Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lighting History – Admiralty Head Lighthouse, Whidbey Island, WA


Admiralty Head Lighthouse

Lighthouse lovers must check out the simple little Admiralty Head Lighthouse. It’s located on Whidbey Island inside Fort Casey property. The original lighthouse was built in 1861, 36 years before construction began on Ft. Casey! When the land was needed for gun batteries, the wooden lighthouse was moved near where the current lighthouse is. Then a new stucco lighthouse was built in 1903 and has 18-inch-thick walls! The old wooden lighthouse was eventually torn down but the wood was reused in a home on the island.


Fresnel Lens

These lighthouses helped guide numerous ships into Whidbey Island safely. Long-ago mariners used the winds blowing through the area to sail into the island. The light that was used until 1922 was called a “Fresnel Lens” which was lit with a whale oil lamp. According to a sign in the lighthouse:

“Fresnel Fourth Order Lens. The Fresnel Lens, developed in France by Augustine Fresnel in 1822 has been used worldwide to aid navigation. Handcrafted of brass and glass, these lenses are of such high quality that their light is just as effective as that produced by the most modern system. Many are still in use today.”


Interpretive Signs


Down the Spiral Staircase

On the bottom floor there are rooms that include interpretive signs detailing the story of the area, the fort, and the lighthouse, as well as historical items such as a replica light (the whereabouts of the original Fresnel lens is unknown.) Artifacts of life during the early years are also displayed, along with a scale model of the fort. A small gift-shop is also open on the bottom floor where you can purchase souvenirs and information. Climb the spiral staircase (who doesn’t love spiral staircases?!) and go up to the top where you can look out and see the Olympics, Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Careful, though, it is a small area and you may have to wait your turn going up or down.

The property is now owned by Washington State Parks and is operated in partnership with the Washington State University Extension, which provides the volunteers. The volunteers are very knowledgeable and friendly and willing to answer any questions you may have.

It’s not a huge lighthouse, but it is well-kept and the location and scenery are spectacular. The fort and its structures are often a pleasant surprise to many visitors who thought they were just coming to see the lighthouse but find themselves running through the batteries with flashlights just like the kids. No food concessionaires are on site, so a picnic lunch would be thoroughly enjoyed along with the expansive views.



Hours are 11am-5pm. Note that it is scheduled to be closed during January and February. Admission is free, donations are accepted.

Getting there: Whidbey Island can be accessed by land over the Deception Pass Bridge, or by ferry from Port Townsend or Mukilteo-Clinton. Take Highway 20 to Coupeville, then take Engle Road to Fort Casey.



Categories: Historical, Keatons Out and About, Outdoors, Parks, Washington | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beautiful, Remote Company Towns – Newhalem and Diablo, WA


Quaint Little Newhalem

1-IMG_2489Hidden away in the North Cascades of Washington are two tiny hamlets, too small to be called towns or even villages. Heading west from I-5 over the North Cascades Highway (highway 20) you drive through jaw-dropping steep mountains and jagged peaks. Located within the North Cascades National Park Complex, the area is very rugged and barely developed. Ninety-three percent of the area is wilderness. There are no accommodations. You won’t be spending the night. But take a little time to stop and check out these unusual little places anyway.


Engine Number 6 that brought visitors to Newhalem from Rockport

From the west, you first come upon Newhalem, which is owned by Seattle City Light. They manage the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. Only employees of Seattle City Light or agencies such as the National Park Service live in the town. It has a some buildings such as a small store (warning- it is closed on the weekends!) a helicopter landing area, small park, houses, and the engine from the train that used to bring visitors to the area from Rockport. There is also a visitor center which is separate from the North Cascades National Park Visitors Center, and is staffed by National Park Service employees. On the day we went in, the Park Guide, Eric Vermeers, was very friendly and knowledgeable and willing to answer all our questions.

He told us the word “Newhalem” is an Upper Skagit tribe word for “place to snare goats”. He then entertained us with the story of how miners attempted to mine for gold and silver in the 1800’s without much luck. A man named Goodell provided supplies to the miners for awhile then got investors to build a road up. But the guy who accepted the bid worked one day and quit because the rock is so hard. It’s called Skagit Gneiss and is harder than granite. Then in 1917 Seattle City Light got a permit and established Newhalem as a company town.

