Posted tagged ‘national park service’

SHI SHI BEACH AND POINT OF ARCHES ON A SUMMER WEEKEND

July 7, 2018

We hiked to Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches in Olympic National Park during the lowest tides of the year so we could explore the most distant tide pools. This experience never ceases to amaze us, and we see life forms that look like they evolved on another planet. This weblog primarily shows the hike through photographs, with a few words about our observations during our three-day backpacking trip in June 2018.

Sunset at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Point of Arches rocks at sunset

Shi Shi Beach was not as crowded as we expected, though by Saturday night it was pretty much filled up with people at the end near Point of Arches.

Almost all the people on the beach were millennials in their 20s, with few baby boomers until we saw some coming in on Sunday. Nice to see young people visiting. Everyone had smiles on their faces: exploring tidepools, photographing the sunset with smart phones, doing paired yoga poses, playing frisbee, and talking around campfires.

Perfect sunny weather; not too hot or cold.

Birdsong: lovely sounds of Swainson’s Thrush, Wilson’s Warbler, American Robin, Pacific Slope Flycatcher, and Pacific Wren floating above our tents. Pigeon Guillemot, Black Oystercatchers, gulls, ravens, eagles, and crows added their less musical but still atmospheric calls to the beach.

We waded through tide pools and climbed over barnacle- and mussel-covered rocks to get out to the outermost sea stacks. Getting near, we spotted a family (mother and two pups) of River Otters climbing the steep vegetated wall of a sea stack. A seabird was loudly calling out in alarm. Then, a pup fell 15′ down the cliff. The mother quickly descended with the other pup, dragging it along by the neck. When it got to the bottom, the mother rejoined the apparently uninjured pup, and then grabbed one of the pups by the neck and kept it from heading toward the sea. They quickly headed through one of the arches and we didn’t see them again. We could see their tracks where they explored the sea caves and arches. It’s good that the youngster had a resilient body; I would have been a heap of broken bones.

We spotted at least two Pigeon Guillemots high on the cliff above one of the arches, where we think they were establishing nests on ledges deep in rock overhangs. Hard to photograph with the sea spray and deep shade.

Most of the campers at our end of the beach went out in the tide pools, though few were as passionate about the natural history as we. Exceptions included a couple from Olympia who were on their 8th trip to Point of Arches in two years; and they went out of their way to show us an unusual tide pool animal. Another was a young woman who was incredibly interested in everything in the tide pools; we saw her over two days carefully inspecting small tide pools. Most everyone else was content to explore the convoluted arches and caves.

Counted 15 Black Oystercatchers at Willoughby Creek, joining the gulls in drinking and bathing (while photographing them laying on my belly a wave caught me and I was soaked).

We played a recording of a Wilson’s Warbler to attract one close enough that our companion, Joan, could see it. It came close indeed–zooming withing three feet of our heads in what seemed like a frontal charge.

The Olympia couple backpacked in with an REI Kingdom 8-person tent with garage and extra pole, which would have been 28 lbs. to hike with. The woman carried that, while her husband carried everything else.

Here are photographs from the weekend.

Blood Star at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Blood Star, Henricia leviuscula, at Point of Arches

Cadlina luteomarginata at Point of Arches in Olympic National Pa

Yellow Margin Dorid, Cadlina luteomarginata, aka Yellow-edged Cadlina, at Point of Arches

Three-lined Nudibranch at Point of Arches in Olympic National Pa

Three-lined Nudibranch, Flabellina trilineata, in a tide pool at low tide at Point of Arches

Woody Chitin, Mopalia lignosa, at Point of Arches in Olympic Nat

Woody Chitin, Mopalia lignosa, on a rock exposed during low tide at Point of Arches

Leaf Barnacles at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Leaf Barnacles, Pollicipes polymerus, at low tide in a surge channel at Point of Arches

White Giant Green Anemone, Lacking Green Algae because of Dark L

Giant Green Anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, lacking algae in a dark microhabitat so it appears white, at Point of Arches

Orange Cup Coral at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Orange Cup Coral, Balanophyllia elegans, in a tidepool at extreme low tide at Point of Arches

Feather-duster Worm at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

A feather-duster worm, aka fan-head worm: a plankton filter-feeder in the family Sabellidae, on rocky substrate at low tide at Point of Arches

Giant Green Anemone at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Underwater view of Giant Green Anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, at Point of Arches

Driftwood Logs on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Driftwood logs deposited during fierce winter storms on Shi Shi Beach

in Olympic National Park

My bare feet on Shi Shi Beach

Dwarf Purple Olive Shell at Point of Arches in Olympic National

Dwarf Purple Olive, Olivella biplicata, shell probably occupied by a hermit crab, among Coralline Algae, at low tide at Point of Arches

Ochre Sea Star at Point of Aches in Olympic National Park

Ochre Sea Star, Pisaster ochraceus, aka Purple Sea Star or Common Sea Star, at Point of Arches near mussel beds at low tide

Opalescent Nudibranch at Point of Arches in Olympic National Par

Opalescent Nudibranch, Hermissenda crassicornis, in a tide pool at low tide at Point of Arches

Emarginate Dogwinkles at Point of Arches in Olympic National Par

Emarginate Dogwinkle, Nucella emarginata, aka Northern Striped Dogwinkle, Nucella ostrina, on the rocks deep inside the arches of Point of Arches

Shell of Crab Consumed by a Predator in Olympic National Park

Shell and other body parts of a crab recently eaten by a Raccoon or River Otter (otters viewed, raccoon tracks seen nearby) at Point of Arches

Giant Green Anemone in Dark Microhabitat, Lacking Green Algae, a

Giant Green Anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, at Point of Arches

Giant Green Anemone in Dark Microhabitat, Lacking Green Algae, a

Giant Green Anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, lacking algae in a dark microhabitat so it appears whitish, at Point of Arches

Mossy Chiton and Hind's Mopalia at Point of Arches in Olympic Na

Mossy Chiton, Mopalia muscosa (L), and Hind’s Mopalia, Mopalia hindsii (R), at Point of Arches

Giant Green Anemone and Encrusting Coral at Point of Arches in O

Giant Green Anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, with Pink Rock Crust, Lithothamnium pacificum (or related species), aka Encrusting Coral, at Point of Arches

Ochre Sea Star at Point of Aches in Olympic National Park

Ochre Sea Star, Pisaster ochraceus, aka Purple Sea Star or Common Sea Star, with arms around an anemone, at Point of Arches near mussel beds at low tide

Ochre Sea Star at Point of Aches in Olympic National Park

Ochre Sea Star, Pisaster ochraceus, aka Purple Sea Star or Common Sea Star, and Six-rayed Sea Star, Leptasterias hexactis, at Point of Arches near mussel beds at low tide

Man Walking on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Man walking in the morning sea spray mist on Shi Shi Beach

Sunset at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Hikers and Point of Arches rocks at sunset

Egregia menziesii Kelp in Olympic National Park

Feather Boa Kelp, Egregia menziesii, stranded and casting shadows on the sand of Shi Shi Beach

Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

The rocks of Point of Arches nearing sunset

Patterns of Pacific Ocean Wave Receding in Olympic National Park

Pattern formed by water rushing back to the ocean as a wave recedes

Hiking on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Karen Rentz hiking on Shi Shi Beach

Black-tailed Deer Doe and Fawn in Olympic National Park

Columbian Black-tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, near backpacking tent on Shi Shi Beach

Leg Lift of a Young Woman in Olympic National Park

An athletic young backpacking couple having fun on Shi Shi Beach

Black Oystercatcher in Olympic National Park

Black Oystercatcher, Haematopus bachmani, gathering at Willoughby Creek, a source of freshwater on Shi Shi Beach

Black Oystercatcher in Olympic National Park

Black Oystercatcher, Haematopus bachmani, at Willoughby Creek

Common Raven on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Common Raven, Corvus corax, strutting on Shi Shi Beach

Northern Kelp Crabs at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Northern Kelp Crabs, Pugettia producta, aka Spider Crab, in a tide pool with a lot of hermit crabs at Point of Arches

in Olympic National Park

Frosted Nudibranch, Dirona albolineata, in a tide pool at Point of Arches

Smooth Bay Shrimp at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Smooth Bay Shrimp, Lissocrangon stylirostris, aka Sand Shrimp and Crangon stylirostris, found in tide pools at Point of Arches

Leather Star in Olympic National Park

Leather Star, Dermasterias imbricata, out of the water at low tide at Point of Arches

Red Crab at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Red Crab, Cancer productus, in a tide pool at Point of Arches

Giant Green Anemone at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Giant Green Anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, with marks in sand where tentacles withdrew as tide went down

Emarginate Dogwinkle at Point of Arches n Olympic National Park

Striped Dogwinkle, Nucella emarginata, aka Emarginate Dogwinkle, with barnacles on rocky substrate at low tide at Point of Arches

Channeled Dogwinkle Laying Eggs at Point of Arches n Olympic Nat

Channeled Dogwinkle, Nucella canaliculata, laying eggs on rocky substrate at low tide at Point of Arches

Six-rayed Sea Star at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Six-rayed Sea Star, Leptasterias hexactis, during an extreme low tide at Point of Arches

Black Turban at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Black Turban, Tegula funebralis, aka Black Tegula, snails in a surge channel at Point of Arches

Giant Green Anemone and Pink Rock Crust at Point of Arches in Ol

Giant Green Anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, with Pink Rock Crust, Lithothamnium pacificum (or related species), aka Encrusting Coral, at Point of Arches

Sea Cave at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Karen Rentz inside a sea cave of Point of Arches at low tide

A Large Arch at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Rock formations with a large arch at Point of Arches at low tide

A Large Arch at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Rock formations with a large arch and photographer’s shadow at Point of Arches at low tide

Couple on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Couple holding hands while walking on Shi Shi Beach

Point of Arches and Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Rock formations of Point of Arches

California Beach Flea on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

California Beach Flea, Megalorchestia californiana, males fighting over a burrow near the high tide line on Shi Shi Beach

Sunset at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Point of Arches rocks at sunset

Sunset at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Point of Arches rocks at sunset

Sunset at Point of Arches in Olympic National Park

Point of Arches rocks at sunset

Point of Arches and Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Rock formations of Point of Arches with a tide pool along Shi Shi Beach at low tide

Ripples in Sand on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Sandy shore ripples of Shi Shi Beach at low tide

Point of Arches and Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Rock formations of Point of Arches with the sandy surface of Shi Shi Beach at low tide

Point of Arches and Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Rock formations of Point of Arches with the rippled surface of Shi Shi Beach at low tide

Bull Kelp and Shadows on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Bull Kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, stipe stranded and dried and casting curving shadows on Shi Shi Beach

Wooden Pallet Washed up on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Par

Wooden pallet that has been at sea for a while, as evidenced by its load of large barnacles

in Olympic National Park

By-the-wind Sailor, Velvella velvella, aka Sail Jellyfish, stranded on Shi Shi Beach

Wet Sand at Low Tide on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Wet sand on Shi Shi Beach after a wave subsided

Bull Kelp and Shadows on Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park

Bull Kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana

Boardwalk along Trail to Shi Shi Beach through the Makah Reserva

Boardwalk along the trail through the Makah Reservation forest on the way to Shi Shi Beach

Western Redcedar Bark Stripped from Tree on Makah Reservation

Traditional technique of removing strip of Western Redcedar, Thuja plicata, bark (for use in basketry and other crafts) from trees along the trail through the Makah Reservation on the way to Shi Shi Beach

 

If you want to visit Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches, you need three permits:

Olympic National Park’s Wilderness Camping Permit. You can get this permit and a mandatory bear canister at Olympic National Park’s Wilderness Information Center at Port Angeles. The cost is $8 per person for overnight wilderness camping as of 2018.

Makah Nation’s Recreation Permit. As of 2018 this was a $10 per year hangtag for your car.

Parking Permit  Bring cash of $10 per day as of June 2018; this link also has great detailed information about the hike.

In addition, you really need to know how to read tide tables, both for safety and to get the most out of a coastal hike. Go to tides.net as a place to start, using the nearby Tatoosh Island and Cape Flattery tide charts. We prefer to explore tide pools when the tides are minus tides, such as -2.3 ft. or thereabouts. Read up on tides.

This is one of the premier nature hikes in North America: GO!

CHANNEL ISLANDS RESTORATION: We are as Gods

June 3, 2012

We almost lost the Island Fox, whose numbers plummeted from over 2,000 to under 100 in a few short years on Santa Cruz Island, due to a complex chain of events set in motion decades ago. This blog describes the ways that people affected the wildlife and plants of Channel Islands National Park, and how the National Park Service and its allies in conservation have attempted to rescue some of the iconic native creatures and restore the fragile ecosystems of these islands located so close to the millions of people living along the southern California coast.

The rat’s dark eyes reflected the full moon as it twitched its whiskers, sniffing the air. Nearby, a newly-hatched seabird, fluffy and vulnerable, scrambled around its mother as she waited patiently for others to hatch. The rat, sensing the vulnerability of a baby, dashed in for a quick take, grabbing the tiny chick and then rushing up through the rock crevice, its naked rat tail trailing like a snake. 

The next morning, two fox kits played by their den, tugging on a fallen eucalyptus branch and wrestling together in the dusty earth. High above, a predator watched with eagle eyes as it floated on currents of warm air. An ache of hunger stirred in its cells, an ache that two days ago was satisfied by zooming down on a squealing piglet. Adjusting its wings, the Golden Eagle plunged at dizzying speed, opened its talons, and snatched the tiny fox. The kit never saw it coming, but his sister did, and she learned a lesson in horror that arrives unexpectedly from the sky.

When I visited Channel Islands National Park in April 2012, it struck me that the Channel Islands are a virtual laboratory for many of the great conservation disasters and subsequent restoration stories of the last 50 years. These rocky outcrops and their creatures have endured DDT poisoning, a major oil spill, overgrazing, overharvesting, invasions of alien animals and plants, endangered species, and now the threat of ocean acidification.

