Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Climate, Water and Hay Aligned in Kittitas Valley

Climate, available irrigation water and good soils align in the Kittitas Valley to make this central Washington valley an attractive area for growing livestock feed. Some history might play a role as well.

Climate in the Kittitas consists of warm and dry spring, summer and fall weather. Spring comes fairly early in the year and warm temperatures linger well into October (particularly this year!). Winters are cold with sub 0 degree F not unusual. In addition, the Kittitas Valley is a bit on the windy side. There is a bit of a low area in the Cascade Range to the west and wind pours across this valley due to pressure gradients that develop between the east side and west sides of the Cascades. The wind helps create drying conditions good for allowing cut hay and alfalfa to dry in the fields after cutting. There are also major wind farms around the perimeter of the valley.

Hay and alfalfa production takes lots of water. The Yakima River flows through the Kittitas Valley and diversions of Yakima water into canals provides irrigation water for many fields. Streams flowing into the valley from the west are also utilized for watering fields. Manastash Creek is fully diverted through fields on the southwest side of the valley.   

Reworked field readied for a new hay crop with flood irrigation pipes on the side of the field

Lush alfalfa field with new robust new growth stands out against the arid unirrigated hills.

Flood irrigation pipes and high sprinkler pipes spread diverted water from Manastash Creek over these fields.

Historically the valley was a good over wintering spot used by Kittitas and Yakima Peoples and later by Euro-American settlers. Though it gets very cold in the winter, deep snow is rare and warm breaks of Chinook winds descending off the mountains to the west melt snow and provides breaks from the cold. With lots of high country to the north and west, grazing animals could move up into the mountains in the summer and fields could be used for growing feed for the winter when animals returned. Hence, a tradition was started of hay and alfalfa growing that continues today. However, now a fair bit of the Kittitas hay and alfalfa is exported out of the valley including to overseas markets.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Detroit Notes: Some Positive Stuff

Despite the grimness of the much of Detroit there are remnants of greatness and, in places, signs of revitalization. Not enough to overcome the large population decline in many of the neighborhoods, but clear indications that the city may have hope of entering a period of split personality with a revitalized core surrounded by depopulated neighborhoods extending to the suburbs.
Most of Michigan Avenue, the main arterial from downtown to the west, is lined with abandoned and sometimes burnt out buildings from the west edge of the city to very near the downtown core. But just west of downtown the Corktown area appears to be redeveloping in a manner not so different than other formerly declined neighborhoods in many other cities.
And we did like the name of this pub.

The Detroit Institute of Arts http://www.dia.org/ has been targeted by creditors to the city as a source of funds. For the time being it appears that the City will not be selling off its art collection. The museum is one of the finest in the United States and its loss would be far more than a loss for Detroit. Three counties in the region have chipped in via voter approved taxes to increase the museum endowment fund.

A few favorite American landscape painters:

Lonely Pine by George Innis

Cotopaxi by Frank Church

Indian Telegraph by John Mix Stanely

Kaaterskil Falls by Sanford Robinson Gifford

Cascade in the Forest by John Frederick Kensett

The neighborhoods from downtown to the Art Institute and around Wayne State University were very appealing and if that was all you saw of Detroit the impression would be that of a great city.


A bit to the north is the enclave of Highland Park, a city very nearly surrounded by Detroit. A drive through the Boston Historic is a chance to see a wide, mansion lined street.

The mansion lined street is very attractive. However, Highland Park is in many ways even worse off than Detroit. An early Ford auto plant was a major source or tax revenue for this city, but its closing as well as depopulation of the small city from over 52,000 to approximately 11,000 has left swaths of derelict homes and apartments just one or two blocks from the mansions in the Historic District. The City has been run by an Emergency Manager appointed by the State of Michigan since 2001. A massive change in fortune since the heady days of the 1910 to 1930.

We ate at Telway Hamburgers twice

One other consistent bright spot can be seen just to the right of Telway Hamburgers (4 burgers for $3). Perhaps a sign of the times, but despite the population loss and mostly abandoned commercial districts the economics of our drug industry is healthy even in Detroit with numerous newish drug stores one of the few new buildings consistently present through various neighborhoods.

Quiken Loans has invested heavily in the downtown area. The company appears to be making a difference in the core of the city, but it is still very hard to visualize how many of the neighborhoods will recover and how those folks who remain can find a better life.

It is my view that it is not possible to reach any conclusions about any city during a short visit. That said, it is always a thought provoking experience to see something different. Detroit holds some lessons. Some of those lessons might be a bit late for Detroit itself, but other cities, and I would suggest even small cities cold learn a few lessons from Detroit.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Notes From Detroit

I have been traveling and I am still digesting my time in Detroit. I am not unused to seeing areas that are a bit on the downside. But the scale and the demographic and economic realities of Detroit are still taking awhile to settle in. The thing to keep in mind about Detroit is that its population has declined to approximately 36% of its peak population of 1.8 million in 1950 to less than 700,000 today with a drop of over 200,000 since 2009.
So some notes mostly in pictures. I'll put up some positive stuff later.

