Archive for the ‘Portland’ Tag

Bridges for People   17 comments

A big Douglas fir fell across Panther Creek, Washington, living on as a bridge.

This themed post is for the WPC challenge – Bridges.  Even though the images here are of bridges made for our feet or the bicycles we ride to pass over them, I was inspired to post this because of one simple, obvious fact of life today.  We are too separate as a people.  Perhaps technology is partly to blame.  Perhaps it is the nature of our modern society or simply our huge numbers.  Whatever the underlying cause, something has made us distrust each other.  We are in desperate need of reconnection.

Being estranged from each other, as so many of us seem to be, is like being estranged from our families.  It is self-destructive.  It prevents us from creating solutions to the problems we face.  It creates an unhappiness that comes from isolation.  We need bridges to bring us back together, back into the family of humanity.

A bridge for strollers in one of Portland, Oregon’s many parks.

The so-called leaders we choose (and who are chosen for us) are too self-serving to avoid the temptation to stoke the separateness that creates distrust, tribalism and fear.  They are somehow misled into believing that the ends justifies the means, that appealing in vanity to dark emotions in order to gain or retain positions of power, is somehow worthwhile.

Of course the ends, however positively they’re imagined, are never justified by such means.  There is nothing positive that such men (they’re mostly men) can do with that power.  They cannot be true leaders or create a legacy that will be admired by future generations.  They can only make things worse.

A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge crosses a footbridge in a verdant canyon.

A covered bridge originally built for horse-drawn wagons: historic Bollinger Mill, Missouri.

But there are many people out there, young and old, who want to rebuild the bridges that have been dismantled.  And many more who are not aware that helping in this effort is really what they want to do.  It would make their lives worthwhile.  If we want to make not just America but the world great again we must not only rebuild the bridges, we must leave the “us vs. them” mentality in the past.  We must invite “them” to walk over the bridge we build and meet “us” in the middle.

Will you join in and begin to build bridges?  Enjoy the images and have a great week!

A huge downed redwood tree acts as a bridge, allowing easy passage above the tangled undergrowth of Redwood National Park, California.

A spiral bike bridge along Portland’s Willamette River.

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Single Image Sunday: Portland Cityscape   2 comments

This Sunday I’ll give a nod to my city, which is a nice one.  Most pictures of Portland that you see will have been taken from the east bank of the Willamette River.  This is a more unusual take, from the north on the upper deck of the Fremont Bridge.  I stopped very briefly on the left shoulder.  Luckily the light was beautiful and the traffic was light (it was late afternoon on Sunday).  The green field you see in the foreground was recently created from ugly industrial land.  I could have brightened the shadows a bit; the contrast is pretty high in this scene.  But I think I like it with the shadows and contrast, to further separate the buildings, which look fairly crowded from this perspective.

The view of the northwest side of Portland, Oregon's skyline is not one you see often.

This view of the north side of Portland’s skyline is not one you see often.

Hope your weekend is going well.  If you happen to have an interest in this image (which is copyrighted and not available for download without my permission), just click on it.  Then click “Purchase Options” to go to pricing options on the high-res. version.  It won’t be added to your cart until you choose one of the options.  If you want it framed, or have any other special request, please contact me.  Thanks for looking.

Spring in the Pacific Northwest – Part II   5 comments

This is an impressive waterfall in Washington's southern Cascade Range, near Mount St. Helens.  Here you see it in full-on spring flood.

This is an impressive waterfall in Washington’s southern Cascade Range, near Mount St. Helens. Here you see it in full-on spring flood.

One Soggy Rose.

One Soggy Rose.

This is the second of two parts on what regions to visit and when in the Pacific Northwest.  The recommendations are particularly relevant for nature and landscape photographers, but anyone who plans to visit during spring or early summer will find it useful.  Since I’m going to just jump in where I left off, it’s best to check out Part I first.

