Friday, March 1, 2019

Fort Sumter - South Carolina

When I was in ninth grade my family moved to Charleston, South Carolina, from Guam.  This turns out to be as big a cultural relocation as it was a physical one. We moved into a nice little house on the marsh on James Island in Fort Johnson Estates. I went to what was then called Fort Johnson High School on Fort Johnson Road.  If you go to the North end of Fort Johnson road you come to the South Carolina Marine Research facility, which is at the site of historic (wait for it) Fort Johnson.

My Family was a Navy family. We had lived all over the United States, well, all over the places where there was Ocean and it was usually warm enough for the Navy to be happy. But we certainly lived in many places that thought they were in the South. Places like Norfolk Virginia. But I had never heard of Fort Johnson before. Not sure I had ever really heard much (officially) about the civil war before. But now I was going to a high school and living in a sub-division that were both connected together by a road all named after this Fort Johnson. A place whose remnants I could walk to in half an hour from my house. So what was Fort Johnson that people had decided it was a place that needed to be remembered in such a way? Why,  Fort Johnson was where the War Between the States began. The place where the first shot of the war was fired.

Many people might think that this dubious honor goes to Fort Sumter, but those people would be guilty of Yankee revisionist thinking. Fort Sumter was just the recipient of the first shot. Not the originator. The South started the war, and that war was started by a signal gun fired from Fort Johnson. Unclear if that signal gun actually had shot loaded and even more unclear what shot first HIT Fort Sumter. There were many (not yet) confederate forts that had been quickly built and they were all loaded up and ready to shoot that early April morning. But it was definitely Fort Johnson that sent the signal that lit up the whole shooting match.

So there are all of these Confederate fort (and war veterans) names all of the place in Charleston (My family's home was just off of Robert E. Lee street). With all of this Pro-South (essentially Pro-Cause) propaganda in so many public places is it surprising that the War stays as such a living thing in the mind of many southerners?

Sorry. I believe we were going on a Trip to Fort Sumter, which happened to be an American Fort at the start of the American Civil War. It is now a National Monument run by the Park service.

Fort Sumter is also built on a man-made island just off to the south side of the entrance to Charleston Harbor. It was built right where the modern cannon of the day would give it (and its sister  structure, Fort Moultrie, on Sullivans Island) strong overlapping fields of fire on any vessels entering the harbor.  Originally this was done to keep out those pesky Brits just after the war of 1812.  Since it is on an Island, you need to take a boat ride to get to it. The park service has a contract with a local ferry company to transport passengers from the Monument office (which is in the city of Charleston right next to the Aquarium) over to the pier at Fort Sumter.

If you decide to visit Fort Sumter, you can park in the parkings structure that is next to the Aquarium (and marked for the Aquarium). You should call ahead and book a ticket for the boat ride. Make sure you arrive early enough to allow yourself time to stroll around the very nice museum building and read some of the history of the Fort. The history is wrapped up in the unpleasantness between the North and South and focuses a lot on the the one issue that they just didn't harp much on in history class in Charleston: Slavery.

There are many aspects of the evil of Slavery that we could discuss. I thought I would mention one that is alluded to with the following printed quote I found on a plaque inside the Fort Sumter Monument embarkation lounge/museum.

Here we have a well established and seemingly ubiquitous practice of the White Master having sex with his slaves. Pretty insidious stuff;  you have these young women that you own and who can't say no to you and so you have your way with them. We would call this Rape. And then the girls have children. Now these kids are your daughters and sons, but since they cannot be recognized as such (especially by your wife and family) they are born and live their lives as Slaves. That is the horror of generation 1. Now look ahead a bit. Your (white) Son has grown up and inherits your home and other property. This property includes young girls and he knows that the common practice of his father was to have sex with these women and he continues this practice. Except in many cases, these women are his half sisters. There were many many generations of Slavery in the South, many cycles of this institutionalize incest-rape.  I was first introduced to this historical inconvenient truth in the novel "Seventh Son" by Orson Scott Card. He addresses it as (essentially) Satan trying to destroy the South through ultimate sin. (Hey, it is a work of magic and fiction but that doesn't mean he doesn't capture the awfulness of the truth).

Man, it takes a long time to get to Fort Sumter. All of these side tours. But we have waited long enough and it is time to board our vessel for the 30 minute trip out to the Fort.

Our Boat ride out. 
On the way there, however, there is plenty to see. Right off the bat we have a grand view of Charlestons big and beautiful new bridge over the Cooper. It replaced 2 bridges (the old bridge and what was the new bridge until the really new bridge was opened). Both of the old bridges were brought down and removed a decade or so ago. And then across the Cooper river is the Air Craft Carrier Yorktown. It is now a navy air museum. It sits in the mud across the bay along with a destroyer, a coast guard cutter, and a WWII attack submarine. The museum is called Patriot's Point and is worth a visit all by itself.