The National Park Service is steward of land on five of the Channel Islands, and has made a heroic effort to restore the islands to something closer to their historic natural state. This effort has come at the cost of controversy and lawsuits, but the National Park Service has stayed the course; the islands and their native plants and animals are better for the effort.

Santa Cruz Island has a long history of ranching and farming, but it has also supported endemic animals and plants in wild ecosystems–creatures found nowhere else on earth. 

Santa Cruz Island

Some 10,000 years ago, Earth was emerging from an ice age and the Channel Islands were experiencing monumental changes. At that time, so much of the earth’s water was locked up in glacial ice that the vast oceans were lower, exposing more of the coastline. Four of today’s islands–Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel–were combined into one large island known as Santarosae. With the sea level 300 feet below today’s level, the island was much larger than the four remnant islands of today.

The prime herbivore of the islands, the Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth (the mother of all oxymorons–but the pygmy mammoth indeed weighed only 10% as much as its mainland ancestors), which had grazed these windswept landscapes for eons, suddenly disappeared. Forever. Did it have something to do with the arrival of people at roughly the same time? Perhaps. From the admittedly spotty, pieced-together timeline that scientists have constructed based upon remains of mammoths and people, it appears that the mammoths disappeared shortly after the arrival of the first humans. Did these Chumash people ram spearpoints into the last 2,000 lb. beast of its kind? We may never know, but I’m placing my bet on a simple “yes.”

But enough of ancient history; the Chumash people came to a rough balance with the other island inhabitants for the next 10,000 years, so we’ll cut them some slack for the vanishing mammoths. Especially since they themselves disappeared from the islands in historical time, coinciding with the invasion of the Europeans, and all the cultural changes and diseases and opportunities that made for huge societal changes in native peoples across the continents.

People have been a part of Santa Cruz Island for some 10,000 years

The Chumash did manage to live in harmony with the little Island Foxes and the strikingly blue Island Scrub Jays. As well as the Sea Otters that fur traders eliminated from the Channel Islands, and the abalones that have become so scarce due to overharvesting and poaching that they have largely disappeared from California dinner tables.

Next on the scene were ranchers. Santa Cruz still has historic ranch buildings, roads, orchards, stone piles, and other artifacts that represent some 150 years of agricultural operations. Generations of ranchers carved a living out of this island. With the island’s Mediterranean climate, olive groves and vineyards prospered; the latter until Prohibition. Sheep grazed the hillsides. Pigs and other farm animals became a common sight and smell on the island. Eventually, pigs escaped and sheep ventured into inaccessible places, so the island had some new creatures enjoying their newfound freedom.

An old fence in Scorpion Canyon speaks of the ranching that occurred here for over 100 years

As agriculture thrived on Santa Cruz, the California mainland was becoming a bleeding edge of industrial America. By the 1950s, Bald Eagle nests had completely disappeared from the Channel Islands, where there were previously two dozen. The culprit? DDT. The industrial strength pesticide, sprayed nearly everywhere in the world where mosquitoes were a problem, had side effects. Yes, a DDT scientist claimed that the chemical was perfectly safe, each year shocking the students in his classroom by eating a spoonful of the stuff. And, yes, like many baby boomers who camped in the late 1950s in state parks, I inhaled big gulps of the chokingly thick DDT fog that park staff sprayed through the campgrounds, and I’m still alive. So far.

Birds weren’t so lucky. DDT thinned their eggshells, especially the eggshells of birds higher on the food chain; when a Bald Eagle or a Peregrine Falcon or a Brown Pelican would sit on the eggs, the thin shells would crush under her weight. This was a problem across North America, but the Channel Islands had a special problem: they lay just offshore from a major DDT manufacturer. The Montrose Chemical Corporation had its DDT plant in the Los Angeles area, which EPA estimates dumped 1,700 tons of DDT into the sewer system and subsequently into the Pacific Ocean before the plant closed in 1983. Over the decades, that DDT, residing on the bottom sediments of the Continental Shelf, made it into the food chain, contaminating fish and the creatures that eat the fish–including the Bald Eagles, Brown Pelicans, and Peregrine Falcons that nested in the Channel Islands.

By sometime in the 1950s to 1960s, all the Bald Eagles were gone from the islands. Fish and small ducks breathed a sigh of relief and perhaps the sharks ate better than they used to, but those of us who loved our national bird were in shock. The Endangered Species Act, created during the Nixon administration, was a response to seeing such a rapid decline in some of America’s most charismatic creatures.

The late 1960s were a time of budding consciousness for the environmental movement. I was taking Introduction to Ecology 301 at the University of Michigan in 1969, and I remember coming into the classroom and hearing about the Santa Barbara oil spill that had just happened. An offshore oil well had blown out, allowing millions of gallons of oil to float atop the Santa Barbara Channel, killing thousands of seabirds and marine mammals. This sad event spurred the movement tremendously with the clear and present danger of careless drilling. When the spill occurred, oil-soaked birds and marine mammals were shown nightly on national news as they washed up on once-pristine California beaches, feathers saturated with black oil. It was a sight that many never forgot, and thousands of Channel Islands birds and marine mammals were affected. Volunteers worked tirelessly to clean feathers of birds coated with petrogoo–an effort that unified environmentalists and animal lovers in an emotional and physical struggle to reverse the damage. Tragic oil spills have occurred since then in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, and the terrible results have been similar. At least we now have protocols for attempting to clean up the mess, for which we can thank the Santa Barbara spill.

Meanwhile, island pigs were multiplying like rabbits (though the island had no rabbits). When conniving pigs escaped their fences, they took off squealing with the glee of freedom, heading into the mountains of Santa Cruz. In their happiness, they enjoyed sex in the wilderness, and made lots of little piglets to root around among rare plants, dig holes in old Indian camps, and generally make a mess of the island. This might sound cute enough, but the spectre of a 400 lb. boar surprising a hiker on a trail is enough to send a mental warning of what a big pig can do.

The little pigs rooting everywhere on Santa Cruz then attracted a predator, the magestic Golden Eagle, that had only occasionally visited the island in the past. When the Bald Eagles nested on Santa Cruz, they ruled the skies with shows of aerial strength, and kept away the Golden Eagles. But when the Bald Eagles disappeared, the Golden Eagles sensed a vacuum and moved in for the kill … of piglets. There was so much pork that the Golden Eagles decided to nest on Santa Cruz.

All would have been wonderful had the Golden Eagles eaten a strict diet of pork, but in eagle fashion they decided that the tiny Island Fox also made a delightful meal. As a result, the Island Fox population on Santa Cruz plummeted from about two thousand in 1994 to under a hundred some seven years later, and the very survival of the species was at stake. The National Park Service had a choice: they could let nature take its course, in which case an entire charismatic species would disappear; or they could take action to save the Island Fox.

Two Island Foxes greet each other affectionately

It was not only the survival of the Island Fox that was at stake: there were also Chumash archeological sites and a wealth of endemic plants–plants found nowhere else on earth–that were being absolutely hammered by the pigs and sheep. The National Park Service has a mandate to preserve the landscape and its wild creatures, so they had to come up with a comprehensive plan. This was to be done in coordination with The Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages well over half of Santa Cruz Island.

