Thursday, March 22, 2018

Comparing Lidar of Different Years at Dynamic Landscapes

The Washington State DNR has recently uploaded more lidar coverage ( Some of the recent uploads are of lidar that was flown in the early 2000s such as Jefferson County, but there is also some 2017 high resolution lidar that has been a bit of distraction to geomorphologist.

With multiple year available on the portal, there is also the opportunity to do comparisons at sites that have undergone change. Alluvial fans can be a good place to see significant changes.

Canyon Lakes Creek alluvial fan has been going through significant recent changes. The fan is in part controlled by the meanders of the Middle Fork Nooksack River as well as human infrastructure.       

2006 lidar

The change in flow on the fan has eroded into an old elevated terrace.

2013 lidar

The results have been significant property damage as the creek erodes new channels and flows and floods into areas not previously near the creek.    

Racehorse Creek is another creek that has been going through some big changes. A large landslide in the watershed in 2009 has greatly increased the sediment inputs to the stream. On the creeks lower reaches that has lead to the channel being filled and flooding and new overflow channels forming.

2006 lidar

2013 lidar, note the channel has been entirely filled 

The slide in Racehorse Creek has had some consequences to the few folks on the lower reaches of Racehorse Creek. One home has been abandoned due to the nearly winter long constant flooding.

The lumpy ground west of the lower reach of Racehorse Creek is a very large landslide deposit that dwarfs the event that took place in Racehorse Creek. The slide extended across the Nooksack River Valley. The age of this slide is not currently known.
Racehorse Slide

A comparison between 2006 and 2017 lidar shows the 2009 slide before and after. 

2006 lidar

2017 lidar
The slides are on dip slope of a sandstone unit within the Chuckanut Formation.

The 2009 slide is readily visible from the Nooksack Valley south of Kendal and appears as a sharp edged block missing from the the slope. The lidar suggests that the slip was off the same bed of the formation.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Old Shipwreck in Drayton Harbor

Doing a bit of pre field excursion research I noted a shipwreck along the shore of Drayton Harbor in northwest Washington.   

The map was from 1972. An earlier 1950s map did not show the wreck. The wreck was not part of my purpose and I forgot about until we came across its remains.

It was remarkable sunny clear late winter day. Frost in the morning then sun warming things to about 50. Drayton Harbor is a shallow bay abutting the City of Blaine near the Canadian border. Cleanup efforts that have been really slow and challenging have slowly returned the bay to healthy enough conditions for growing oysters.

The BC Coast Range is the predominant Mountain view.

But the view of Mount Baker is equally nice on a clear day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Haematopus bachmani, Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatchers fall into the category of really easy to remember shore birds. There are so many others that are harder to distinguish for beginners or once distinguished their names get lost to memory. It takes work and review to stay up with shorebirds. But oystercatchers are easy.

I spotted this pair sunning themselves on the rocky spit south of Kala Point south of Port Townsend. I felt a bit bad disrupting their rest. So I headed up onto the upper spit and hid behind the large driftwood logs to get a around them. By the time I got even with them they were back at work seeking mussels.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Northwest Washington Iconic Mountain View

I have been fortunate to live in areas where mountains of some sort are always on the horizon. The iconic mountain of northwest Washington is Mount Baker. 

After days of clouds and rain (and some snow) we had a brief clear spell and Mount Baker welcomed me home when I headed onto the Samish Flats. After a month of heavy snow the 10,000 foot volcano mountain along with its earlier predecessor Black Buttes, an earlier eruptive center, and the sharp peaks of the Twin Sisters were heavily plastered in white. The high peaks were aglow in the last sunset rays of the day above the lower Northwest Cascade and Chuckanut ridges.   

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Foulweather Bluff Adams Apple and Track of Tornado

Foulweather Bluff is at the north end of Kitsap County. To the west of the bluff is the entrance to Hood Canal, a long inlet that extends far to the south. To the east is the continuation of Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound. 

The peninsula has an outline that suggests a head with an open mouth. I was looking into the geology of the estuary on the neck of Foulweather via the T Sheet (one of the earliest surveys) map of the area. A small hand written note next to the estuary indicates that either the mapper or someone using the map afterwards saw the peninsula as a head as well.

