May 2012June 2012 July 2012

06/27 - Marmot City

Hurricane Hill is so full of marmots that we're thinking of renaming it Marmot City. We saw at least ten of them, including one so large we were thinking of counting him (or her) as two. The snow is melting apace, and we're getting more used to hiking the high country, so stay tuned for more news from Marmot City.

These two were tussling, like something right out of a nature documentary.

These two are digging their digs right near the bench and the new marmot sign.

They are fearless.

A proud profile

This one lives at the summit of Hurricane HIll.

Another marmot lurking

Some token scenery

Yup, more scenery

Most of the trail is easy going, if you don't count having to climb a bit.

Keywords: hurricane hill, marmots

06/23 - The Pacific Dogwood is in Bloom

We've been building up on the Lake Angeles Trail. That's a 2400' ascent from the Heart of the Hills to the lake itself that we're quite fond of. It's just quite a climb, and during the winter we get out of shape. We haven't gotten to the lake yet, but we have been following the seasonal changes. Right now, the Pacific dogwood are blooming. Unlike the eastern version, these are a ground cover, not a tree, but they have those distinctive flowers.

The trail

In bloom

More bloom

Even more bloom

There's lots of water in the stream.

At the end of trillium season, the flowers turn purple before forming seeds.

Another late season trillium

Keywords: flowers, lake angeles, trillium

06/20 - Dungeness Spit - Good for Walking

There are two challenges involved in walking the Dungeness Spit.

First, you have to get the tides right. At high tide, all you have to walk on is a narrow strip of sand, rocks and driftwood. This gets tiring after two or three miles, and the lighthouse is about four and a half miles away. That's why we use Tidefinder to figure out the promising tides, during the daytime and under three feet.

Second, even when the tides are low, the going can be very rough when the beach is mainly small stones rather than sand. Usually, the sand is washed out in the winter and builds up through the summer. Some years, the beach stays rocky, but this year the sands have returned, and at low tide, there is usually a sweet strip one can walk on. It's hard work, but it's much easier than it could be.

Things look good this year, so tide and sand permitting we'll be making our way out to the lighthouse this summer.

The sandy beach

Driftwood and stones

Footprints in the soft sand

Keywords: dungeness, dungeness spit, software, summer, tides, winter

06/19 - Hurricane Hill

Despite the cool spring this year, we made it up to the top of Hurricane Hill before the solstice. We took advantage of one of those great sunny, un-June like days we've been having and drove up to Hurricane Ridge. The Hurricane Hill access road was open and most of the parking lot cleared. There was some snow on the trail, but we had our trusty YakTrax and hiking sticks, so we had extra traction on the trickier stretches.

The hard part was really that we weren't used to the altitude, but the blue sky and amazing vista pulled us upwards. Marmot Rock, a rock that looks like a marmot, had survived the winter, but we also saw a real marmot chittering and playing sentinel now that we humans have returned to the high country. There was some phlox in bloom along with a bit of Indian paintbrush, some yarrow and a lupine or two, but otherwise the landscape had just melted. It took us a fair bit longer than usual, but we made our way up to the summit and admired the views of the Olympic Mountains, the San Juans, Vancouver Island and the great white meringue of Mt. Baker.

One of the views

Last summer's grasslands, now faded

This is sort of what the trails look like, but the snow is melting rapidly.

Another view, this one from the summit

Blue sky

The view east from the summit


Indian paintbrush

Another view

Yet another view

Keywords: high country, hurricane hill, spring, animals, flowers

06/18 - We Answer Questions - Operation Twist

Now and then we get questions from our friends and family, and we try to answer them. Here is our answer to two related questions: What are bonds? and What is Operation Twist?