Nothing is ever easy these days, when so many interest groups and individuals believe that they truly represent nature, or wildlife, or common sense, or industry, or …

One of the first steps the National Park Service took was to remove 16 wild horses, or more properly, “horses gone wild,” from the island. Had the horses remained, they would have gone forth and multiplied, and added even more pressure on the island’s natural inhabitants. But, for every bureaucratic action, there is a reaction. The National Park Service was sued by the Foundation for Horses and Other Animals Inc., a group that wanted the horses to remain. After the group lost its initial court battle and subsequent appeal, the way was clear for the NPS to remove the horses. They did it in the face of last minute pressure from the local congresswoman, but all 16 horses were removed, alive and kicking, and placed in a mainland sanctuary.

Next, the 2,000 sheep on the island were removed and transported to the mainland. Sheep are not as charismatic as horses, so there was much less controversy about this removal.

Skull of a sheep that died on Santa Cruz Island; at one time there were 2,000 sheep grazing on the island

Pigs were another matter. The National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy decided that the pigs had to be killed rather than live-trapped. The now-wild pigs had diseases such as cholera and pseudorabies that meant they could not be safely transplanted to the mainland.

Dramatic clouds over the hills of Santa Cruz Island

The plan was to construct electric fences to contain the pigs, then shoot them from helicopters and use a defoliant to kill a favorite pig food, the invasive Fennel. A group sprang up to oppose pig removal, the Channel Islands Animal Protection Association (CHIAPA), and held several raucously emotional public meetings to discuss the proposal. A journalist for the student newspaper of the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported on the first meeting, quoting a spokesman of CHIAPA as saying “The pigs have been demonized and accused of imaginary crimes.” A colleague opined that “The Island Fox population was robust until The Nature Conservancy took over the island … the finger goes right to The Nature Conservancy for causing the near extinction of the Island Fox (this person claimed that the Golden Eagles were drawn to the island by rotting sheep carcasses when the sheep were removed). The latter spokeswoman also said that “This is literal warfare. They are defoliating the land so they can gun down the enemy.”

Despite the controversy, a company from New Zealand indeed executed the pigs–all 5,000+ of them–in 2005. That action meant that the island’s native plants and foxes had a better chance of surviving.

The next step was to relocate the Golden Eagles, in order to preserve the Island Foxes, whose numbers were now far less than 10% of what they were just a decade before. An elaborate plan was devised to live trap the eagles, then move them back to a distant place on the mainland. This effort went well, and over 40 Goldens were trapped and transplanted. They have not returned.

Ravens are part of the native fauna of the Channel Islands

At about the same time, ten pairs of the increasingly scarce Island Foxes were rounded up and moved to a captive breeding center, in order to try and give the fox population a jump start. Fortunately, it worked wonderfully, and in a few short years the fox population is back to its natural levels.

Island Foxes are tiny; only about a quarter of the size of their mainland ancestors, and about the size of a typical house cat

Meanwhile, Bald Eagles have been reintroduced to the islands and have started nesting again, as have the Peregrine Falcons that went through a captive breeding and reintroduction program starting in the late 1970s.

So, Santa Cruz has gone from an island with a dozen species in danger, to an island that is recovering nicely. On my trip to the island, I saw about two dozen Island Foxes in three days, as well as a Peregrine Falcon and some of the endangered plants that are returning from the brink of extinction. The slopes no longer have the denuded look that the sheep brought, and the diggings of pigs no longer threaten archaeological sites and native plants. Island Foxes no longer have to worry about death diving from the sky. All is well …

Greene’s Liveforever and several of its island relatives were negatively affected by the 5,000+ pigs running wild on the island

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island is far smaller than Santa Cruz Island, and the challenges have been different. There are no foxes on Anacapa, as it is too small to support a fox population. It does have major populations of nesting seabirds that have faced tremendous challenges.

Anacapa supports one of the two American breeding colonies of California Brown Pelicans, but DDT poisoning had the same effect on their eggshells as it had on Bald Eagles. In 1970, only ONE pelican chick hatched and survived in the entire colony. Recovery began soon after DDT was banned, and there are now about 4,600 pelican nests on West Anacapa–a remarkable recovery from the brink of extinction. There are still challenges: nighttime squid fishing disturbed the birds and led to some nest abandonment a decade or so ago, but now there is a buffer zone. Hikers are not allowed close to the colony.

View west from Inspiration Point along Anacapa Island and toward Santa Cruz Island

Another major challenge came to the islands earlier. About 150 years ago, a ship named after Mexican-American War hero Winfield Scott ran aground on the rocks just off Anacapa Island. Everyone aboard was eventually rescued, but the Black Rats on board decided to rescue themselves, and many swam successfully to shore, where they colonized the island and found a rich food source in the seabirds that called Anacapa home. They devoured eggs and chicks of such rare and threatened species as the Xantus’s Murrelet. They bred like rats, of course, and soon thousands of them were swarming over the tablelands and cliffs of this small island. A few years ago, the National Park Service mounted an all-out assault on the rats, completely eliminating the creepy creatures using poison, some of it spread on the cliff faces by helicopter. Of course, groups of animal rights advocates spoke up for the rights of rats, but the National Park Service did the right thing and eliminated the rats, thus saving untold native birds and a native island mouse from elimination.

Giant Coreopsis, one of the fascinating and unusual plants on Anacapa Island, was threatened by the encroachment of introduced, invasive plants

In the 1950s, the US Coast Guard staff on Anacapa decided to introduce Ice Plant to the island. This attractive plant is good for erosion control, and had already established a foothold along the central and southern California coasts. Unfortunately, the Ice Plant spread quickly over much of the island, displacing native plants in its march to utter domination. The National Park Service inherited the Ice Plant when it took over the island, and decided that the invader had to go. Volunteers and staff have tried various methods of eradication, including pulling it up and applying herbicides, and are finally winning the battle.

About a year ago, the National Park Service set up a greenhouse on Anacapa, and is growing native plants from seeds collected on the island. The goal is to jump start the revegetation of Anacapa with native plants. Based on what I saw, the newly growing natives are doing really well.

We are as Gods

Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogues of the 1960s and beyond were the Google of their day, but with a sustainable living emphasis. The eminently browsable pages skipped from resources for raising chickens to building a windmill to understanding deep ecology to printing on a small press. It lent itself to dreams, and to a feeling of responsibility toward Planet Earth.

I recall a statement by Stewart Brand–it may have been on the cover of one of the catalogues along with a photo of Earth from space taken by one of the Apollo missions–in which he said “We are as gods, we might as well get good at it.” Meaning, that we have such an overwhelming presence on Earth, that we had better learn how to responsibly guide the impact of people upon the natural systems we depend on. It is an obvious statement, yet extremely profound in its implication that we cannot continue soiling the nest, or we will all get sick.

Recently, Stewart Brand revisited and revised his classic statement to “We are as gods, and HAVE to get good at it.” Again, an obvious statement, but one that flies in the face of those who think we can drill our way to sustainability in an era when over seven billion of us demand and deserve better lifestyles and lifespans. How do we get to the point of sustaining all those souls without ruining the planet so it no longer can support us?