J.D. Ross was a superintendent at Seattle City Light and was the one who envisioned the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. He oversaw the building of three dams: Diablo, Ross, and Gorge. He resisted building the road for a long time so that he could control who came up there because there were concerns about sabotage. So that’s why the only way in and out for years was Engine number 6. Tours began in 1928 to show people what they were investing in by buying the bonds to fund the project. It was also billed as a great place to take a honeymoon – except when the couple got there they had to sleep in gender-separated barracks! But it was still a unique adventure for most honeymooners.


Crypt of J.D. Ross and Wife

An interesting side note about J. D. Ross. As we were driving through town we saw a gate over what looked like a metal door leading into the side of the mountain. We thought it was a cave that was closed off, or maybe where the powder had been stored for blasting the mountain. Turns out it was the crypt for J.D. Ross and his wife, built into the side of the mountain.


One of the powerhouses

Today’s visitors can still take tours during the summer months. You can take a walking tour of Newhalem, then visit the powerhouses and follow that up with a Diablo Lake Tour. Date are limited so you’ll want to book early. You can find more information at:


Front porch view in Diablo

Just east of Newhalem you can take a road to the north of highway 20 to the area known as Diablo. It’s so small that you can’t even find any information on it on Wikipedia or other websites. There are only houses with addresses like “H9” and “H20” and a fire department. OK, really it just looks like a garage with a fire department sign on it. This is a “bedroom community” for both park staff and employees of the nearby North Cascades Institute. It’s an interesting little place. You have to cross over a bridge to go into the area and on both sides of the bridge are old emergency phones in boxes.


Teeny tiny Diablo


Bridge leading out of Diablo

On the side of the bridge leading out of the town is also a sign with lights that says when those lights are flashing the highway into Newhalem is closed. You would

have to be very self-sufficient and prepared to live in that place! You might wonder why anyone would want to live in either of these hamlets, let alone visit them, but when you see the beautiful setting, truly nestled in the rugged canyon with the unusual green water of the river rushing by, water that flows so clear under the bridge it’s like looking through glass, you begin to understand. You really are “away from it all.”


Diablo Fire Station


Water clear as glass

Categories: Historical, Keatons Out and About, Outdoors, Parks, Roadside Attraction, Washington | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

Rivers of Glass – Glass Butte, Oregon

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Obsidian “Flow”

Rivers of black glass, gleaming in the sun. Chunks of obsidian, shining like beacons saying, “I’m right here, come and get me!”

Glass Butte in Central Oregon is one of the best rockhounding areas in the northwest. It’s on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, set aside for rockhounds to access for free. Obsidian is formed from lava that cools very quickly. This area had a huge lava flow millions of years ago so there is a LOT of obsidian. Obsidian has also been called “volcanic glass” and has been used over the years for arrowheads and knives. Today it is mostly used for jewelry, garden features, and other decorations. That’s part of the fun of obsidian, that it has such a variety of uses.

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Glass Butte – the middle of nowhere!

Located 77 miles east of Bend on Highway 20, you’ll see a plain brown sign on the south side of the road showing you where to turn. You’ll really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing to see for miles and only a couple of small trees. But this is where there truly are hidden gems.

Slow down before mile post 77 because it’s easy to zoom right past. There will be a dirt road. Go slowly and carefully. It can have deep ruts from heavy rainfall and chunks of obsidian may have washed down onto the roadway or exposed by the rain. Obsidian can be very sharp. While we have never had our tire punctured by it, we did hit a piece hard enough to poke a hole in our oil plan. So just be cautious.

Then head on into the property. There are several roads to follow. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t be able to get off BLM land and onto private land because it is all fenced. Also, don’t be surprised if you see tents because people are allowed to camp there.

