A Pacific Northwest Eco-Travelogue
“Hey look. They have trees here!” Short flight to Seattle, but far from LA in so many ways. Green forests, bounteous resources, cold water, and blue skies. The height of the summer of 2012, and the masses are out enjoying the sun. A getaway, and our first visit to British Columbia, named in 1871 by Queen Elizabeth as Canada’s sixth province.
Bainbridge Island Ferry from Seattle west to the Olympic Peninsula. Port Townsend for lunch, a dramatic seaside setting on the northeastern tip of the peninsula. We drive up the back streets to imagine year-round life here, the elements, the views! We can sense the cold of pervasive winter weather. Then Port Angeles and the Park, the Olympic National Park. We stay in an Adirondack-like paradise; there’s a compost bucket in the kitchenette.
Crescent Lake is 624 feet deep, carved out by a glacier thousands of years ago. Swimming in cold clear water, a trail to Marymere Falls. We wind through the woods, hear enthusiastic voices in the distance, up the stream to the falls. A tricky descent from the trail’s overlook, and bathing in its 40-foot shower. A birthday dinner with reflections, a Romanian waiter “Cenk,” and a cottage night lakeshore.
Sunny day in Washington. Since Port Angeles, we’ve seen extensive logging operations, countless lumber trucks bringing huge trees to market. I fear clear-cuts, damaged watersheds, and pressure to cut old growth trees. We think of being a teenager here, heading into the timbering line of work, perhaps driving one of the beehive of logging trucks bringing the massive forests raw materials to Port Angeles for export.
We drive past what seem to be well-managed harvests, but discrete clear cuts still blemish the hillsides. Selective harvest is likely too expensive; forest helicopters out of the question. Zip lines are now used to bring the huge trees to staging areas, and to be hauled away. Huge piles of leftovers speak to the destruction, but controlled harvests regenerate in 40 years. We see forests, managed in stages, and feel like we are in a production zone. Lots of ARRA road work to motorists’ displeasure.
It’s sunny in Forks, a bad day for vampires I’m told. Rialto Beach, cold, a strong wind off the Pacific, frigid water, just a few miles from the Neah Bay and the northwest point in America. Huge trees and tree trunks have washed ashore in a violent surf. We visit La Push at the terminus of the Hoh River, visit its inner harbor, and witness its reservation economy.
The Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is nearly a million acres in size, 1,442 square miles. President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a National Monument in 1909. It was designated as a National Park by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. He steamed across the Strait of Juan De Fuca on a navy ship over from Victoria to the delight of the citizens of Port Angeles. Highway 101 circles the peninsula and Park which features the rainforests of Hoh and Quinault, 73 miles of wilderness coastline, snow-capped peaks and glaciers, and low-lands. In 1988, Congress deemed 95% of the Park as a designated wilderness.
Out of Port Angeles and 17 miles up to Hurricane Ridge at 5,242 ft. and the majestic view of the Olympics, covered with snow, glaring light reflected all around. The highest peak is Mount Olympus at 7,965 feet, glaciated thanks to persistent snow. It has the greatest glaciation of any non-volcanic peak in the contiguous 48 states.
Glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change because they grow or shrink in response to snowfall and snowmelt. I think Greenland and the alarming ice-sheet exodus. By comparing aerial photographs, Park Service scientists have documented a 30% loss of glacier surface at the Park from the late 1970s to 2009. Elevation data has revealed that the glaciers are thinning. Some small glaciers have disappeared. Lillian Glacier in the heart of the Olympic Mountains is nearly gone after shrinking dramatically from 1905 to 2010.
Down the long and winding road to take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, British Columbia. We meet Ed and Cynthia in line, former fire fighter and current realtor. They’re from Portland, Oregon. He regales us with tells tales of “heli rescues.” We talk books, solar, carbon, and fires and bond before we part, appreciating those small travelling encounters that enrich the soul.
BC Ferries operates 35 ships in the region. We take five ferries on our trip, four operated by BC Ferries, including the 560-foot long Spirit of Vancouver Island which holds up 2,100 passengers and 470 vehicles. BC Ferries runs smaller ships on less-traveled routes, its smallest ship holds 17 vehicles. We passed through five of BC Ferries 47 ports of call, including Swartz Bay, Horseshoe Bay, and Twawassen.