That brings me to back to Channel Islands National Park, where the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy are playing the role of being the good Gods of ecological restoration and sustainability–not an easy task and often a controversial one.

Arch Rock at the eastern point of Anacapa Island

As a naturalist, I have always loved wild creatures of every kind, with the certain exceptions of ticks and mosquitoes and some kinds of spiders. But, just as there are the good gods of restoration, there are the bad gods of invasion and elimination. Is it right that an accidental introduction of pigs threatened the very survival of the Island Fox? I think the clear answer is “NO!”  The National Park Service did what it had to do to protect the wild and natural inhabitants of these islands, rather than reserving them for rats and pigs.

I have witnessed the result of these restoration efforts, and it is good. We are indeed as Gods.

The National Park Service and its allies in conservation saved the Island Fox from extinction.

Further Reading and References:

Restoring Santa Cruz Island

Restoring Anacapa Island’s Seabird Habitat

Restoring Anacapa’s Native Vegetation

Pig Eradication Completed

Animal People News (point of view of animal rights advocates)

Yet More Killings

When the Killing’s Done (T.C. Boyle’s novel about the Channel Islands killing controversies)

National Geographic News reports on pig killing controversy

The Daily Nexus article about pig killing

Blog about Anacapa Island Restoration

EYE CANDY: The Natchez Trace Parkway

April 20, 2010

Redbud and zig-zag fence along Natchez Trace Parkway

Stretching 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, the Natchez Trace Parkway follows the path of a centuries-old foot trail. Moccasins and boots trod this path for centuries, and it later became one of our first national scenic parkways. In the depths of the Great Depression, Congress authorized the parkway as a public works project. The National Park Service later became the agency in charge of the road, and they’ve done a fine job of maintaining one of the most beautiful roads in America.

The Redbuds in this photo essay burnish the Tennessee portion of the parkway. Here the road curves gracefully through the hills, as if destined to be there. During my brief mid-April visit, spring was at its peak; emerging oak leaves mingled with the Redbuds and Flowering Dogwoods to create a lovely pastel landscape … that would be described as “eye candy” by those who think themselves too sophisticated to enjoy the splendors of nature. As for me, I never tire of such sights.

Redbud at the edge of the forest

Traditional split rail fences zig-zag along the parkway

Redbud and Flowering Dogwood intermingle in a haze of blossoms

Is anything more beautiful than a Redbud in spring?

Backlit by the morning sun

Redbud is in the pea family, and is inconspicuous the rest of the year

Redbud is my favorite flowering tree, in case you hadn’t guessed!

For more information about driving the Natchez Trace Parkway, start with the National Park Service’s website: http://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com. To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.


Shhhh … Don’t tell anyone about this leaked federal document!

April 11, 2010

Trembling Aspens aflame in the Bodie Hills, with the Sierra distant

February 2010 brought news of a leaked document in the Department of the Interior, in which it was revealed that 14 locations are under consideration as possible national monuments.  One of these is the Bodie Hills, a rolling landscape east of the Sierra Nevada in California, and a place that I photographed during several days in the fall of 2009.

Part of the Bodie Hills has been a wilderness study area for many years, but the idea of a national monument seems relatively new.  This is a vast, rolling landscape, covered with grasses and sagebrush that make it excellent habitat for Sage Grouse and Pronghorn Antelope.  Within the Bodie Hills sits the ghost town of Bodie, now a California State Park that was threatened with possible closure because of the state’s severe funding problems; the legislature came up with a temporary fix that rescued the town from closing in the 2009/2010 fiscal year, but beyond that it is under threat.

Bodie was a gold-mining town, once the second largest city in California.  Thar is still gold in them thar hills, and there is currently an active Cougar Gold Paramount Exploration Project that hopes to find more gold in the Bodie Hills.  They plan to drill, or are drilling (I’m not sure which), a series of test holes in the vicinity of the Paramount Mine.  There would then be the possibility of a large open pit cyanide heap-leach mine.  If the price of gold continues to rise, and if enough gold is found in the area, you can bet on it.  Though there would certainly be legal challenges.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers the Bodie Hills landscape surrounding the ghost town of Bodie.  If part or all of the Bodie Hills were made part of the proposed national monument, BLM would presumably administer the monument, though it is conceivable that responsibility would be transferred to the National Park Service, which would be my preference, because the national parks seem more likely to get consistent funding in times of tight budgets.*  Ideally the National Park Service would also take over administration of the ghost town of Bodie from the state, since the state is threatening closure and the subsequent deterioration of the ghost town itself.

Back to the leaked internal document:  other places on the list for possible national monument designation include beautiful locations in Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, California, and Washington (under the proposal, the San Juan Islands in my home state of Washington would be designated a national monument).  Several others, including Bristol Bay in Alaska (where our walrus adventure took place last summer), are on another short list, but are less likely.  The next step would be for the Interior Department to make a specific proposal to President Obama, who could then use the Antiquities Act to make the designation as a national monument.  All recent presidents have taken similar actions, most recently when President Bush designated three significant areas of the Pacific Ocean as national monuments.

The Bodie Hills stretch on for miles

We are reaching a point where most of the United States has been either conserved or developed, and I hope that the best areas that remain in limbo between conservation and development are tipped toward conservation.  The world is filling up fast, and we need these places.

*For example, the U.S. Forest Service administers the Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, but has always struggled for consistent funding.  In the last few years, they have shuttered a multi-million dollar visitor center–a gorgeous facility–that was less than 20 years old, because they lacked money to make necessary repairs.  I call that irresponsible, but it is hard to know who to blame for the fiasco.

Road to Bodie crossing the Bodie Hills

A hill honeycombed with gold mines just above the town of Bodie

Unsettled weather over the Bodie Hills and High Sierra

Bodie ghost town nestled in the Bodie Hills

Another view of Bodie, with the Bodie Hills beyond

Trembling Aspens in the Bodie Hills

For more information about this story, go to New West.  For the negative Fox News take on the initial proposal, go to Angers Some, and for information about the gold mine exploration proposal, go to BLM Cougar Gold. I wrote a previous blog entry about the Bodie ghost town; go to The Ghost of Bodie Past.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.  To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

YOSEMITE: X Marks the Spot

February 2, 2010

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Contrails over El Capitan..

Yosemite National Park is a place of American dreams and legends, where the most beautiful landscape in the land has inspired countless people to create art and preserve wild places.

I have a framed photograph in my home, purchased years ago by my parents in an antique shop, showing President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir on horseback, with Half Dome rising majestically in the distance.

John Muir (L) with President Theodore Roosevelt (R) riding an early road in Yosemite Valley, Half Dome rising in the distance

This photograph captures a significant moment in American conservation history, when Muir convinced Roosevelt to add Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the young Yosemite National Park.  That was 1903, when Muir and Roosevelt camped together in the Mariposa Grove, where they had heated conversations around the campfire–conversations that dramatically shaped the American conservation movement.

