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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Eagle Creek Fire: Out of Sight, out of mind.

Several days of rain have driven parts of the Eagle Creek Fire into quiet bouts of seething resentment. But here and there unexpectedly — absent any ventilating breeze — tell-tale plumes of smoke reveal hiding places where glowing embers yet lurk under blankets of ash. According to, the fire is only 46% contained, but one would never suspect it while traveling the gorge corridor confined to SR-14.

I took a picture of this sign, wondering where my balls went. Meanwhile half a dozen bicyclists pulled down the orange safety barrier and pedaled out to the end of the viewpoint.

Curiosity about the state of the gorge after wildfire ran rampant across its vertical faces inspired me to seek access to the trails and viewpoints along I-84 along the Oregon side of the gorge, but the eastbound lanes were still closed on Friday. I drove the back way into Corbett, hoping to find some unguarded route into the post-fire scenery, but every road I tried, sooner or later, ended in a roadblock or fence.  

The road to the Vista House was blocked off.  Even the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint was fenced off, so I had to hike along the guardrail at the edge of the rural thoroughfare, looking for vantage points through the ‘shrubberies’ to catch glimpses of the iconic landmark (that looked distinctly untouched by fire) all the while listening for the approach of monster pickup trucks careening around corners at speeds possible only for locals intimately familiar with the route and the likely location of speed traps.

From this viewpoint, the gorge looks largely pristine, save for the singed trees on Archer Mountain on the Washington side (Upper left), the one spot where the fire was able to jump the Columbia.

Crown Point (Vista House) as it appears from Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Washington.

Sunday, the weather was warm and sunny and the air was fairly clear. 

Landscape obscured by rain and clouds

I took yet another trip up SR-14 to survey the gorge since last week’s trip in the rain wasn’t very informative.

Once again, I’m including this picture from 2010 for comparison purposes.

Click on image to view larger version

This is how the gorge looks as of Sunday the 24th. The pictures were taken closer to the middle of the day instead of toward evening, so I was better able to see where the fire had left its marks. Even though the smoke was minimal, there was still a haze in the air which kept my images from being their sharpest. 

Using the long lens to shoot across the gorge often resulted in a bluish tint to my pictures which sometimes made it difficult to distinguish between burnt and un-burnt trees, so I’ve taken steps to compensate for this — sometimes at the cost of color fidelity.

Straight across from my Cape Horn vantage point is the feature known as Angel’s Rest. It is one of the few places I was able to easily identify, partly because I’m familiar with the Angel’s Rest trail. Video from news helicopters has caused local news anchors to describe Angel’s Rest as 'toast', and the video footage shows sobering images of the trail’s switchbacks climbing through what looks like an apocalyptic landscape.

I don’t have a helicopter.

In this image, you can make out the switchbacks at lower middle(ish).

To be fair, this picture of Angels Rest that I took from my kayak back in August of 2009 shows that this isn’t the first time that the area has been subjected to fire

Another view taken in April, 2010

It looks like maybe Bridal Veil Falls fared well.

But the fire may have had some impact at Bridal Veil Falls State Park. It’s hard to tell whether I’m looking at singed trees or hints of autumn.

Looking upriver, Archer Mountain’s singed trees stick out at upper left.

A closer view of Archer Mountain from St. Cloud Recreation Area.

The St. Cloud Day-Use Area was formerly somebody's apple orchard. Those who require insights into the nature of gravity would do well to slumber beneath the fruit laden branches here.

As inviting as some of the apples appear, apple maggot quarantine signs trigger my suspicions.

I made my way down to the edge of the river at the St. Cloud Recreation Area. The following pictures show the sometimes surprising mix of burnt and unburnt trees across the river, a pattern that fire officials have been describing as a mosaic.

It seems like the folks at Cascade Locks were pretty lucky.

Homeward bound, I chose not to cross the bridge at Hood River (because I didn’t have any change for the toll) even though I-84 W had been open for several days. Instead, I followed SR-14 back the way I came…

…beneath a waxing moon…

Last Sunday, in the rain, fire was burning all the way down to I-84 somewhere in between Wyeth and Starvation Creek State Park.  Today, however, from my Washington vantage point, I was unable to see any evidence of fire. The landscape beneath Starvation Ridge formed a striking triangle shape, something I hadn’t ever appreciated before. 