POPULATED AREAS

Speaking of spring flowers (I was actually speaking of them in the 1st part!), let’s not forget the gardens and cultivated areas through the western valleys and cities of the Pacific Northwest.  The tulips bloom starting in April and there are several farms that welcome visitors.  The area around Woodburn is very popular; so popular with photogs. in fact, that I’ve stubbornly avoided taking one picture there!  I do love tulips, and there are plenty around town to photograph.  The roses for which Portland is famous bloom about the time of the city’s signature event, Rose Festival (go figure!).  This is late May into June.  A visit to Portland’s Rose Garden during a cloudy day right after rainfall can yield amazing flower pictures.

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At Portland's Rose Garden, spring showers linger into the season of bloom.

At Portland’s Rose Garden, spring showers linger into the season of bloom.

For people pictures, head down to the waterfront for the Rose Festival itself, or to one of the street fairs such as Last Thursday (Alberta Street, last Thursday of every month, May – October).  Or just go to one of our “hip” neighborhoods and hang out.  There is always something going on in this town.

The cherry blossoms and unsettled weather go along with Spring in Portland, Oregon.

The cherry blossoms and unsettled weather go along with Spring in Portland, Oregon.

Portland's Rose Festival is a great place to stroll around, enjoying the perfect weather and comfort food.

Portland’s Rose Festival is a great place to stroll around, enjoying the perfect weather and comfort food.

The street fair in Portland known as Last Thursday attracts thousands of artists, musicians and spectators.

The street fair in Portland known as Last Thursday attracts thousands of artists, musicians and spectators.

THE COAST

At some point in springtime, hopefully during the kind of off and on weather that the season is known for around here, you’ll want to visit the coast.  The greening up does not skip this part of Oregon, and spring storms can bring great wave action as well.  Extra-low tides are great for exploring (and photographing) the fascinating sea life in tidal pools.  The Oregon Coast is simply one of those places you should try your level best to see at some point.

Big waves pound the tilted layers of an ancient delta at Cape Arago on the central Oregon Coast.

Big waves pound the tilted layers of an ancient delta at Cape Arago on the central Oregon Coast.

And while you’re at it do the northern California coast and/or the Olympic Coast in Washington.  These are just as beautiful as Oregon, since it’s really just a continuation.  Have to admit I’m partial to our coast though.  For one thing, you’ll see no private property signs or fences blocking access to a beach in Oregon.  That would be against the law, since every bit of coast up to high-tide line is public property.  For another, the whole coast is beautiful, from one end to the other.  It’s one long continuous stretch of pretty little towns, capes and sea stacks.  The Olympic Coast is wilder though, being in a National Park.

The sun goes down as wading birds forage for tiny crustaceans along the northern California coast where a creek enters the ocean.

The sun goes down as wading birds forage for tiny crustaceans along the northern California coast where a creek enters the ocean.

Spring used to not be my favorite season around these parts.  I still don’t really like how long it can be. Enough already!  But with the flowers and generally good weather conditions for photography, with the lush green forest and filled-to-the-brim waterfalls, with all the days conducive to rainbows, I’ve come around to liking this season..a lot.  There must be some reason I tend to stick around the Northwest during this time of year.

A small barn in rural western Oregon, at day's end on a typical spring showery day.

A small barn in rural western Oregon, at day’s end on a typical spring showery day.

A perfectly symmetrical daisy blooms in Portland, Oregon.

A perfectly symmetrical daisy blooms in Portland, Oregon.

Of course we have beautiful (but much shorter) autumns.  And summer is filled with near-perfect days and breezy nights (generally too clear for a photographer’s liking though).  Come November now, I’ll be itching to get out of Dodge.  But spring and early summer are really when the Pacific Northwest shines.  The only problem?  There is much too much to do, and with the year’s longest days to do it in.  Spring is also the time to kayak and raft the whitewater on the smaller, undammed rivers.  It’s the time to climb (and ski down) the snow-clad volcanoes.  It’s time to join in the fun of outdoor festivals and outings.  It’s a time when you wonder if sleep really is overrated.