Roosevelt and Muir with an armed Secret Service detail (detail of the 1903 historic photo above, photographer unknown)

Roosevelt went on to create some of the iconic national parks in America, including Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde.  He also set aside many national monuments, several of which later became national parks, including Grand Canyon and Mt. Olympus (which is close to where I live).  He created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, which now administers 155 national forests.  He created the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903, a system that now includes 551 preserves across all 50 states.  With Roosevelt’s hearty love of the outdoors and his scientific mind, he was the right president at the right time to take action to conserve America’s endangered natural resources at a time when the frontier had just closed and the need for limits to logging and hunting and other activities had become crystal clear to those who love the land.

Our trip to Yosemite was brief by any standards.  We entered the park on an October morning, camped overnight, then left for the long drive home early the next afternoon.  But what a fine visit we had!

Under sunny skies, we drove through Tuolumne Meadows, stopping to see stunning granite domes and viewpoints.  Towering Sierra Red Firs and Jeffrey Pines cast shadows across the road; we stopped to hop from rock to rock across Yosemite Creek, not realizing that it would soon plunge over cliffs over 2,400′ into Yosemite Valley below.  On we drove, under contrails zooming for miles across the blue sky.  Sleepy, sleekly muscled climbers from France aired their sleeping bags in brilliant morning sunshine at Lembert Dome.

Autumn colors lit up spaces between the pines.  The clean and beautiful granite reminded me of Mt. Rushmore, where Theodore Roosevelt’s face looks powerfully out at the western landscape.  Yet Roosevelt wasn’t the only figure on Mt. Rushmore to figure prominently in Yosemite’s history.  In a break from fighting a war, Abraham Lincoln actually set aside Yosemite as a park in 1864.  His action deeded the land to the State of California; it was only later in the 19th century, when Yosemite was threatened by grazing and other concerns, that this great land became a national park.

On we drove, stopping for a long time to photograph the bare granite of Olmsted Point, named for the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who had a strong hand in designing how Yosemite National Park was to be managed.  Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture in America, designed Central Park in New York City, as well as park systems in Seattle, Portland,

The stark landscape of granite and pine of Olmsted Point

Boston, Chicago, and numerous other American cities.  From Olmsted Point, the mountains rolled on to the horizon.  The foreground of cracked granite, punctuated by boulders and bonsai conifers, made for some wonderful pictures against the vivid blue sky.  Once again in an American western national park, we observed that German tourists were more plentiful and willing to walk than the natives.

Driving on, we left our mark on the land by creating a tiny, happy snowman atop a lingering snowbank from the snow that fell a couple of days before.  We had been in Lee Vining at the time, hoping to drive across the Sierra to enter Yosemite National Park.  But a flashing sign on US 395 said that California Highway 120 was closed and that we couldn’t go over Tioga Pass.  That delayed our trip, and when we stopped at a US Forest Service information station, the attendant said that he didn’t know if the pass would reopen before the winter.  But it did, a day later.  The road over this 9,943′ pass was largely built in the 1930s, but even with today’s technology, snow keeps the road closed during a very long winter that can stretch in some years from sometime in October to sometime in July.

Upon entering the national park, we had asked the entrance station ranger where we could camp.  He said that Yosemite Valley was out of the question unless we had long-standing reservations, and instead suggested Hodgdon Meadow near Big Oak Flat.  We took his advice, got there in the afternoon, and set up camp beneath towering Sugar Pines, where we found several of the huge cones (they grow up to 26″ long!) of this species.

In camp we had to take all our food and cooler and cooking gear out of our car, and place it inside a national park-provided steel locker at the back of the campsite.  Bears have a long history in Yosemite, and they have grown more and more brazen about getting food from campers.  Lately, they have been breaking into cars–especially family minivans–by either peeling back the metal doors like a tin can, or by smashing a window and crawling inside.  Campers are warned to never store their food inside a car.  Backpackers have to

Black Bear in Yosemite Valley with an orange ear tag for identification

store their food in bearproof containers that they carry with them, because bears have learned to snip off ropes previously used for hanging food.  The National Park Service’s ongoing battle with bears is entertaining; visitors can see bear traps and signs everywhere. Later in the day, in Vosemite Valley, we saw a cinnamon-colored bear that sported a stylish orange ear tag, identifying the bear to the Big Brother rangers watching his habits.  Actually, the bear appeared at the same time that we smelled a delicious aroma of French fries cooking, which was either emanating from one of the valley’s nearby restaurants, or from a vehicle powered by biofuel from a fast food restaurant’s waste grease.  Either way, it attracted bears and hungry visitors.

French fries are a popular food in Yosemite Valley

But back to my narrative.  After leaving camp, we drove on a twisting mountain road toward The Valley.  Almost immediately, we noticed that the forest had been recently burned, and this huge scorched area continued for miles.  It

Aftermath of the Big Meadow Fire, a prescribed burn that escaped

turned out that this fire had just recently stopped smoldering.  The Big Meadow Fire, begun on August 26 as a 91 acre prescribed burn to enhance meadow habitat, escaped its enclosure and ran wild and free through the surrounding forest until it was recaptured on September 10.  During that time the hungry fire consumed 7,425 acres of pine forest, leaving much of the forest as dead as charcoal dust after a steak barbeque.  Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men … but really, all was not lost.  Fire is as natural to the California’s pine forests as bikinis are to its beaches.  The scorched pines will give way to chaparral, which will eventually give way to a pine forest, which will then burn.  That’s how this landscape cycles through time, and there’s not a whole lot that we humans can do to affect it, except to postpone the inevitable.

El Capitan in sunset glow reflecting on the Merced River

Into Yosemite Valley, that glorious place that looks like a magnificent painting of our idea of what American wilderness was like before the coming of white settlers.  Above the monolith El Capitan, which towers over the valley, two jet contrails made a big X, as if showing us that X marks the spot of the most beautiful place you’ll ever see.  Which might be the case, were it not for the contrails.  Actually, the contrails have been a problem over Yosemite all day; I think that the national park must be on the flight path for a lot of jets heading to and from San Francisco.  Under certain weather conditions, the vapor trails make long-lasting streaks across the sky.  It is a darn good thing that Ansel Adams did most of his work here before the advent of jet travel, or his iconic photographs of Half Dome and El Capitan would have white streaks marring those magnificent black skies he created in the darkroom.

Speaking of Ansel Adams:  if there was a Mt. Rushmore of nature photography, Ansel Adams’ bald pate would be carved of solid granite and would share the cliffs with Eliot Porter and Ernst Haas.  Adams’ black-and-white monumental works, printed in the darkroom, helped excite me about photography years ago, during my time as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.  At that time, the Sierra Club sold magnificent posters of wilderness areas captured in Adams’ stirring photographs.  When Adams died in the 1980s, I felt a strong sense of loss.  Adams lived in Yosemite Valley for a time, and had a studio in the valley that continues to this day under his name.  To honor the great photographer, there is an Ansel Adams Wilderness that we saw from a distance as we drove up the road to Tioga Pass.