Click to blow up image to read the hand written notes

In addition to the "Adams Apple" note, there is a note north of the estuary stating "Track of Tornado". Some of the early T-Sheet maps emphasized a survey of the timber stands. I am skeptical that a tornado passed across the peninsula as tornadoes are very rare in western Washington; however, concentrated intense wind events do happen and it appears that a large timber blow down had taken place prior to the survey.   

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

George Bush: At Least Part of the Reason Washington State Is Not Part of Canada

A case can be made (and has been made by some historians) that what is now Washington State would have ended up part of Canada if not for George Bush (

George Washington Bush (Samuel Patrick drawing)

The specifics of his early life, including the year he was born are a bit unclear ( Based on what is known, Bush had seen some success prior to traveling to what is now Washington State from Missouri in 1844. I like the unconfirmed oral history that he worked for a time as a fur trapper including a stint with the Hudson Bay Company.

What can be ascertained is that he likely faced discrimination in Missouri and saw opportunity and more freedom traveling to what was then the disputed Oregon Country. He and his party were heading for the Willamette Valley. The American settlement in the Willamette Valley had grown enough that the Americans living there set up a provisional government within this otherwise disputed Oregon County. One of the earliest laws passed was an exclusion law against blacks.

Bush and his fellow pioneers/settlers headed north of the Columbia settling in what later became Tumwater. They were the first settlers north of the Columbia. Others followed. These early north of the Columbia settlers partially bolstered the United States claims to include the land that would become Washington State when the border through the disputed Oregon County was finally settled. By all accounts, Bush was a very generous and gracious early settler who greatly aided those that followed and he was beloved by those in his community.

Bush's legacy appears on maps of the area and a school is named after him.

This short talk on the Cowlitz Trail that Bush helped blaze is part of the local South Puget Sound and Tumwater pride and remembrance of his life and legacy.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Amtrak Bellingham to Vancouver BC

A favored way of taking the 55 mile trip from Bellingham to the big city of Vancouver is via the Amtrak rail. The train terminates very near downtown Vancouver. A modest walk or a short sky train ride takes one into the center of the city. Taking the train avoids high parking charges, sometimes very long border waits, slow traffic, and the stress of driving congested and unfamiliar city streets. 

There is also the percs. Open beer or wine, reading, or taking in scenery that is otherwise missed via driving. 

The main limitation is timing of the trains. But if the timing works, a far better way than driving. 

A few notes and images from the ride up and back  

Good views of the Cornwall Avenue Landfill in Bellingham

The end of Cornwall Avenue was used as a municipal garbage dump into the early 1970s. The garbage added to fill on the tidelands at this location from past saw mill and warehouse use that was on piers and fill. Most recently dredged sediments from a port waterway were added to the landfill and covered with a white plastic liner. Eventually this tract of landfill will be converted into a park.

Former GP paper mill site 

The former paper mill is mostly gone. Ongoing construction prep and cleanup work has been taking place. And recently mush of the mill site and port yard area has been covered with piles of logs for shipping.

Former paper mill site
Some of the old tanks from the facility are to be left as historic/legacy features

Past the transitioning blight waterfront the views do become scenic.

Old cement pier and Bellingham Bay 
Lummi Island is the main feature across the bay

Tenant Lake southeast of Ferndale
The view from the rail line is the best view of this swampy lake 

Blaine Harbor just south of the border

A favorite part of the train ride is passing through White Rock, BC. People are almost always out on the beach and always seem happy to see the passenger train. 

White Rock itself was a bit camouflaged in the snow.
The rock is painted white and is a large glacial erratic on the shoreline

White Rock pier

Another nice stretch is the estuary on the shores of Semiahmoo Bay. Lots of ducks, eagles and hawks

The rail line parallels the main highway (99) for a stretch. Felt smug seeing the cars backed up behind the snow plows while we relaxed in the observation car.

Fraser River at New Westminster

The return trip is a sunset trip depending on the time of year.