A pioneer spirit despite being on the same street as the homes shown in the first picture

Empty buildings and lots and note the gutted street lights

Scrapping buildings can be hazardous

Th famous and sad Michigan Central Station building http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Central_Station

Central Station from a different angle

The Book Tower on the left has been completely vacant since 2009

Pedestrian overpass from parking garage to the Book Tower

Geese on an urban street. Grass area was formerly home sites now long gone

Fairly typical scenes in many neighborhoods


Quiet open space area was formerly all urban density homes

A street that has lost all its homes

The nearby arterial street has lost all its shops but not the buildings

Boarded up but still in good shape
Typical listings for homes like this one were between $5,000 and $15,000 and seemed to be mostly dependent on the condition of the neighboring homes

Truck garden and green house on what had been a fully urban street

The level of abandonment is not captured above. There were miles of streets with far more burned out or vacant homes and apartments throughout multiple neighborhoods.

Planning challenges markedly different than the  planning challenges facing most Washington State cities. Where Washington State's Growth Management Act requires planning costs of infrastructure for growing population, Detroit is now having to consider the cost of maintaining urban level services to areas that have been and are continuing to go through negative growth. A difficult challenge as tax base declines. There are some lessons here - just hard to think through.   

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Osprey Bailing Twine Problem Near Ellensburg

I had heard reports of ospreys having the bad habit of collecting bailing twin in their nests fatal-attraction-ospreys-bind-baling-twine-fishing-line. I spotted this osprey nest on a platform built for providing a nest site west of Ellensburg on the broad Manastash alluvial fan. The platform is located within an area of extensive irrigated hay and hence, lots of available twine wrapped into the nest.  As reported in the NPR piece I heard, there has been an effort in Montana to reduce this problem and it clearly is a problem in Kittitas County as well. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Break from the CRBG - Violent Ellensburg Formation

A recent day of field work which mostly entailed navigating complex topography to get to where I needed go had lots of basalt outcrops of the Grande Ronde basalt member of the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG). The Grande Ronde is the most massive of the lava flows that make up the CRBG. The two flow sections I was navigating through west of the Kittitas Valley are interpreted by Tabor and others (1982) on the Wenatchee 1:100,000 geology map as two upper flows of the Grande Ronde based on stratigraphic position and polarity of the iron minerals in the flow. These are the same flows that are exposed in the bottom off the Grande Ronde River Canyon in the southeast corner of the state grande-ronde-basalts-at-grand-ronde.  

Cliffs of basalt 

Top of cliff

Scree of weathered basalt

My entire day was occupied looking at rather uniform basalt cliffs, scree slopes and thin soils full of fractured basalt. But at the very end of the day I came across something new - an exposure of welded hard volcanic material full of bits of rock fragments firmly embedded within a finer matrix. My initial though before taking a closer look was it was glacial till.

The Tabor and others (1982) map indicates Ellensburg Formation volcanics about a mile to the east. This exposure fits the Ellensburg Formation from the area. The Ellensburg Formation does interfinger with CRBG meaning that when the early massive CRBG flood basalts flowed across southern Washington approximatley 16 million years ago there was also a rather violent separate volcanic field in the area with explosive eruptions. Some of the explosive eruptions can be viewed along Highway 10 northwest of Ellensburg ellensburg-formation-side-trip  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Some Gold in the Fall: Cottonwood and Western Larch

I met some trees with character the last few days, and a few were presenting golden colors that enhanced their presence. 

This large cottonwood along with a few smaller mates occupies a small unnamed canyon in the deeply eroded table lands west of Ellensburg. Its gold color and fluttering leaves were an attractive site. It was a hot day for October and the cool of the canyon stream was appealing, but I had some ground I needed to cover so I stayed up high and took a route around the upper canyon versus the steep cliffy slopes.

This western larch stood along in a rubble field of fractured hard basalt. This particular larch had turned color ahead of the other larch in the area. Larch are conifers hat loose their needles in the fall.

Larch are the predominant tree in parts of the drier and higher parts of the North Cascade crest, but also show up in stands on the colder parts of the east slopes of the Cascades such as this one on the upper Manastash Canyon west of Ellensburg. This particular site is at elevation 4,000 feet. Larch also cover large tracts of the high mountains in north central Washington such as along Highway 20 east of Republic in the Kettle Range.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Semi Dry Tomatoes

The warm summer and continued warm fall has led to perhaps our biggest bumper crop of tomatoes. I have a good spot to grow them above the rock retaining wall above the alley. Growing tomatoes in the cool of western Washington is a challenge, and a bit extra so in Bellingham - a bit cooler than most other locales. Some of the plants are completely done, but we have a few that continue to produce well until it really gets to cold and dark. So when home I do a simple process to preserve them.

I cut them up and lay them out on trays with a light coating of olive oil (sometimes I use the left over oil from Lisa's preserved of zucchini jars). Slide the trays into the oven and heat to 220 F for 3 hours. Turn the oven off and in the morning slide the slightly dried tomatoes into baggies and freeze. The concentrated flavor and loss of excess water makes them just right for an instant sauce. A fast method versus making sauce and a great way to deal with a few pounds at a time.

Ready to bag after partial dry