Cooper River Bridge
Castle Pickney (another old fort)

Part of the Charleston Skyline. This is Ravenell Park (and a grounded sailboat)
Note that the Charleston Skyline is very low. 

Now that we are back in the center of the Cooper river and headed toward the entrance to the harbor, look off to your right (Starboard). What a lovely view of the downtown Charleston Peninsula. You can see the various church steeples rising over the city and the beautiful old houses lined up and stretching to White Point Garden and The Battery out on the end of the peninsula that marks the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers. By the by, "Cooper" is pronounced with a soft u sound, like "cup". sort of.

There is an automated voice speaking at times over the loud speaker and telling us of historic points of interest. Off on James Island (hey, that is where I live) there is a Marine Research center. That is also the location of Fort Johnson (or what is left of it). From here you can see how cannons at that point could fire on Fort Sumter, in the distance. You can also imagine that it might have been a pretty hard shot to make. A mile or so away, and presumably you have to loft your shells pretty high in the air to make the distance. Lots of windage and stuff. But I understand that the top mathematicians of the time used to spent a lot of effort creating tables for calculation how to shoot the big guns. Math is always key to efficient mayhem.

We approach the island that is Fort Sumter

Those are Gun Embrasures. The fort used to be 2-3 stories taler.

We pull up at the dock that is on the North side of the man made island on which lies Fort Sumter. The island was originally made from imported stone that was just dropped into the water at a local shallow point in the river. The stone had to be imported because there really isn't any local stone in the low Carolina country. Just mud. Perhaps some occasional limestone. It used to be that the river flowed on all sides of the island, but back in the 40s they dredged the harbor entrance so the larger boats could get in and they put all of that dredge in the shallows south of Sumter. So now there is land (marsh) there and you can occasionally walk to the Fort during a real low tide.

Fort Sumter is really 2 forts. A "more modern" installation built on top of the old Civil war fort. You enter through what was a side door through the original fort wall. These walls are all made of bricks. These were locally sourced bricks created from local clay by local Slaves.  Thousands and Thousands of bricks. Oh, and it is illegal to take one, so don't even think about it.

Once inside the walls you can see the plan of the fort. There were 3 tiers of guns. The bottom tier, with the biggest guns, had these long rifled affairs. They can be elevated and traversed because they sit on metal rails that allow the real of the gun to be slewed from side to side. When they are "run out" they stick out through a little slit, thus maximizing wall and minimizing return fire killing your crew.

Note the Brick work.

A row of guns pointed pretty much at our Ferry.

Ironically, the fort was made sort of backwards to what it actually "Needed" to be in the only war it participated in. The fort was made with its "front" facing south to a pier where supplies and such could come in. But any large ships would have to pass by the rear (North) of the fort. And that is where all of the thick walls and big guns were placed. But when the South started shooting at the fort, many of the guns firing where shooting from the south side, at the front and poorly armored side of the fort. That must have been depressing for the Union troops.

Looking from the "New" Fort down into the bottom part of the Old Fort

After WWI the US built of a sort of Aquatic Magniot line of big forts at Various harbor entrances. You can see the remanents of the forts all over the USA. A few big ones, for instance, out at the mouth of the Columbia river in Oregon (Fort Stevens). Well, such a fort was built on top of the wreck of Fort Sumter. The army corp of engineers just came in and filled the old fort up with dirt, leaving all of the old guns and such in place, and went ahead and built the new modern Huge Gun concrete emplacement.  That set of buildings isn't very pretty, but it does serve as a nice place to have the rest of the historic artifacts and placards displayed. The filling of the fort with Dirt also turned out to be something of a godsend for the historic guns and such as it preserved them from the elements and graffiti artists until Fort Sumter was named a historic monument and some money could be spent to dig the old fort out and restore the walls and guns.

attribute: By Methaz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Arial view of modern Fort Sumter. The black part in the middle is the New fort.

When I was learning history, there was much ado made of the battle of the Monitor and Merrimack. The way the lesson was taught, it always seemed to me that the Monitor was some sort of freak One-off that had that one battle and then sank in a storm in the Atlantic. Turns out there is a lot of problems with that view. For one, the Confederate ship was actually called The Virginia. It made been the Merrimack when it was captured from the Yankees, but then it was converted to a steam powered iron clad and renamed The Virginia as a ship of the CSA.  How much of history do the victors get to rewrite? The other thing is that there were a LOT of monitor type vessels made by the Union and deployed around the country. A squadron of 9 of them, under command of Rear Admiral Du Pont, sailed into Charleston Harbor in 1863 and tried to take Fort Sumter back from the Confederates later in the war ( you know, after the Confedreates took it from the Union).