1) Bonds are just loans. If someone, usually a company or government entity, wants to borrow money, they can write down promises to repay in the form of bonds which are legal documents, contracts, that state:

  • a) A certain sum must be paid on a certain future date
  • b) Certain sums of interest must be paid at certain intervals
  • c) The borrower may repay the loan early, but not before a certain date, the call date
  • d) This is a contract since a, b & c are because the borrower received a certain amount when the bond was issued.
A bond is a fungible instrument. It can be bought and sold. Typically, the borrower engages a bank or other financial firm to serve as the underwriter. The underwriter is responsible for rounding up the money to be lent. Underwriters usually have clients who are looking for investments, so they'll typically arrange to sell their clients a lot of the bonds before the issue date, the day the borrower gets the money and the lenders get their bonds. Even they can't sell enough bonds, the undewriter is still obligated to lend the full sum, so they try and sell as much of the loan as they can up front.

A lot of financial instruments use the same structure. If you buy a CD at your bank, you get a certificate of deposit which is basically a bond saying you'll get your money, your principal, back on a certain date, and you'll get interest at various intervals up until then. If you borrow money and sign a promissory note, you promise to repay and to pay interest. A mortgage is just a promissory note wrapped up with land and a house as collateral. A treasury note is just a bond issued by the federal government. Corporate bonds are just bonds issued by corporations.

You'll notice that most of finance is about money now and money later, so it's mainly about how money travels through time.

Also, there are a lot of names for the same thing. The distinctions are usually historical. On the sidewalk it might be an IOU; 20 floors up it's a bond; if there's real estate as collateral, it's a mortgage. (The real in real estate comes from the same root as royal, not realize.)

2) Operation Twist is based on the segmentation of the market for treasury notes and the fact that the US government cannot go broke.

Despite what the deficit scare mongerers say, the US government cannot go broke. It can always print more money. This means that federal debt is the safest game in town. (Look at what happened when one of the rating agencies cut the US credit rating; interest rates went down making it even easier to borrow.) Since interest rates are based on the level of risk of repayment, the treasury pays the lowest rates at every time scale. All other interest rates are based on these. A lender always has the choice to lend to the government or to some riskier party, but they expect higher interest payments as a premium for accepting the risk of losing their money.

The federal government borrows money at many different time scales, so one can buy government bonds with periods ranging from 30 days to 30 years. The short term notes, for a year or shorter, are mainly used for parking big lots of money safely. Large bank accounts are not FDIC insured, so if you have a million dollars you might need at any time, you'd constantly be buying and selling, 30 or 90 day notes. If you are a pension fund and are trying to meet your 2040 obligations, you might buy 20 or 30 year bonds. Most business lending is in the 10 year range so the interest rates on business loans are roughly tied to the 10 year government rate.

The goal of Operation Twist, also called quantitative easing, is to lower the 10 year government rate by manipulating the market for government bonds. The idea is that the Federal Reserve owns trillions of dollars of treasury bonds, more than anybody else, so they are big enough to influence rates across the board. Operation Twist has the Federal Reserve selling their 10 year bonds and buying 30 year bonds. This should lower the rates on 10 year notes and raise them on 30 year notes. Lower rates on 10 year treasury bonds should mean lower rates for loans across the board. Lower rates should stimulate the economy.

This would usually be the case, except that interest rates are already very low, and the economy has lots of other problems. If you account for inflation, federal interest rates are negative, meaning that the lender is paying the government to hold his or her money. It isn't clear they can go a lot lower or that this would have much effect. Also, businesses consider other factors when deciding whether to borrow money or not, for example, many of them are worried about their customers, and their customers are worried about their jobs and the size of their paychecks. It doesn't make sense to expand if no one is buying now.

Keywords: historical, art, science

06/13 - Port Angeles Farmers Market

This has been a cold spring, so the Port Angeles Farmers' Market is still a bit lean, but there have been signs of spring, and, with the solstice coming soon, we are hoping for signs of summer. We've been buying eggs, spinach, arugula, chards of various colors, salmon, halibut, salad greens, potatoes, garlic and asparagus. Yes, Westwind Farm still has asparagus in June. According to the farmers, things are looking up, but already we are buying more and more of our groceries at the market, and we're looking forward to more.

Nash Huber

Westwind Farm

The Korean garlic lady, with greens

Johnston Farm

Kol Simcha with lamb - The Clark family was also there selling their beef and pork.

The Family Farm is back.