There are two books that are really helpful in this particular rockhounding area: Gems Trails of Oregon by James R. Mitchell, and The GPS Guide to Western Gem Trails by David A. Kelty. This is where the treasure hunt begins. There are many different colors of obsidian – black, snowflake, mahogany, gold sheen, silver sheen, rainbow, and fire. And most of these colors are here in one place! You can stop in one spot and only find black or stop in another and find mostly mahogany. They can also be mixed. Rocks come in different sizes and shapes, small shards to HUGE pieces! Again, be careful – it is sharp and can cut you. It also gets very hot sitting in that Central Oregon sun.


Black and Mahogany Mix


Silver Sheen (see the silver streaks?)

The rainbow and fire, in my opinion, are the most elusive. You have to hold the pieces up to the sun to see the fire or rainbow properties. The color glistens like a rainbow dancing on the edges of the rock. The fire obsidian shows like a flame in the center when the sunlight hits it just right.

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HUGE Piece of Obsidian

Sometimes you have to break open a rock to see the lace/snowflake which are white lacy or snowflake looking shapes inside. Again, it’s sharp so use eye protection when breaking obsidian. You will also want to take gloves in case the rocks are really hot.

Remember, this is the desert. Take plenty of water (and a picnic. We believe in picnicking every chance we get.) Then make sure you stop picking up rocks before you are too hot or too tired. That 77 miles is a long way back when you’ve worn yourself out. And it’s easy to do. The first time we were there we were so excited but what we were seeing and how easy it was to find, we just simply didn’t want to leave. But by 3:00 it was dangerously hot.

Please remember that collecting rocks on BLM land is for personal use only. You can collect up to 25 pounds per day or 250 pounds per year. So please be respectful and don’t take more than your share.

Other than that just be careful of the heat and the sharpness of the obsidian, and have fun in one of the best rockhounding places in the country!

Categories: Keatons Out and About, Oregon, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Grand Coulee Dam – The Largest Provider of Power From Water In the United States


Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam.  It provides more power from water than any other dam in the entire United States and is located in the north-central section of Washington State. “Coulee” means a deep ravine or gorge formed by water, in this case that water is the mighty Columbia River. It is part of the Columbia Basin Project which covers eight counties!

The first place to go when you get to the dam is the visitor center which was built in 1970. It has interesting interactive displays of items associated with the dam, along with the story of how the dam was built. There are also historical artifacts associated with the Native American tribes of the area and a little bit about their story and influence in the building of the dam. You’ll also learn about the 11 towns that were covered by the reservoir.

Next you’ll want to do the free 50-minute tour of the dam. They take security very seriously because any kind of terrorist attack could be devastating. You can’t even take your purse or a fannypack on the tour, and an armed security guard accompanies all tours. But don’t worry, you can take your camera!


Make sure you bring a picnic!

You will want to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy when you are finished with the tour and the visitor center because there is a nice little park with picnic tables and restrooms right next to the dam. It’s hypnotizing to sit there and eat and just watch the water fall over the dam and listen to the soothing sounds.


View from up on a hill

As beautiful as the water is flowing over the dam in the daytime, it gets even better at night. That’s when the laser light show begins. Lasers dance across the white water which acts like a movie screen. The show tells the story of how the dam was built. Music and narration also explodes from speakers located around the dam to add to the experience. You can watch the show from several vantage points around the dam – high up on one of the hills to sitting in the parking lot. Don’t worry about missing the narration and music if you choose to go up on the hillside because it is also available on the radio. The show runs from Memorial Day through the end of September. It lasts just over ½ hour and is free. If you’re able to take the time to stick around town until dark, you’ll be glad you did. It’s so memorable that my daughters remember it from our first visit over 20 years ago!

Besides providing power to such a large area, and for irrigation (over 600,000 acres,) the dam also created Lake Roosevelt, a beautiful 151 mile-long lake that goes all the way up to the Canadian border. In 1948 the area was designated a recreation area and facilities are now operated by the National Park Service. With so much water and shoreline, there is plenty of room for camping, fishing, boating and just plain playing. There are 27 campgrounds and 22 boat launches and 10 beaches for swimming. You can even rent a houseboat and sleep on the lake! Of course there are plenty of motels and other accommodations in the area if camping isn’t your thing.