Thanks for looking!

A spring storm clears at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon coast just in time for sunset.

A spring storm clears at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon coast just in time for sunset.

A Walk on Portland’s Waterfront   4 comments

The Willamette River flows through Portland, Oregon, as viewed from atop the Broadway Bridge.

The Willamette River flows through Portland, Oregon, as viewed from atop the Broadway Bridge.

Regular readers of this blog might wonder why on earth I would be hanging around so close to home for this long.  After all, most of the posts on this blog have been made from the road, either around the American West or in some of the world’s other beautiful places.  I am currently recovering from broken ribs.  I was thrown from a horse, and when I landed there wasn’t much doubt; the cracking sound was quite obvious!  So I’m trying to avoid cabin fever and getting out to shoot (in a mellow way) when the pain isn’t too bad.

Portland's downtown area nestles in behind the trees and grass of Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Portland’s downtown area nestles in behind the trees and grass of Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

This post will continue the occasional series on Stumptown’s highlights (it’s a cute nickname, don’t you think?).  I recently posted on some of our parks, and also on using urban photography as a way to shake things up .  In this post, I want to make a simple recommendation for any visit to P-town:  simply go down to the east bank of the Willamette River, just across from downtown.  Park somewhere close to that river, and then take a walk for views of the city.

A spiral bike ramp allows bicyclists traveling on the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland, Oregon to access one of the many bridges over the Willamette River.

A spiral bike ramp allows bicyclists traveling on the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland, Oregon to access one of the many bridges over the Willamette River.

You can park near or even at OMSI, the science museum on SE Water Ave. not far from the Hawthorne Bridge.  If you park at the museum, technically you should visit or else you could be towed.  Leaving time for a visit to OMSI is a great idea (I recommend the submarine), but if you don’t have enough time, just park near the museum to the north.  Then walk towards the river until you run into a pathway called the Eastbank Esplanade.  You can stroll north along this pathway and cross over to Tom McCall Waterfront Park (and downtown proper) on one of the several bridges along the way.

The setting sun in Portland, Oregon creates interesting interplay of shadow and light.

The setting sun in Portland, Oregon creates interesting interplay of shadow and light.

If you’re after photographs, shooting over to the city from the Esplanade is ever popular.  But getting up on one of the bridges will give you a multitude of other viewpoints.  My two favorite photos in this post, the Convention Center (below) and the picture immediately above, were both taken from atop bridges.  There are plenty of options, so just explore.  Using Waterfront Park on the west side, it is easy to do loops of varying lengths.  Just cross a bridge on the way to shorten the loop, or walk all the way down to the Steele Bridge to cross.

The twin glass towers of Portland's convention center stand against a deep dusk sky.

The twin glass towers of Portland’s convention center stand against a deep dusk sky.

Don’t expect foodcarts or other such options along the way, that is unless there is a festival of some kind going on in Waterfront Park.  This is a bicycling/walking/running path and is kept deliberately uncluttered so as to allow folks to stroll and enjoy the views of the city.  If you get thirsty or hungry, just strike “inland” away from the river and in a few blocks you should find something.

The Convention Center towers are in the background as I focus on the cherry blossoms on the cusp of nightfall.

The Convention Center towers are in the background as I focus on the cherry blossoms on the cusp of nightfall.

I hope you enjoy the pictures, and that you’ll get a chance to visit Portland soon to see for yourself.  And if you’ve already been, come back soon!  It really is a nice city, very walkable and in the right light quite pretty with its bridges and riverfront.  If you’re interested in purchasing  prints or high-res. downloads of any of the images, simply click on them.  When you get to an image you need to click “add image to cart”, then you’ll have a tabbed list of prices.  The images are copyrighted, and so aren’t available for free download, sorry.  Thanks for your interest, and thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for a more nature-oriented post next time.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk.

Friday Foto Talk: Cross-Training   10 comments

Sunset is a peaceful time to boat on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon.