Mystery Bay has steamed clams and oysters.

Keywords: clark family, farmers' market, johnston farm, nash huber, oysters, port angeles, salmon, spring, summer, westwind farm, garlic lady

06/12 - Mount St. Helens from the Johnston Ridge Observatory

The eruption of Mount St. Helens was front page news way back when, but it is hard to grasp the sheer scale of a mountain exploding from photographs or even video coverage. We drove a fair ways from the interstate through flat lands and hills and forest to the Johnston Ridge Observatory to get a better sense of things.

We saw glimpses of the volcano from along the road, but what impressed us even more was the land between us and the mountain. It was hard not to see that the topography had been recently altered by volcanic floes and ash, and that material had been carved by rivers and was only recently being recolonized by grasses, shrubs and trees. This was not a long settled landscape, but a new one.

We climbed the final hillside to the observatory proper and enjoyed the exhibit, but we were drawn again and again to the view. The building had great glass windows, but we had to go outside with the wind and rain and snow. (Just flurries, but snow nonetheless.) We explored the landscape of burned tree stumps and fallen trunks and gazed in awe at the fresh land in the river valley between us and the volcano. We were never really that close, and the clouds hid the upper reaches for most of our visit, but now and then the winds would blow, cold and hard, and we could see a bit more of the mountain that had blasted and charred the trees on Johnston Ridge and reformed the land.

One of our better views of Mt. St. Helens

The Toutle River and the new land below

More valley

Another glimpse of the mountain

Mountain and valley

Johnston Ridge, today

A story is told here.

A canyon carved in volcanic ash

A herd of elk

The flowers are coming back, but only the hardy ones.

Another view of the mountain and valley

Keywords: flowers, washington state, elk

06/11 - Wolf Haven

Wolf Haven is a rehabilitation and retirement center for wolves. They take in wolves who cannot live in the wild due to injuries or having been raised as pets. It's a quiet (usually), healing sort of place which is just as well given that wolves are wild animals and powerful predators. At Wolf Haven, located a bit south of Olympia, they live two to an enclosure with grass, quiet, and fresh air.

Wolf Haven gives regular tours, so we were able to see some of these fantastic animals, mostly those who will be spending the rest of their lives there. The wolves being prepared to return to the wild are kept away from most human contact, so they are kept in another part of the haven.

Some of the wolves were front and center curious about us. Some were pacers and explorers. Others just slept or stayed hidden during our visit, but most of the wolves made an appearance. They also howled. This was the high point of our visit, and actually rather unusual at Wolf Haven. We were watching one pair of wolves when we heard a distant, rising howl, and soon the wolves in the next enclosure joined in, and then the ones we were watching. We recorded some of the long howl as a video.

The howl of the wolf - Click here for a howling movie.

A friendly face with killer jaws

Just pacing


A real cutie

Keywords: animals, washington state

06/09 - Restaurant Update

We've been eating out a bit, so we have some updates on some old favorites we've been neglecting, and at least one new place.

Cafe Campagne

We hadn't been to Cafe Campagne in a while. Our last visit, some years back, was a disappointment. We tend to go for lunch, and the lunch menu had be sorely reduced with many of our favorite dishes gone. This time, things were much better. We really liked the asparagus mimosa with asparagus, eggs and a mustard dressing. It was a lighter version of the old, incredibly buttery, asparagus flamande. We also enjoyed the country pate and our hanger steak frites. That's one of our favorites, and it was good to see it back for lunch. We'll definitely be coming back to Cafe Campagne again.

They had really good lighting for this picture of their bar.

Palace Kitchen

Palace Kitchen was another neglected favorite. Here too, the problem was the menu. It had settled into a rather pasta heavy pattern and seemed all too predictable. Time, and a few more iterations of the menu, seems to have changed things, so we enjoyed old standards like the glazed chicken wings and coconut cream pie, but also some new dishes like a meltingly tender spring lamb ragout with green chick peas, ramp (wild onion) oil and little cavatelli stuffed with ricotta. We also had the pork debauch (our term) with crispy ears, pork loin lomo, pork belly, and bacon bits served with arugula. To compensate for all the porky goodness, we also had a spring time dish of flowering broccoli with nettle pesto and white beans.