The ferries operate on 25 routes throughout coastal British Columbia, from the Gulf Islands to the Inside Passage, the gateway to Alaska. Impressive loading and unloading. In 2011, 91% of BC Ferries’ departures were within-ten-minutes of departure time.
We park in huge lines – mostly families with SUVs laden with bicycles, kayaks, and camping gear - that one would never think could fit on board. Gotta love British Columbia from the sun deck of a BC Ferry in late summer. We get out to sea, and glide past small passages, private docks and magical inlets. The captains have run this route before. Passengers rest and eat, hit their computers, hit the decks to breathe in the sea breeze.
The Capitol City of Victoria
Victoria, British Columbia, downtown summer evening in full glory. Flags flying, ships in a busy harbor, clear skies and warmth. We stay at the Strathcona on Douglas Street; it features roof-top beach volley ball. We walk a few blocks to catch the local’s special at the Flying Otter, a floating restaurant. Seaplanes dockside; kayak rentals abound. Lots of signs for high-speed zodiac Whale Watching with guaranteed sitings! Later checking out live music downtown, two clubs with energetic duos, the latter Irish. Victoria is known for its beauty, and its relatively mild, sub-Mediterranean climate. In a rain shadow, it gets half the precipitation of Seattle.
“Stay out of the seaplane landing and takeoff zones, and the paddle zones, and the ferries,” we’re warned. Victoria Harbor in mid-August is bustling. We rent a boat, duck under the Johnson Street Bridge, across the inner harbor, and tuck in line with the small convoy of vessels at processional speed. Past the breakwater, we hit the gas and head to the rocks. Soon we’re far out in the 95-mile long Strait of Juan De Fuca – the outlet to the Pacific Ocean. We pass a huge military ship, its wake humbling. The rocks are marked by a manned lighthouse with solar panels and clotheslines. There are hundreds of sea lions, barking and basking. We cut the engine and change tanks.
Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the northwest, with early settlements in 1841. Today the 1897 Parliament Building is prominent at the harbor and city center. The City was initially known at Fort Victoria, built in 1843 by the Hudson Bay Company. When the gold rush began in 1858, Victoria became a frontier town overnight with its population increasing by a factor of ten. Today it has a population of 80,000; Greater Victoria with its 13 adjacent municipalities has 344,000 residents. In 1862, 150 years ago, the City of Victoria was incorporated and made the capital city of the province of British Columbia. Today the Parliament Building is lit at night with strings of white lights outlining its architecture.
Robert Pim Butchart was in the Portland Cement business. He came to Vancouver Island to mine the rich limestone deposits necessary for cement production in 1904. He bought a quarry north of Victoria to do so. By 1909 the quarry was exhausted and Robert’s wife Jennie set about to transform the quarry into a sunken garden, which she completed in 1921. The tennis courts went by the wayside to an Italian Garden. By 1926 they were taking visitors to the gardens. The operation was passed to the next generation. Today it is still operated by the Butchart family, the great-granddaughter of the founders.
Butchart Gardens is pretty beyond belief, rich to the eye. The gardens are full of meticulously manicured blossoms and fragrances. World-renowned, it is perhaps Victoria’s most visited asset. Hundreds of visitors from around the world were there the day we stopped by. It’s a 55-acre preserve, with a Japanese Garden, an Italian Garden, a rose garden with varietals from around the world. A merry-go-round is loaded with seniors, grinning ear to ear! Extensive and impressive, we walked for hours amongst floral and garden beauty. Uplifting it was to see so many inspired by flowers and the fantastic grounds, repurposed from a defunct limestone quarry, the pits masked and its sunken garden livened by a waterfall coursing down its fully vegetated embankment.