Westbound traffic was lined up and at a standstill, perhaps the result of weekend adventurers postponing their return to the working week—until the very last minute. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


(So, yeah, it’s just an attention grabbing title.)

0% containment vs. 11% containment

Many people commented on last week’s pictures of fire in the Columbia Gorge, expressing grief and sorrow that the gorge would never be the same. The hellish orange outlines spreading before the wind were all too reminiscent of those hot embers we study in the heart of our campfires, leading one to believe that morning light would reveal only a valley of charcoal and ashes. But when morning finally did come, the gorge was hidden by heavy blankets of smoke, and so I was unable to determine the consequences of what I had seen in the night. It was frustrating — and it still is.

The fire, as of this writing, is still only 11% contained. That means somewhere amongst the trees, a fire that can spread from Cascade Locks to Corbett in an evening, is feeding and biding its time, just waiting for a favorable wind.

Monday was a clear and sunny day with not much wind. I decided to retrace my route from the night of the fire (I-84 is still closed), and see what a wild fire means to a forest.

I’ve tried to identify the locations of the areas depicted in my images with the aid of Google Earth and various maps. It was harder than I thought, and I want to caution you that my comments are tentative.


In this supplementary image and the ones that follow, the number shows which image is being referenced and also the point where the picture was taken. The yellow cone shows the approximate field of view.
The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(01) Perhaps East Bridal Veil Rd (as viewed from SR 14 overlook)
Editors’s note: This does not look like the apocalyptic vision I saw last week.

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(02) Looking eastward up the Columbia River. Angel’s rest is directly behind Phoca Rock. Beacon Rock is the monolith on the horizon at left (as viewed from SR 14 overlook).

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(03) A singed Mt. Archer pokes its head above the tree-line at St. Cloud recreation area.

Smokey arms of a marauding fire embrace the mountains, pantomiming an apocalypse. Meanwhile, a man in a hat reels in a monstrous smallmouth bass and comments happily, “We’re eating fish tonight!”

The tops of some ridges seem a little bit more than singed.

Dozens of smoldering fires contribute plumes of smoke to the valley (view from Beacon Rock State Park).

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(06,07) If I had to guess, I’d say the fire in this picture has a source close to Dodson.

Fire’s method, to my inexperienced eye, seems random and haphazard. Here a wisp of smoke threatens, “I’ll be back.”

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(09) Looking downriver, an enormous plume climbs into the sky like a thunder cloud.  The smoke from the Dodson area is just a smudge beyond Ives Island (as seen from the S.W. edge of Hamilton Island).

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(10) The mouth of the smoke-shrouded canyon to the right leads to Wahclella Falls (from a vantage point on Dam Access Rd. at Bonneville Dam).

(Go east past the Chevron station and then turn right on that dam access road)

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(11) Behind the dam, the notch at center-left is, according to my reckoning, the mouth of the canyon that contains Eagle Creek.

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(12) Looking South across the river to Cascade Locks. The Bridge of the Gods is spanning the Columbia at right.

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(13) This view from the waterfront in Stevenson shows that the fire is vigorous and strong. I’m not sure what’s up there on top of the gorge, but judging from Google Earth, I’d posit maybe the Benson Plateau.

The map is copyright 2017 by GOOGLE EARTH
(14) Looking slightly S.W. from the same vantage point, Cascade Locks and Bridge of the Gods are concealed by smoke settling over the water.

“…a pillar of cloud by day…”

Stevenson Landing



The vagaries of smoke and wind allow a brief glimpse of the Bridge of the Gods.

Looking upriver to the Government Cove recreation site.

Back at the SR-14 overlook, I survey the scene as night falls. The yellow hued fire to right is probably the Bridal Veil area. The small orange hued fire may be the one I saw near Dodson, and the high reddish plume has got to be the fire near the Benson Plateau, almost 17 miles away.

From this wider angle view, another orange line of fire can be seen up and to the right of the yellow hued fire. The lights of Cascade Locks and Stevenson illuminate the smoke settling in the valley.

These two minute exposures reveal the Earth’s spin, showing the apparent motion of the stars.

There’s nothing like juxtaposing all of our anguish beneath stars burning steady for billions of years.

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

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