Beautiful Grand Coulee Dam

The Grand Coulee Dam and area may seem out of the way and in the middle of nowhere, but it’s well worth the trip. Even your kids will enjoy the history and all the activities available in the area. Make your plans to visit soon, pack a lunch, and be sure to stay for the light show! You’ll be glad you did.

Grand Coulee Dam is located about 90 miles northwest of Spokane, and about 230 miles northeast of Seattle.

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Forest, Fishing, Fun – Taidnapam Park, Washington


Mother-in-law, Sue, very happy with her catch!

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Beautiful forested camping spots

It’s the perfect family camping spot. A lake for fishing, boating, and a swimming area, a playground, tent sites, RV sites, trails – what more could you ask for? This perfect little spot is Taidnapam (pronounced Tide-nuh-pom) Park, hidden off of Highway 12 in Washington, just west of the town of Morton. It is operated by Tacoma Public Utilities and is located on the shores of Riffe Lake.

Riffe Lake is a 23 1/2-mile lake that was created in 1968 when the Mossyrock Dam was created and flooded the towns of Riffe and Kosmos. Taidnapam Park is located at the east end of the lake and has 139 RV sites and 24 tent sites. There are also primitive sites and group camps. Shower facilities are available. Prices range from $18 to $33. A boat ramp is also available and can be used without camping at the park.

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Ready to fish on the Fishing Bridge!

But my favorite part of the park is “The Fishing Bridge,” also known as the “108 Bridge.” You can easily walk (or bike) to it from any of the camping spots. There is a section just off the parking lot that is wheelchair accessible. But wheelchairs would also not have any problems getting up the short ramp to the bridge. The bridge has a fence on both sides that is about 3 ½ feet tall, tall enough that many parents bring their children up on the bridge while they fish. There’s a picnic table nearby, as well as restrooms and the very important fish-cleaning station for all those fish you will catch!

Once up on the bridge, you just pick a spot and drop your line into the water. What you hope to catch there are called “silvers” or “land-locked salmon” but one time I caught a beautiful 14-inch small mouth bass. I was Queen of the Bridge that day! Some days you can sit there and fish all day and end up with nothing, other days within seconds of your line touching the water, you will get a hit. Some days it can be pretty crowded but since most people just drop their lines in and aren’t trying to cast out, it really isn’t too difficult to stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder to fish.


Tunnel to playground

If the kids aren’t interested in fishing, they can simply walk through a tunnel under the Champion Haul Road which runs next to the Fishing Bridge, and reach the playground. There is also a roped-off swimming area but you’ll want to go early in the summer to use it. The water gets down pretty far by the end of summer.

You don’t have to camp at the campground to use the Fishing Bridge or the playground. Then you would just pay the $5 day use fee on weekends and holidays. Weekdays there is no charge! We often just run up there for the day to try our fishing luck.

Taidnapam Park is easy to get to, not too far from the nearest town, yet far enough off the highway to feel quite remote. Cellphones still work while on the bridge but when you head back to the campground, you may lose reception.

So with all the activities you can do in one spot – fishing, swimming, boating, bicycling, hiking, camping, playing – Taidnapam Park makes the ideal family lake-and-forest getaway.

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Wheelchair accessible fishing dock

Getting there (courtesy of Taidnapam Park website:
Taidnapam Park is about 110 miles south of Tacoma in Lewis County, near the town of Morton. From Tacoma, take I-5 south to Highway 12 East (Exit 68). Drive east on Highway 12 for approximately 37 miles (5 miles past Morton). Turn right on Kosmos Road, then left onto Champion Haul Road. Drive approximately four miles to the park entrance.
An alternate route from Tacoma is to take Highway 7 south to Morton. At Morton, turn left onto Highway 12 and drive 5 miles. Turn right on Kosmos Road, then left onto Champion Haul Road. Drive approximately four miles to the park entrance.

Categories: Boating/Kayaking, Fishing, Keatons Out and About, Outdoors, Parks, RV/Camping, Washington | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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