More great lighting

California Taco

We made a short side trip to chow down at this taco truck in a Lacey strip mall, and we were well rewarded. We took over a table in front of the next door pawnshop and devoured our tacos, with beef tongue and with chorizo. They had great fresh corn tortillas and wonderfully spicing fillings. Nothing was bland or greasy. Even the rice and beans were great. We also had a sandwich on a soft roll called a cubano with chunks of meat, green peppers and onions. Everything was absolutely delicious. This truck has the best Mexican food we've eaten in the Seattle area.

It's one of four trucks. This one was in a strip mall in Lacey.

Blue Flame

Blue Flame is close to home, and we drive by all the time. There's the distinctive blue flame design and often the distinctive smokey smell, but we usually just pass by. This time, we were hungry, so we ordered up a rack of pork back ribs and a pile of beef brisket, slathered on the barbeque sauce and chowed down. The meats were great. The romaine salad with blue cheese dressing was delicious and refreshing. Even the smoked potatoes were wonderful. It's going to be much harder to drive by in the future.

It's hard to miss on route 101 east of town.


We were in the cab, on our way to Joule, when we thought to call ahead and make reservations. It took a while for the phone to answer, and an apologetic voice explained that the restaurant was closed. They were moving to a new location. We are really excited about this. The word is that there will be few changes in the direction of the restaurant, so we can hardly wait until they reopen.

They are reopening in Fremont this summer.

Keywords: reviews, seattle, restaurants

06/08 - It's Going to Take a Lot of Melting

We've started our seasonal Hurricane Ridge watch, waiting for the high country trails to open. There's still a lot of snow up there, and the webcam points at a southern slope, so it doesn't reveal much about how clear the trails are. Another useful resource is the real time Hurricane Ridge weather report which gives the snow level. The park posts its own trail condition reports, and while things are thawing, the cool spring means that much of the high country is still closed. We'll be heading up to the ridge now and then to see what things are like, and we'll post a note when we get our first high country hike of the year.

There was a lot of snow.

These ramparts are lower now, but there's still a lot ot melt.

We walked the road to Hurricane Hill a bit. When we last checked, it wasn't plowed far.

Keywords: high country, hurricane hill, hurricane ridge, spring, trails, weather

06/04 - The John Day Fossil Beds - Clarno

On our drive back north from Sisters, we followed the Deschutes River through some pretty remote country. There were a lot of grain silos and small towns and not a lot of gas stations. In fact, one of the liveliest looking towns we drove through was Shaniko which is technically a ghost town and uninhabited. (We aren't sure how this works.)

We took a side trip off the road to the Clarno unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, the smallest of the three parts of the beds. We crossed the John Day River and were soon greeted by a little picnic area and a handful of interpretive signs. We were surrounded by castles of stone, the eroding rock layers visible.

The fossil trail was short and led towards the base of the castle wall which rocks had fallen over the ages. They were mottled and marred by age. The little signs insisted that they were full of fossils. We looked, and we looked. Was that dark mark a leaf? Was that indentation a branch? It was hard to tell, but we soon realized that it was not the color of rock or its markings, but rather the texture that revealed ancient leaves and twigs and branches.

Once we had made this cognitive jump, we could see other fossils more quickly, and our walk grew more interesting. We almost brushed away one fossil leaf save that it was now part of the stone. We probably missed more fossils than we saw, but after the replicas at Sheeprock, seeing actual fossils in the living rock was quite a treat.

It really is in the middle of nowhere. One of the few other visitors was a local who just stopped to use the outhouse.

The roses were in bloom.

As were other plants.

The castle wall

Look at the tree like indentation. That's one of the fossils.

This is a typical rock, just chock full of fossils.

That's an obvious leaf fossil there, for small values of obvious.

Hah, we're getting good at this.

That could be a fossil, perhaps an ancient pigeon track, but more likely a leaf.