Sunset is a peaceful time to boat on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon.

This Friday it’s all about cross-training.  No, not that kind.  We’re not going to bust out the sneakers and lift weights, run, swim and bike all before breakfast!  I’m applying this concept to photography.  The point I’m making here is this: whatever types of subject you are primarily interested in, there is much to be gained from going into a different environment to capture images from time to time.  Here I will use the example of landscape/nature vs. urban/street photography.

A view from the red Broadway Bridge in Portland, Oregon.  This required some real creative positioning to get the composition just right.

A view from the red Broadway Bridge in Portland, Oregon. This required some real creative positioning to get the composition just right.

Since I am primarily a landscape/nature photographer, it is a stretch for me to go into the city with my camera.  But as with many things, once I am there I lose myself in the moment.  For me, one of the bigger challenges in the urban environment is finding compositions without too much clutter.  I often need longer focal lengths on cityscapes than in landscapes for precisely this reason.

For example, there always seems to be annoying wires to deal with.  I’ve never found a picture in which wires add anything.  They only take away.  I wish that when Edison lighted New York City after inventing the light bulb, he would have pushed for burying utilities.  If they would have done that early on, it would have been much cheaper.  Now, with all the development, it’s nearly impossible to do so at a reasonable cost.

The cherry blossoms along Portland, Oregon's waterfront are a nice place for a stroll on an evening in springtime.

The cherry blossoms along Portland, Oregon’s waterfront are a nice place for a stroll on an evening in springtime.

Reducing the number of elements in your compositions is one of the many things the two kinds of photography have in common.  And moving into the environment with which you are less comfortable will force you to become better in this regard.  Finding more ways to simplify your compositions is but one example of how this kind of cross-training can benefit your photography.  I really feel that landscapes and cityscapes share much in common.  But at the same time they are dissimilar enough so as to make crossing over a useful yet fairly painless exercise.

A large warehouse, now in disuse, shows off its huge textured wall at Portland, Oregon's old rail station.

A large warehouse, now in disuse, shows off its huge textured wall at Portland, Oregon’s old rail station.

In both types of photography, you will be getting a variety of shots, from wide overviews to the smallest details.  And yet it will be a challenge to find leading lines, strong subjects, and dramatic backgrounds in the environment you are least familiar with.  A bonus for me is that living things are much easier to find in the city than in nature.  The kind of diversity you find among living things in cities is different than in nature.  And the approach you use to put the creatures at ease is quite different as well.  Animals are easier in some ways, in that they never ever ask for money and are never unhappy with their looks.  But in both cases, with people or with animals, once you have earned their trust, you’re in!

The Willamette River flows past Portland's port area with Mount Hood standing in the background.

The Willamette River flows past Portland’s waterfront with Mount Hood standing in the background.

Once the sun has set and you enter the realm of night photography, the city offers some unique challenges, not the least of which is the mixed lighting present.  But at blue hour, when the sky attains that deep purplish-blue color, and the lights have come on, cityscapes can truly be magical.  In the natural world, you are hard-pressed to include much of the foreground during blue hour, unless you have recognizable silhouettes or are next to water.  In the city, you can include as much foreground as you want since it is almost always well lighted.  Once the sky goes black, you need to minimize the sky in the city.  In nature, this is the time to go for the stars!

Deep shadows during the pretty but dimmer light of dusk presents a challenge for urban photography.

Deep shadows during the pretty but dimmer light of dusk present a challenge for urban photography.

This is just one example of photographic cross-training.  You can probably think of others.  Go ahead and include them in your comments below.  It is a great way to avoid the dreaded photography rut, of course; that’s the obvious benefit.  But it will also allow you to overcome challenges in a manner different from what you are used to.  Thus it will give you more tools to work with, both in and out of your favorite photographic environment.  I really think cross-training can greatly benefit the images you capture of your favorite subjects.  And as a bonus it will help to diversify your portfolio.