BC Hydro’s roots go back to the Victoria Gas Company in 1860, a story that runs from “gaslights to gigawatts.” In 1883, it formed the Victoria Electric Illuminating Company, providing streetlights. The BC Electric took over this service and built the province’s first hydro plant, and later purchased and controlled by a Montreal-based company. In 1961, BC Electric and other independent utilities were acquired by the crown corporation, the BC Hydro and Power Authority, known commonly at BC Hydro. Its efforts extended electrification to rural and isolated areas thanks to a significant transmission network. Before BC Hydro’s lines extended throughout the province, some 200 communities had generated power with diesel generators.
Today BC Hydro’s system can deliver 12 GW (12,000 MW) of power; the system is also interconnected with Alberta to the east, and Washington State to the south. The 2007 BC Energy Plan, updated by the 2010 Clean Air Act, calls for electricity self-sufficiency by 2016. BC boasts some of the lowest rates in North America, threatened by the Energy Plan amendments for self-sufficiency. In particular was the definition of self-sufficient. The amendment as originally adopted called for power resources to cover a low snowpack/run-off year, versus an average hydro year. The latter is now the law, with concern for rate increases being the driving factor in the redefinition.
It’s 9:00 pm by the time we’re off the Horseshoe Bay – Langdale ferry, heading northwest on the Sunshine Coast Highway, 25 kilometers to Sechelt. The mountains of Vancouver Island strip the ocean moisture, leaving this stretch of coast north of the City of Vancouver sunny. But it’s a dark night, and this is new territory. Somehow we find our way to the “At the Shore” B&B, with complex printed directions that began with a gas station that’s changed brands. An Esso?
It’s 10 PM, hungry and the only action in town is at the Lighthouse Pub. It is happening. We take a seat on the deck, away from the DJ, near a seaplane sitting calmly, waiting for morning. We meet a logger named Cliff who is eager to chat. He may have already whet his whistle. Cliff’s been a logger all his life and regaled us with stories of his career, logging, and what it’s like. He’s done it all, from felling the trees to trucking them out, working in camps accessible only by “beavers,” de Havilland Beaver seaplanes that is. We talk about new logging regulations to protect top soils and hillsides, protect fisheries, and provide habitat. Cliff says times have changed, “Today it’s all about sustainable harvests.” I think of Callenbach’s Ecotopia and how one had to work in the lumber camps to get the lumber credits to build a house.
Married twice, lots of kids. Second time thanks to the internet. His daughter had advised him. “Dad, the chances of a single woman walking up your driveway of your house seeking a relationship are pretty slim. Hit in the internet.” Soon enough, he married a woman from Italy that moved over and lasted for four or five years. Bar talk. The next day we drive north through forests, getting glimpses of magical harbors and inlets. We pass massive transmission lines, massive incisions in the forest ecology going over hill and dale, powering remote parts of the Sunshine Coast at what seems a huge aesthetic cost.
Ferry from Swartz Bay to Vancouver. As we had approached BC’s metro area, with a population of 2.3 million of the province’s 4.5 million, we could see its smog spreading out over the sound. Tough to bear. We’d passed the man-made, Westshore Coal Terminal, Canada’s largest coal export facility. It’s been in operation for 40 years. BC’s fossil fuel heading to foreign ports. We learn about the local fight over tar sands, and planned deliveries from Alberta via pipeline, for export.
We stay downtown and walk the streets. I remember Enrique Pena Losa’s comment that a City is as strong and vibrant as its sidewalks are wide. Vancouver is cosmopolitan, we pass the Art Museum and then get a bird’s eye view of Vancouver from the Waterfront tower, the revolving restaurant giving diners stunning views of Stanley Park, the Lions Gate Bridge, and Burrard Inlet. To the east is Burnaby, the Canucks’ stadium in the foreground. Sushi in Gas Town.
The Chinese in LA say that the best Chefs that came to North America moved to Vancouver. So Chinatown Vancouver for dim sum. Terry befriends an old man on the street. He guides us to a local’s favorite. His English got quite good when he found out we were from LA. He turned to me and talked Lakers. Dwight Howard! Great meal, then a visit the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden Chinese garden, between Chinatown and downtown, stepping out of the bustle of the big City. Asians make up 20.2% of the province’s population, the highest in Canada.
Seattle: population 612,000; 3,707,400 in the metro region and 113 miles south of the border. The northwestern hub for commerce with Alaska, the Orient, and the “Salish Sea” region, the inland marine waters of Washington State and British Columbia.