Deeper into Yosemite Valley we drove, joining the line of other cars coming to see a place unspoiled by humans.  We drove past vast parking lots, past

The granite of Half Dome rises dramatically above Yosemite Valley

hundreds of dirty white tents known as “Housekeeping Camp,” where you can rent an unheated tent for a night for $109, linens extra.  On past the campgrounds, where campfire smoke fills the clean valley air.  Past the Ahwahnee Hotel, where wealthy visitors can enjoy an elegant experience for $525 per night in the high season.  On to Curry Village and Yosemite Village, with their attendant wilderness sprawl of shops and cabins and motel rooms and tents.  Past the colorful tents in the climbers camp.

By then I had taken scores of beautiful pictures despite the crowds.  For a last photograph, I joined a dozen other serious photographers at a bend in the Merced River, all of us taking the same beautiful picture of sunset light reflecting off El Capitan and into the river.  Stunning!  Then back to camp.

National Park Service map of Yosemite National Park

If it seems like I am being a bit hard on the messy human developments of Yosemite Valley, it is because I want it to be as beautifully wild as when Teddy Roosevelt accompanied John Muir on horseback through a still mostly wild valley.  That is just a dream, of course, and we will continue to get eroded riverbanks and problem bears and air pollution.  I had hoped that a 1997 flood, which wiped out campgrounds and buildings in the valley, would have been an opportunity to rethink development in the valley, but the subsequent changes were minor, as Park Service planners have to deal with long-entrenched and powerful political constituencies that want to maintain the status quo.  If it was up to me, I’d take a bulldozer to all the lodging and stores and attendant structures here, leaving just the access road.  Let people sleep and dine outside this sacred place.  But I won’t hold my breath waiting for that fantasy to come true …

Back in camp, we watched a Williamson’s Sapsucker working on a tall pine–the first time we had ever seen this species (and that’s a big thing for a birdwatcher!).

The next morning we packed up camp, then returned to the valley, stopping along the Merced River to photograph reflections of morning light on El

Autumn Black Cottonwood leaf on the Merced River

Capitan.  It was a lovely morning, with mist rising off quiet stretches of the stream.  Morning is a wonderful time in a national park, as campers tend to rise late and quiet is preserved until mid-morning.

Our schedule required us to leave Yosemite early, but we still wanted to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is located several dozen miles away.  We stopped along the way for a last look at Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, where a big white tour bus unloaded its passengers.  Everyone walked to the edge of the viewpoint and was stunned by the view, which takes in the valley, with El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and Half Dome, plus several waterfalls.  It is among the most beautiful viewpoints anywhere, and it has been recently renovated to enhance the experience.  Ansel Adams’ magnificent “Clearing Winter Storm” was taken from this point.

Upon reaching Mariposa Grove, we ate a quick lunch, then walked up the path.  The park kiosk was out of brochures in English, but there were brochures available in a rainbow of languages.  Alas, we are language-challenged, except for the language of nature.

The Mariposa Grove was just as pretty as when Roosevelt and Muir camped there just over a hundred years ago.  Biologists have since learned that trampling by too many humans damages the shallow roots of these immense trees, so people are now confined to the asphalt trails.  No more joining hands with several dozen other people to circle a tree for a photo.  Biologists also realized that Giant Sequoias need fire in order to maintain a Sequoia grove; in fact, a prescribed burn had taken place in this grove earlier in the year, so there were fire-blackened stretches of forest floor and charred lower trunks.  We were pleased to see that young Sequoias were growing among the immense trunks of their ancestors, so the forest appears healthy.

After our walk in the sacred grove, we climbed into our car and began the long drive home, immensely rejuvenated by our all-too-brief visit with the most beautiful place in America.

Stoneman Bridge, an example of the rustic park architecture in Yosemite

Giant Sequoias in the Mariposa Grove

An impressionistic view of El Capitan reflected in the Merced River

Autumn oak leaves in the Mariposa Grove

Black Cottonwood leaf in the Merced River

Yosemite Valley on a crisp autumn morning

El Capitan, monumental in morning light

Giant Sequoias

Grove of California Red Firs along the Tioga Pass road

I mentioned the work of three photographers who were pioneers in the area of nature photography.  To see more of their work, go to:

http://www.cartermuseum.org/collections/porter/collection.php?sec=comp

http://www.anseladams.com/

http://www.ernsthaas.com/

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Sacred Ground: The Flight 93 National Memorial

April 16, 2009

2007_pa_0113Mennonite women viewing the folk art angels commemorating the souls who died in the Flight 93 crash. The actual crash site is in the far distance on the right in this scene. You might be able to see the distant flag.

 

Rare shared moments in our lives are seared into our brains.  On September 11, 2001, I awoke on a warm late summer morning to the voice of Carl Kasell on NPR, saying there were reports that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York.  Almost immediately came reports of a second plane hitting the other tower, and all hell broke loose.  Our lives were never to be quite the same again. 

Six years on, I was in Washington D.C. on September 11.  Leaving town, I drove north into Pennsylvania toward Pittsburgh; somewhere along the  road, it struck me that I must be following roughly the path that the fourth plane hijacked by the terrorists would have taken toward Washington D.C., only in reverse. I stopped, looked at a map, and determined that I could stop for a day at the field where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground, ending the lives of all aboard.

I drove through the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside that day, enjoying the touches of autumn, covered bridges, pastoral farms, and small towns that have remained much the same for decades. Near Shanksville, I followed signs to the Flight 93 site.  When I arrived, there were a few scattered cars and Harleys, as well as a tour bus filled with Mennonite men and women on an outing.  The place was quiet, except for the American flags flapping in the brisk and chill wind.

2007_pa_0118Mennonite ladies pause to view a collage of heartfelt tributes to the heroic passengers and crew of Flight 93.

Every American alive on 9/11 knows the stories of that day, but it was with a sense of awe, wonder, and sorrow that I relived the tragedy and heroism of that day in this sacred place.  Flight 93 was heading for San Francisco from Newark.  It got a late start, but the flight looked smooth on this beautiful day for the seven members of the flight crew and 37 passengers. Over Ohio, 2007_pa_0094the four hijackers made their move in the first class cabin.  They incapacitated the pilots, took control of the plane, and turned back toward Washington D.C.  By this time the passengers, talking on cell phones to family and friends, learned that three planes had already hit their targets and their plane was to be the fourth.  They probably didn’t know it, but the target was to be the White House or the Capitol Building.

From their cell phone conversations, we know that the passengers voted to try and retake the plane.  Todd Beamer has become the most famous of a group of men who hatched a plan and launched a counterattack.  The black box recording of the cockpit provided evidence that the counterattack was effective in thwarting the plans of Al Qaeda; the terrorist pilot ended up diving the plane straight into a reclaimed strip mine field at over 500 miles per hour.  2007_pa_0067Everyone died instantly.  You can review the events of the flight at http://www.nps.gov/flni

We know there were heroes that day, and when I stood on that sacred ground I could feel that heroism in my very bones.  Spirits inhabit the place and every visitor is quiet and reverential.  Few places evoke so many quiet tears.

Visiting Americans have left thousands of remembrances: crosses, flags, notes of admiration, motorcycle club patches,firefighter memorabilia, and so many other items are collected on a memorial wall.  Volunteers from the area provide heartfelt interpretation of the events of that day.