Downtown Portland, as viewed from the Fremont Bridge.  Not many drivers risk a stop here, so you can be sure this viewpoint is not over-photographed.

Downtown Portland, as viewed from the Fremont Bridge. Not many drivers risk a stop here, so you can be sure this viewpoint is not over-photographed.

Remember to click on any images you’re interested in to go to a larger version.  Then click “add to cart” to see price options.  It won’t be added to your cart with this first click; you need to confirm after seeing the prices.  Thanks for not downloading these too-small versions.  They are copyrighted and require my permission to use.  Please contact me if you have any questions or special requests, for instance if you wish to inquire about framed and signed pieces.

The skyscraper in Portland informally dubbed "Big Pink" reflects a technicolor sunset.  Reflective buildings often take the place of water in landscape photography.

The skyscraper in Portland informally dubbed “Big Pink” reflects a technicolor sunset. Reflective buildings often take the place of water in landscape photography.

Portland’s Parks   5 comments

Sprintime at the Waterfront I

Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland is decorated with blooming cherry blossoms in springtime.

Portland, Oregon where I live has a great system of city parks.  It is the envy of many cities, and contributes greatly to the perception of this city as one of the country’s most livable.  This is the first of several blog posts featuring the parks and natural areas (what we call green spaces).  Here are a few that are featured here:

In Portland, Oregon, cherry blossoms and unsettled weather go together in early springtime.

In Portland, Oregon, cherry blossoms and unsettled weather go together in early springtime.

      • Tom McCall Waterfront Park (above images):  This park stretches along the west bank of the Willamette River as it flows through downtown.  It is a favorite for joggers and walkers, frisbee-players and picnickers.  It hosts numerous festivals, including the popular Blues Festival, which takes place in July.  In early spring, the cherry blossoms burst into bloom along the park’s northern section.  The park was saved years ago when a critical decision was made by city leaders.  Interstate 5, the major north-south highway that runs through town, was routed over the east bank of the river, preserving the sunshine and open feel of the city’s so-called “front porch”.
Westmoreland Park features a duck pond surrounded by a pathway for strolling.

Westmoreland Park features a duck pond surrounded by a pathway for strolling.

      • Westmoreland Park (images above and below):  Situated between two of Portland’s best neighborhoods – Sellwood and Eastmoreland – this park is centered around a duck pond on its north end and a regulation-sized baseball mini-stadium on the south end.  In between lies huge swaths of grassy fields, much of that taken up by soccer and softball fields.  There are also tennis courts, an outdoor basketball court (fancy because of a remodel funded by Nike) and a playground.  I lived near this park for years, so it’s a favorite.
Westmoreland Park's north end has nice pathways for strolling.

Westmoreland Park’s north end has nice pathways for strolling.

      • Rocky Butte (below):  This is one of several parks perched on top of an extinct volcano.  It lies in northeast Portland, with a stunning view of Mount Hood and the western entrance to the Columbia River Gorge.  You can also see quite far into Washington state.  It has an interesting structure on top.  Stone walls with attractive lanterns surround a nice grassy area.  I come here for photography often, as it is very close to my house.  The bottom image shows that it is also a favorite place for couples to do what couples always do when they find themselves at a scenic viewpoint at sunset.
A woman finishes her run at sunset by mounting the steps to the top of Rocky Butte in Portland.

A woman finishes her run at sunset by mounting the steps to the top of Rocky Butte in Portland.

      • Oak’s Bottom (bottom images):  Lying just south of downtown along the Willamette River, Oak’s Bottom is a natural green space.  This is Portland speak for a different sort of city park.  It is managed for nature just as much as it is for humans.  There are trails through the area, which is part forest and part wetland.  Birds and small mammals populate live here.  This park, near Sellwood where I lived for years, was where I first got into trail running.
The view over Oak's Bottom toward downtown Portland, Oregon.

The view over Oak’s Bottom toward downtown Portland, Oregon.

