking at its would-be predators, although it’s hard to tell with beaks.

MoveableBookLady, who sent me this utterly fabulous photo, would like to know if any of you are wizard enough to identify the species. Here’s a crop that may give you a better shot at naming our badass.

UFD II, aka the Ocotillo Kid. Taken at Joshua Tree State Park, southern California, May 2010. Image courtesy MoveableBookLady.

So: desert Southwest hummingbird, pollinates ocotillo, uses them as lounge chairs, has a keen sense of the artistic. What is it?

Good luck.


*See Sonnet XXXV. People can babble about Hamlet and King Lear and whatever other play all they like, and quote “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” until I punch them in the face to make them stop, but it’s Sonnet XXXV that made me sit up and go, “Hullo, this William Shakespeare is definitely one badass fucking writer.” Convinced me the man deserved his rep, and that sonnets weren’t all limp and tired burblings about wuv, twue wuv. This shit cuts. Read it.