A view from atop Turtleback mountain looking southwest across West Sound in the foreground, San Juan Channel and San Juan Island In the upper photo is the Strait of Juan De Fuca with fog (the white strip) and the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic Mountains. To the west ( right side) behind San Juan Island is Vancouver island and Victoria BC.
My brother who belongs to a time share condo-resort group treated us to a week at Deer Harbor Resort on Orcas Island in mid January. As some of you might know, this is not far from our home in Bellingham, less than 20 miles as the crow flies. However, after an hour’s drive along the coast and another hour’s ferry ride through scenic islands, we could have been a thousand miles away.
And we really lucked out on the weather for mid January – mostly sunny with just a bit of rain at night.
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago that lies between the north western coast of WA state and Vancouver Island within the Salish Sea. On the map below Orcas Island is the horseshoe shaped one in the upper center of the map. You can see part of Vancouver Island with Victoria in the lower left side. Bellingham and Bellingham Bay where we live are on the upper right.
Deer Harbor where we stayed is the smallish inlet on the lower left side of the island, just west of West Sound
Spawning Salmon in tributary creek to the Nooksack
In Part 1 of this series I described the Nooksack River from its headwaters in the North Cascade Mountains through its course to the Salish Sea. I made the case that this river, along with others like it, were critically important to sustaining our icons of the Salish Sea – salmon and orcas. Sustaining these icons is dependent in part on the health of these rivers that grow the fish which in turn feed our resident orca. That is, healthy rivers are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for saving these critters. In this part I relate the history of the river, what has happened to it and why it is important today that it is restored to health and maintained.
North Fork of Nooksack River at Horseshoe Bend – Mount Baker National Forest
I’ve written of conservation efforts to preserve our local PNW waters and the salmonids that spawn and live in these streams. In these posts I have periodically mentioned the Nooksack but I have not featured this marvelous River as it deserves.
The Nooksack River is neither a large nor a long river by most standards as it runs only 75 miles from its origin in the glaciers of the North Cascade Mountains to its delta and mouth where it empties into Bellingham Bay to become part of the Salish Sea.
However, its relatively small size does not diminish its importance to the Pacific Northwest and its marine environment. The Nooksack is one of the few streams in the PNW that supports all five native pacific salmon species as well other salmonids such as steelhead and the rare Bull trout.
There were so many Earth Day activities to attend that I had some difficulty choosing which to spend my day with. I chose to go with the Whatcom Land Trust that has preserved over 20,000 acres from Farm land to salmon spawning habitat, to watersheds, to river corridors, to old growth forests and parks and has facilitated preservation of thousands more acres.
A derelict sail boat washed up on a local beach from a winter storm a couple of years ago. It is polluting the beach and bay as it sheds particles from its fiberglass hull. Plastic decking has come off the bow and a number of other plastic items are wedged under the boat, not to mention the numerous cans of spray paint used to tag this mess.
North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment Washington, at the mouth of the Columbia River
We left off in Part 1 at Celilo Falls and The Dalles Dam, the last dam before the river meets the ocean. This remaining portion of the river’s journey is also spectacular although the landscape takes on a different character. After leaving the Canadian Rockies, the terrain along the river has been relatively barren, semi-arid plateau with the river cutting deep canyons through ancient basalt flows. The vegetation is largely shrubs and grasses with some pine where it approaches the mountains.
Leaving The Dalles, the arid brown landscape of the Columbia Plateau gives way to greens of a more marine climate as it heads toward the ocean. This change is exemplified by the lushness and pastoral beauty of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.
The Columbia River, near Wenatchee WA, about mid way between its origins in British Columbia and its mouth at the Pacific Ocean.
I grew up along this river in the Tri-City area and have had occasion to travel along much if its1,200 mile course from British Columbia to its mouth where it joins the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia River and its adjacent territory has a long and storied geologic and human history. More recently it was in large part instrumental in the settlement of the west and particularly the Pacific Northwest. The river was the last leg of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition which ultimately contributed to the opening up of the Washington and Oregon territory for settlement.
I’ll present the river in a two part series as it got kind of lengthy. This first part covers the river from its origins in Canada to The Dalles and Celilo Falls Oregon. The second part will cover its last 180 or so miles as it approaches and then meets the Pacific Ocean.
This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has something pink like a salmon in its talon
Along the salmon spawning creeks and rivers of the west coast, winter is spawning time for salmon and gorging time for eagles. And it is great for us as well to watch them play out their age old sustenance routines in their natural habitat.
These two snowy white birds have recently returned to our area after summering and breeding in Alaska (Trumpeter Swan) and the arctic tundra (Snowy Owl). One does not have to be an avid birder to celebrate their annual arrival as both are real showboats with their white feathers and their relatively large size. The snowy Owl is the largest by weight of the NA owls and has a 50” wingspan while the Trumpeter Swan is our largest native waterfowl, stretching up to six feet and weighing up to 26 lbs.