I hope you enjoyed this short tour of a few of Portland’s parks.  There are plenty more in the city, and I’ll sprinkle in a post now and again featuring more of our beloved green spaces.  Remember the pictures here are copyrighted and illegal to download without permission from me.  These versions are too small for use anyway.

Please contact me with any questions.  You can click on any of the images to be taken to a place where purchase (either as download or as print/product) is easy.  Just click “add to cart” and you will be given tabs to select for prices on prints, downloads, etc.  Then you will confirm whether or not you wish to add to cart.

Oak's Bottom is a natural area that features a beautiful wetland along the Willamette River just south of downtown Portland, Oregon.

Oak’s Bottom is a natural area that features a beautiful wetland along the Willamette River just south of downtown Portland, Oregon.

Bridges   6 comments

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk.

The theme of the post is bridges, as inspired by Ailsa’s blog.  Check that out for many more bridge posts and pictures.  I live in a city with the nickname (among others) of Bridgetown: Portland, Oregon.  Most bridges span the Willamette River as it runs through the center of town.  But a couple cross the much larger Columbia  just north of town heading into Vancouver, Washington.

The view south from central eastside Portland takes in the Hawthorne and Ross Island Bridges.

The view south from central eastside Portland takes in the Hawthorne and Marquam Bridges.

The Morrison Bridge in Portland, Oregon opens for a pleasure boat.

The Morrison Bridge in Portland, Oregon opens for a pleasure boat.

When I go hiking out in the nearby Columbia River Gorge, there is a very interesting bridge I often cross in order to access trails on the Washington side of the river.  This is called Bridge of the Gods, named after the American Indian legend that tells of a natural span across the river at this point in ancient times.  It’s fascinating that geologists have, at this precise point along the river, determined that a landslide hundreds of years ago may have temporarily dammed the river.  In fact, if you climb up and view the area from above, you can see the remnants of this old landslide as plain as day.

The Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington.

The Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington.

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1, the Pacific Coastal Highway.  The Bixby Bridge is near Big Sur.

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1, the Pacific Coastal Highway. The Bixby Bridge is near Big Sur.

Along with scenic bridges such as those along the Pacific coast (such as the Bixby Bridge in California above), my travels have taken me across some great examples of foot bridges.  Take the suspension bridges along the trekking routes in the Himalayas, for example.  They receive constant traffic, both human and yak, and are just as important as highway bridges where roads not trails connect communities.  All of the supplies (not to mention the trekking tourists) that mountain villages rely upon must pass over them, so they are generally maintained.  I love any foot bridge, especially of the suspension variety, since you can make them sway and bounce so easily.  Strange that others on the bridge often get upset when I do this.

One of the main footbridges spanning a deep gorge on the way to Namche Bazaar in the Everest region of Nepal.

One of the main footbridges spanning a deep gorge on the way to Namche Bazaar in the Everest region of Nepal.

Mount Rainier's Wonderland Trail crosses a high suspension bridge over Tacoma Creek.

Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail crosses a high suspension bridge over Tacoma Creek.

I like how on some bridges the builders took some time to decorate the abutments, or bridge ends (as in the image below).  Also the bridge itself is often decorated.  I have seen and crossed many bridges that unfortunately I haven’t photographed well.  The bridges over the Seine in Paris, Florence, the ones in Venice of course.

A bridge abutment in Thailand is carved into elephant heads.

A bridge abutment in Thailand is carved into elephant heads.

I live in an area with many old covered bridges relatively close-by.  It is sad that I have not spent the time to photograph them well.  This challenge has given me a kick in the pants, and when I can get down there (hopefully very soon) I will post an addendum to this.

The red light of a stormy sunset illuminates the Willamette River as it flows under the Steele Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

The red light of a stormy sunset illuminates the Willamette River as it flows under the Steele Bridge in Portland.