2007_pa_0127A reverential biker views the names of the passengers and crew.

Visitors are not allowed on the actual crash site; that is reserved for family members of the crew and passengers.  The crash site is visible from the hill where the memorial is located.  As of this 2009 writing, there is a temporary memorial; soon there will be a permanent memorial building and exhibits run by the National Park Service.  The website I linked to above has extensive information and graphics concerning the design of the permanent memorial, which will be a reverential reminder of the events of the fateful day.  In addition, there is a website where you can learn about donating to the memorial, and get another narrative of the events of the day.  Go to: http://www.honorflight93.org/

2007_pa_0107Items donated by visitors decorate the 40′ tribute wall.

I came away with a sense of pride that Americans had the courage to take the course of events into their own hands that day.  It is among our proudest moments as a nation.

 

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs below to see them in a larger size, with captions.

 

LEWIS AND CLARK: Our Maya Lin Weekend

February 7, 2009

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When the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the continent in the years 1804 to 1806, they initiated a new adventure for the young American country that would knit together the coasts and Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, giving the nation a vast new identity.  Migration and settlement and displacement and wars and environmental changes on a vast scale were soon to follow.  Two centuries have now passed, and there has been a quiet reassessment of the changes that have occurred during that time.  The bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s big adventure has now come and gone, leaving a series of new “big box” interpretive centers in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Montana as remnants of the historical celebration that cross-country travellers can visit.  My understanding is that the Lewis and Clark tourism boom never occurred on the scale that planners hoped, so these expensive centers have not been particularly successful.

Along the west end of the Columbia River, a smaller project took hold among Native American tribes and civic groups of the region.  They had the insight in 2000 to enlist Maya Lin, a great American artist and architect, to reimagine a thoughtful celebration of Lewis and Clark’s visit to what would become Oregon and Washington. 2008_or_1592 Maya Lin is best known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.; she created the concept for that emotionally resonant granite wall when she was a 21-year-old Yale undergraduate.  Since then she has designed a variety of memorials and parks. Maya Lin is also a creative artist.  I saw a wonderful installation and exhibit of her work at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, in which she abstractly created maps using old books and wires and 2x4s.  You can see graphics of this exhibit at this link: Systematic Landscapes.  It was at this exhibit that I first saw her plans for The Confluence Project, and was determined to see the finished installations when I could.

In November 2008 my wife Karen and I took a Maya Lin–themed weekend trip to see the first three completed sites of the Confluence Project.  These are small and quiet installations,with nothing on the scale of the Vietnam Memorial.  But they are effective at making you think about the changes to the landscape that have occurred since Lewis and Clark made their monumental journey.

First, we visited the Sandy River Delta, where Maya Lin’s concept of a bird blind has nearly been completed.  We walked a 1.2 mile trail on U.S. Forest Service land to a site near the confluence of the Columbia and Sandy Rivers, where the blind has been built in a riverfront forest.  2008_or_1614Most of the people on the trail were out simply walking their dogs (which got me to thinking that most Americans would get no exercise at all if they didn’t have dogs!).  A gentle ramp leads up to the small cantilevered blind, where we looked out through Black Locust slats to the forest beyond. This is nominally a bird blind, but in reality it is a memorial to the wildlife that Lewis and Clark wrote about in their journals, along with the date they first observed each species and the modern name for that creature.  For example, on August 20, 1805, they observed a Moonax.  What is a Moonax?  I had no idea, but it turned out that the Moonax is now known as a Yellow-bellied Marmot. The Black Locust wood used in construction of the blind is an alien to the region planted by early settlers, but it is wonderfully weather-resistant and is sustainable, so it was a good choice for construction. My only wish was that we were visiting in spring and we could observe colorful warblers in the trees beyond the blind.

Late in the day, we drove to our second Maya Lin location.  The Vancouver Land Bridge is in Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, located in Vancouver, Washington and run by the National Park Service. The bridge is a pedestrian bridge over Washington Highway 14,

2008_wa_1627

connecting the historic fort with the Columbia River. This site has a long history: it was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, a campsite for Lewis and Clark, and an army fort for approximately a century. The bridge, designed by Seattle architect Johnpaul Jones, curves gracefully over the highway, and has several kiosks that interpret the history and native peoples of this confluence of the Columbia River and the Klickitat Trail. 2008_wa_1652I especially liked the artwork along the bridge. At the Columbia River end of the structure, there is a Welcome Gate designed by Native American artist Lillian Pitt. The gate consists of two crossed wooden canoe paddles, each featuring a stylized cast glass face of a woman from the Chinook Tribe. It is simply an elegant piece! There are also some wonderful metal interpretations of petroglyphs from the Columbia River corridor.  Maya Lin served as a consultant for this project.

It was getting dark, so we left Fort Vancouver and headed west along the Columbia, finally reaching our third destination, Cape Disappointment State Park, in the evening.  We set up camp in a campground filled with about 120 Rvs and travel trailers on this November night; in fact, virtually every campsite was full and we had the only tent.  Through the tent walls we listened to the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean; the advantage of a tent is that we are more closely linked to the natural world than if we were in a hard-sided vehicle. The downside is that bears might eat us!

Cape Disappointment was named by an English seagoing captain, John Meares, who somehow couldn’t find the mouth of the Columbia River and was disappointed by his failure.

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It is miles wide here–how could he possibly have missed it?  When Lewis and Clark came to Cape Disappointment, Indians told them of ship captains who had wooden legs and eye patches. They sound just like the pirates in books of my youth!

The next morning we explored the state park, visiting several Maya Lin–designed sites.  First, we took a boardwalk to Waikiki Beach, a beautiful beach with a morning 2008_wa_1357mist hanging over the Pacific Ocean seascape and salt spray fragrance in the air.  The boardwalk itself is inscribed with places and dates from Lewis and Clark’s journals, and it represents the place where the Corps of Discovery reached its Pacific destination.  Next, we walked along a pathway studded with fragments of oyster shells to a cedar grove.  Here there are five driftwood logs sunk into the ground, each inlaid with a wide metal strip.  The logs surround an old cedar stump.  It is a place for contemplation of the forest and of the repeated refrain along the path from the Chinook Tribe praise song “Teach us, and show us the way.”  2008_wa_1344Finally, we visited a trail and boat ramp along Baker Bay, where there is an immense column of basalt that has been sculpted into a fish-cleaning station.  This Maya Lin–designed feature goes beyond its obvious functionality; inscribed on its surface is a Chinook origin legend that celebrates their interdependence with Columbia River salmon.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cape Disappointment, but wish that Washington State Parks would provide better signs to these Confluence Project features.  I talked to one woman who said she had wandered around for a whole day and couldn’t find the trail (which, by the way, she was standing on when I pointed out its location to her).  Of course, she could have asked at the park office.

Our mission to see and learn from the Maya Lin sites was successful; we enjoyed all three sites and are eager to see the remaining four as they are completed in coming years. For more information about the outstanding Confluence Project go to the website for the Confluence Project.

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs in the gallery below for versions with captions.