Fallen leaves, fallen quite long ago

Another bunch of fossils (like us)

Keywords: oregon

06/03 - Benham Falls

After climbing the lava butte, we decided to head a bit east and walk along the Deschutes River. This river runs north to south (or is it south to north) a long ways in this part of Oregon. Here, it is bounded on one side by hardened lava which rerouted the river when the volcano last erupted. On the other side is a pleasant, sylvan trail built on the old rail bed. (The rail bed was first repurposed as a highway, but the new highway left path for bikers and hikers.)

We crossed the river and followed the trail through the forest, following the river. Then we heard the falls. The peaceful river had turned into a violent torrent passing through a canyon of volcanic rock. It was quite a sight, and it is worth clicking on the image to see the video.

On our way back to sisters we had a nice lunch in Bend, a town with a good share of brew pubs and trendy shops. We enjoyed our meal at the Deschutes Brewery and even tried a couple of the brewery only beers. They were great, but extremely rich and really went with the chicken wings and ribs.

A view of the Deschutes River

A rock formation

More rocks

The river


The trail

The falls

Another view of the falls - Click for the movie

Pine cones

Keywords: oregon

06/02 - The Newberry National Volcano Monument

Before this trip, we had never realized just how volcanic Oregon is. The place is riddled with volcanoes, most of the inactive, at least during our visit. We drove south past Bend to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. As our elevation increased south of town, the sky grew darker and the rain picked up a bit. Things did not look good, and then we pulled off the main road to the visitor center and discovered that it was closed. The side parking lot, which was open, had only one other car and a tour bus full of German tourists. The main lava field hiking trail was closed.

We were pondering plan B when a ranger popped out, apparently during a break in a training session, and suggested we try following the red road up the Lava Butte. We had noticed the butte towering darkly against a gray sky behind its wall of jagged and crumbled black lava. The red road was indeed red and while it was closed to cars, it was open to hikers, so up we went.

First, we crossed the lava fields, black masses of stone, once molten, and now hardened into lumps and clusters and sheets, then folded and crumpled. Here and there were lava bubbles and tubes, now broken. We climbed the butte, spiraling around it and rising with increasingly spectacular views of the lava fields and the more distant country side. We made our way to the parking lot at the top and enjoyed the vista.

On our way down, the sun emerged. Had the visitor center been open, we would not have been able to hike to the top of the lava butte safely. It was only our bad planning that had given us the opportunity and what a treat it was.

The lava butte glowering behind its fortress walls

The red road

Some pine cones

A distant red mountain, probably another lava butte or cinder cone

A distinctive mountain form

That's the closed lava trail down below. One door closes, another opens.

More lava fields.

The lava field

Some lava

A broken lava bubble

The viewing station - closed - at the top of the butte

Keywords: oregon

06/01 - The John Day Fossil Beds - Sheeprock

We were maybe 90 miles from the nearest gas station when we arrived at Sheeprock. Sheeprock does not look like a sheep. It is a pointy formation which was once noted for being covered with grazing sheep. We made our way to the fossil trail in the Blue Basin. That's not a color problem with our camera. The eroded rock formation we explored really was blue and even bluer up close than it appears in these pictures.

The trail followed a small stream which had carved the basin, so we crossed on steel bridges and saw all sorts of erosion patterns. It is this erosion that reveals the fossils. While we saw signs of fresh erosion, we didn't see any new fossils here. The park service people, we were told, gather them. There were, however, a number of replicas of fossils of an ancient turtle and a sabertooth tiger. To be honest, some of them did indeed look like ancient bones or turtle shell, but others we would have mistaken for mud and rock.

There was a longer trail around the Blue Basin, which supposedly has spectacular views, but we didn't have time to explore it. The John Day Fossil Beds were quite amazing, but also amazingly remote.

Sheeprock aka Mount Pointy

One of the fossil replicas

The trail

One of the many eroded formations

Blue mud

Blue canyons

Blue erosion

More blue

This is one of the many reasons they call it the Blue Basin.

It's like the Grand Canyon, only smaller, and blue.

Did we mention blue?

Keywords: oregon

May 2012June 2012 July 2012