Larch Mountain, Oregon   8 comments

The full moon rises over Larch Mountain at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

The full moon rises over Larch Mountain at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

I’m taking a quick breather from the heavy science stuff  to highlight one of my favorite features of the area around Portland, Oregon, where I live:  the amazing extinct volcanoes.  There are at least 32 in the Portland metro area.  Oh right, well maybe this will involve a little bit of geology, which is science I suppose.  Sorry ’bout that.

The volcanoes, which were active up until about 300,000 years ago, are cinder cones and generally small shield volcanoes (like in Hawaii, except those are BIG shield volcanoes).  Many lie within the city limits, and several have city parks covering their summits.  I happen to live quite close to two of them: Rocky Butte and Mount Tabor.  Both have parks, but the one at Mt Tabor is much more extensive, with hiking trails, tennis courts, a large playground, picnic areas and more.  There is even a natural amphitheater at Tabor where live music is often hosted on warm summer evenings.  This popular venue occupies the volcano’s old explosion crater.  How cool is that?

The Columbia River flows west below the foggy forests of the Larch Mountain, Oregon.

The Columbia River flows west below the foggy forests of Larch Mountain, Oregon.

While each of these old volcanoes in Portland have their own character and personality, one stands out above the rest.  It is the king of them all, a looming hulk over 4000 feet (1240 meters) high on the east Portland skyline.  I’m speaking of Larch Mountain.  There are no larches on this well-forested shield volcano, so one might wonder how it got its name.  Early lumbermen sold noble fir from the mountain and labeled them “larch”.  How come misnomers so often stick?

Larch is quite a large mountain, but most people do not take notice of it at all.  Beyond Larch Mountain lies the Cascade Range, with big snow-capped peaks like Hood and Adams.  These more dramatic peaks draw the eye away from foreground mountains like Larch in Oregon and Silver Star in Washington.  But try to ride your bicycle up Larch’s 16-mile long road, and you quickly discover how big this mountain actually is.  Like most shield volcanoes (named for their resemblance to a shield laid concave side down), Larch can easily escape notice.  This is because they are so broad, with gentle slopes.  And the gentle slope is because most of what pours out of a shield volcano during eruptive phases is a very liquid form of lava – basalt.  Basalt is the hottest and most dense lava on Earth, and it covers most of the ocean floor.  Because of its relatively low silica content, basalt flows very easily, forming smooth shallow slopes and a broad volcanic edifice.

The view to the east from Larch Mountain's summit is dominated by Mount Hood and its cloak of forest.

The view to the east from Larch Mountain’s summit is dominated by Mount Hood and its cloak of forest.

Copious quantities of basalt flowed out of Larch Mountain’s summit vent during the early ice ages.  It’s part of what geologists call the Boring lava field.  The name does not describe geologists’ feelings about this very interesting volcanic feature.  Rather the name comes from the little town of Boring, which is southeast of Portland.  The volcanoes are actually quite interesting because of their position far to the west of the main axis of volcanism represented by the Cascade Range.

Whenever my eyes drift up toward the east, I’m always impressed by the sheer bulk of Larch Mountain.  In certain light conditions it is almost lost, but in other light you can get an accurate feel for how dominant the mountain really is.  The views from the top are absolutely stunning.  You can look east to see an interesting angle on Mt Hood, north to see Mounts Rainier, St Helens and Adams in Washington, or west down the length of the Columbia River.  I often ride my motorcycle up there for sunset when the road is open (snow closes it in winter).  And stargazing from the summit is quite excellent, despite the proximity of Portland’s light pollution.

If you ever find yourself in Portland and want to catch the sunset from a high viewpoint, make the drive up to Larch Mountain.  Just head out the Historic Columbia Highway from Troutdale.  Not far past Corbett, and just before you come to Crown Point, you will see a sign where the road angles up to the right.  Don’t forget your camera!

Larch Mountain dominates the view from the wetlands of Portland's Smith and Bybee Lakes.

Larch Mountain dominates the view from the wetlands of Portland’s Smith and Bybee Lakes.

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