Seattle, photogenic, colorful in its geography, sandwiched between Lake Washington the east and the Sound to the west. A great view of the Olympics. Seattle and Washington are home to some great stuff, from Starbucks Coffee to Microsoft and Boeing. The regional also is home to Costco with more than $70 billion in annual sales, and others including Amazon, Nordstrom, Weyerhaeuser, Alaska Air, and Expedia.
The Space Needle is turning 50! We visit and celebrate its existence. Immaculately maintained, it looks like new. From around town you see its new orange roof color cap; from the top the view is only better. Sunset high over the Puget Sound. The Space Needle was built in 1962 for the 1964 Seattle World’s Fair. We head downtown via monorail for its short duration; towards our destination of Ivar’s seafood restaurant, just a few blocks from Pike Place fish market. Superb halibut.
The Boeing Dreamliner 787
Every visitor to Boeing comes away a bit stunned. To begin with, the assembly plant in Everett Washington is the largest building in the world, by volume! It is 98.3 acres of activity, equivalent to 75 football fields or 900 basketball courts in size. Disneyland could fit in the building, literally. Boeing workers are building 747s, 777s, and now the latest pride of Boeing, the Dreamliner 787. There are different lines, millions of parts per plane, some assembled in as quickly as four days.
Each Boeing jet costs hundreds of millions of dollars ($500 million for your basic 747; $200 million for a 737), and that’s before you purchase and mount its Rolls, Royce, Pratt and Whitney, or GE engines. We see a 777 engine being forklifted into place, the largest engine ever for commercial planes. The 777 is overwater with two such beasts, able to suck out the entire air volume of the spacious Future of Flight visitor center in four seconds.
Boeing is a massive company and a massive success, founded in 1916 in the Puget Sound region. William Edward Boeing from Detroit, and Yale educated, changed mobility with his thirst for something better than the single-passenger biplane whose strut he held in first flight. Today, 74% of all commercial flights worldwide are on Boeing jets, one of which lands or takes off every second of every day. The company’s sales hit $69 billion in 2011. For many decades, Boeing has been a leading producer of military and commercial aircraft, with space operations. Today the company’s services extend to 150 countries.
Over the years Boeing has grown. Aviation and aerospace pioneers that are now part of the Boeing enterprise include McDonnell Douglas, Hughes Space and Communications, and Rockwell International’s space and defense business. Today Boeing employs 170,000 in 50 countries; it has 39,000 in Washington. Nearly 12,000 Boeing jetliners are currently in service.
The 787 Dreamliner is not only 20% more fuel efficient than Boeing’s most efficient 777, it also highlights a fundamental change in air travel. We’re used to a “hub and spoke” transportation system. If you don’t live near a big city – big enough for cross-country and international flights – you take a short flight to the hub city, be it Atlanta, New York, San Fran, LA, etc. The Dreamliner changes this paradigm.
Thanks to its size, efficiency, and runway requirement, the 787 can go overwater. Thus aviation picks up huge efficiencies in both the efficient operation of passengers getting point to point, and technology improvements that increase fuel and passenger mile efficiency by 20%. For passengers on what had been a two-leg trip, there could be a 40-50% increase in efficiency, thanks to the Dreamliner. And think of the convenience, the comfort, reduced lost baggage, avoiding bad weather at a hub.
So far, sixteen 787s have been delivered. We see more waiting for painting. They feature 65% bigger windows, and electrochromic windows instead of shades: Flip a switch and the windows turn from transparent to opague. The Dreamliner also features LED lighting, and a carbon-fiber fuselage that is as strong as steel and lighter than aluminum. This increases fuel efficiency while allowing allows the air pressure to be set for lower altitude, increasing passenger comfort. Boeing has a series of partner company that make the components for the Dreamliner, bringing them in on specially designed – and awkwardly bloated -- so-called Dreamlifter 747s. Its air filtration system is also state of the art able to filter out germs and odors.
We leave Boeing impressed and proud. It’s an American success story of unbridled innovation, growth, precision engineering, logistics, stellar customer support. What a tribute to the Northwest!