You can learn about this history in the environment controlled museum room inside the black concrete part of the fort. You can also wander around and see the old guns and read about how they work and what sort they are. Some of them were confederate guns. Others were newer guns brought in just after the civil war in a modernization effort. As you walk around, you need to try and visualize what it might have been like in 1853. There would have been 3 tiers of the big guns, back then, and an big brick barracks to house the soldiers. Most of that is gone, but there are still some outlines of the buildings and enough of the guns down one corridor to give you an idea of what the place looked like.

We came on the 2nd (last) boat of the day. So we (and everyone else on the island, including the Park Rangers) had to return on that boat after about an hour of walking around. There was a nice flag ceremony conducted by the head Ranger and he got some of our fellow tourists to help lower and fold the big USA flag flying over the fort. Then we all walked out the long pier together, got back on the ferry, and took off back for Charleston. The tide was going out strong, making a strong current right at the pier. There was a group of Dolphin swimming there in the rocks. My partner and I like seeing the dolphin, though they are a bit hard to photograph.

Dolphin in the channel. Sullivan Island light in the background. That is also where Fort Moultrie is,
gives you an idea of what an attacking squadron would have to face to get into the Harbor.
They would be sitting ducks.

The day had been cold and blustery, but there was a snack bar on the ferry and my Partner and I got a nice hot cup of coffee for the return trip.  There is a lot of things to see and read that I have not mentioned. But really, you don't want me to tell you about everything, just enough to get you thinking  that the next time you are in South Carolina, and you visit Charleston, you may just want to take a nice boat trip out to Historic Fort Sumter.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Multnomah Wahkeenah loop is open - Feel the Burn

Feel The Burn

It has been a little over a year since the big fireworks-started fire on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge burned up huge tracks of prime forest and hiking trails. This fire was started (accidentally) by a teenager playing with smoke bombs along the Eagle Creek trail. That started a fire in that deep hard to reach canyon that quickly spread throughout the area and finally burned itself out just as it got past the Multnomah falls area. Parts of the trail, like sections of Eagle Creek, may be lost for a generation. Some other more lightly hit sections were re-opened last month.

My partner and I have re-started our semi-weekly jaunt to do the trail starting at the Multnomah Falls parking lot and  looping around Wahkeenah Falls and Multnomah Falls. This 5 mile loop is blessed with huge and wonderful water features and many huge trees and rocky precipices. We usually like to climb up the gorge at Wahkeenah and come back down at Multnomah (the next valley over), mainly because the Wahkeenah side is often muddy and slippery and easier to go up than down.

The connector trail
Note lack of large undergrowth. Everything you see is 1 year old or less

The fire impact can be seen from the parking lot (which is in between the lanes of I-84 right at the falls). The steep cliffs immediately East of the Multnomah Falls Lodge have been cleared of many trees and those trees still standing are all marked with black burn marks going 30 feet up the trunks.  Since we are doing a counter-clockwise loop, we starting hiking away from these obvious scars along the little connector trail that goes from Multnomah to Wahkeenah.

The first thing you notice is how visible everything is. With all of the bushy growth and low hanging branches burned away, there isn't anything (except the burned tree trunks) blocking your view. You can see a long way and geographic features that had been invisible a few years ago are now exposed and prominent. This means more views of the cliff face walls, falling rock, and the Columbia river. Then you start to notice the specifics of the undergrowth that have been burned away. All of the bushy stuff is gone, but so is most of the ubiquitous sword fern. The sword fern in many places is burned down to little black stumps. Some are trying to grow again, but others appear to be just dead.

Burned Sword Fern Stumps

The burned off undergrowth does appear to be being exploited by some species. There is a lot of thimble berry growing all around. It must grow quickly and is taking over everyplace it can find sunlight (which is a lot of places with the small broadleaf trees all burned out). There were also many new shoots of Mahonia (Oregon Grape) growing. Many of these shoots were coming up right in the trail. This is because Mahonia spreads through root growth. Because of this I believe the plant was more able to "hide" from the fire and then come back with a vengeance when some of its competition had been burned out.

Mahonia in the trail

One thing I was keeping an eye out for was Poison Oak. I was sort of hoping that plant was less successful against fire and had been wiped out. Hard to say. I didn't see any Poison Oak plants with leaves on them and it was certainly true that a couple of remembered Poison Oak infestation areas seemed to be burned clean. But this time of year it isn't completely unreasonable for the plants to be dormant, so maybe they are somewhat reduced but still present in the area. Dang.


We climbed up the Wahkeenah creek basin. The other thing the fire did was set the area up for a lot of rock slides and flash floods. Lots of evidence of that. Some parts of the trail look to have been completely rebuilt over top of a new slide. There was a new foot bridge across the river right at this place where the Wahkeenah cuts through a close sided ravine. As we arrived there were several people standing on the bridge and looking around. They were all wearing hard hats. Turns out they were the designer of the bridge and the people that built it. I guess just checking it out. It is a good bridge with strong stacked rock footings and steal crossbeams.
The new Bridge. My Partner. Bridge Creators.

Above Fairy Falls is a split in the trail where you can either head further up the Wahkeena creek to Wahkeenah Springs (where the Wahkeenah creek comes pouring out of the mountain rock) or you can go up to a "View Point". I have looked for this so called viewpoint many a time in the past and never found or saw anything. But with the undergrowth burned away, my partner thought it might be worth a look see. So we went that away.

Two Singed Giants

The Author being Artsy


The New View
And she was right. Instead of being surrounded by close-in green, we now were afforded a view of the river and of the gorge that was new to us. It was stark and visible. And with this view came something else, a bitter cold wind blowing unfettered down the gorge and into our faces. We weren't expecting that. We had to quickly don a couple more layers and then huff it away from the view and off to a more sheltered spot.

There is this place that I call the Multnomah Wahkeenah Crossroads (it is now a facebook place. Make sure to checkin if you are there). There are a few trails that end up there (including the trails to Devil's Rest, Multnomah River, Viewpoint, and Wahkeenah Trail). I like to eat my lunch there. Today it was cold and that area was also more exposed to the wind with the undergrowth gone. So we didn't rest long. You can see way up the mountain from there.

This is a good picture of how high the fire must have burned through this area.

After the crossroads you hike along the ridge for a bit. I always like that part of the hike. I think it is because you have to do a lot of work to get up there (so you feel a bit virtuous) and now you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor and sort of coast along the top for awhile. It is also very pretty up there. One of my favorite spots, however, where the trail winds through a relative wide flat area amongst a relatively young stand of Douglas Fir, was really hit hard by the fire. The smaller Doug Firs may have burned too much to survive and they are missing all of their needles and appear to be dead. That isn't a good thing. That entire part of the forest will have to fall down. Probably to be replaced by the quick growing Alder until another generation of the fir giants can take hold.

Not Dead
Probably Dead

Never could see the river from here before.

Going down into the Multnomah river gorge you see a lot more burnt trees and a lot more evidence of rock slides and flooding. I included pictures. But this area, though burned and battered, appears to have survived. Things will grow back and in another 30 years it will look like it did 50 years ago.

This makes me think about that Viewpoint I was talking about earlier. Strange to have a trail that is called viewpoint that doesn't have one. But now, after the burn, there is a great view. I am supposing that the trail was built and named not long after some previous burn had opened up the understory and provided that wonderful view of the Columbia. So... therein lies hope.

Multnomah River Valley

Note: This fire marks are much higher here.

Old and new Trail Signs for Larch Mountain Trail

How often do you have to make these signs?


The last part of the hike is a paved switch back trail down the gorge wall to the Multnomah Lodge and the parking lot. This area of the loop was also badly hit by the fire. Down at one of the big falls view areas (about a quarter of the way up the cliff wall) most of the big trees had been cut down and left where they fell, and the area is just bald. Not sure what happened here. The trees in the area don't appear to be any worse burned than they are other places, so why are they all cut down? I am thinking that they were sacrificed in order to slow the fire down so that the firefighters could protect/save the historic lodge and bridge that are at the base of the falls.  There are a LOT of tourists that visit those falls every year. Can't have the lodge burn down, that is where the bathrooms are!!

Falls Viewpoint above the Lodge.

Why the Tourists Come.
After the loop and partner and I were cold and a bit tired. The wind had been very cold up there. During the summer, we have a tradition of rewarding ourselves for making this hike with an ice-cream cone from the little snack bar at the old lodge. We like to say, "Do the Loop, Get a Scoop". But it was a little cold for that. So I took her into the lodge itself for some lunch. They have a nice sized restaurant inside the stone building. High sweeping ceilings and big stone hearth with a fire. And a pretty good menu too. Our new motto is "Hike the Loop, Have some Soup".

Hike the Loop. Have Some Soup.