Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Agate Hunting: Ross Island

Agate Hunting: Ross Island

Sometimes you just need a quick easy get away. Hey, there is a river running right through the middle of Portland, how about we try that?

View Agate Hunting on Ross Island in a larger map

A few easy ways to get into the Willamette in Portland. Stay away from the industrial end (down near the North side) and you can find a number of parks and boat ramps with differing sorts of access.

On the East Bank, in the shadow of the Sellwood Bridge, is Sellwood park. Free parking (though not a whole lot of it) and a short walk to a small beach and floating dock. Easy trip down river to the no wake zones around Ross Island.

On the West Bank, just across the river, is one of several parks called “Willamette Park”. This is a much larger park, paid parking, nice boat ramp, and right next to the Portland sailing club. You can launch a kayak here either from the ramp, the dock, or the mud. Your Choice !! (I often like the mud, at low tide it is really sand). This launch is also close to Portland Kayak (the store, not to be confused with Kayak Portland, the Meetup) so you can rent kayaks there. Tell them Jon sent you. They get a kick out of that.

Further down river is the Portland Boat house. This is a building right next to OMSI that houses a lot of crew houses and a branch of Alder Creek Kayak. So you can rent kayaks here also (or get a tour). There is limited parking here unless you are shopping at one of the stores or Alder Creek. You can park a little further away on the streets and walk your kayak over. Bring your wheels.

There really should be a kayak launch over where the boats and restaurants are across the river, but I don't know where one is. Perhaps I should look better.

Today we did a quick easy launch from Willamette park. We were getting started just after work and people were starting to come in for some evening fun with their motor boats, sail boats, kayaks, and SUPs. But it is a friendly place, often with some guy playing bagpipes off in the park. Or perhaps that was someone running through a flock of geese with a baseball bat. But either way, friendly!!

The wind was blowing from down river, which had smiles on the faces of the small boat sailers, but was causing my partner and I some strain as we headed in the direction that should have been down river. Just as we got out to the water, a guy comes motoring downwind and up stream in a small seaplane. He powered down to about even with the floating homes, then turned around, waited for an opening, and gunned it straight into the wind. He was aloft in about 200 yards. I had no idea they could get off the water so fast.

Our kayaks were not getting off the water. We were glad we had our skirts cause the wind was kicking up some waves over our bow. We went directly across the river to get in the lee of Ross Island and out of the worst of the wind. The sun was still out and it was warm despite the wind, so we were having fun enough. There were also a lot of kayaks out (many rented from Portland Kayak). We made our way down to the North tip of Ross Island and then beached ourselves on the rounded river rock beach there below the high tide mark.


And there we sat and had some water and a Cliff bar or two and took in the view of the city. The new light rail bridge is going up in an efficient sort of manner. The two main towers are built and they are working their way out from these towers by stringing struts and roadway. To our left, coming back down the river, is The Spirit of Portland, the largest boat on the river. You can catch a ride and a nice meal with them right from the bank of the river in downtown Portland. Sort of a fun thing to do with a group of people.

At this point my partner was looking at the rocks at her feet, reached down, and came up with a rock. “Hey”, she said, “Look what I found. An Agate”.
“How can you tell it is an Agate?” I asked.
“You can see through it !!”
“Oh,” I picked up a rock, “Is this one?”
“Can you see through it?”
“No.... Is this one?”
“Can you see through it?”
“No... is this one?”
“Can you see through it?”
“No..... wait.... Yes ….. Yes I can!!”
“That is piece of glass”

And so the contest began.


The Spirit of Portland (perhaps Portland Spirit)

This is like a giant stone game of “Find Waldo”. Here are all of these little nice beautiful round pieces of stone, but some of them (usually the slightly smaller and less round objects) are the magically translucent ones we call agate. Now agates are, generally, volcanic in origin and form in pockets or balls, perhaps a little like thunder eggs or quartz. They break off from the main rock formations and tumble around the rivers for a few thousand years and then end up on the beaches just waiting for loyal agate hunters to come along. And so we came.

Is that an Agate?

“Oh, look at this one. It is red!”
“That is the find of the day !”
“Why, because it is red? Is red rare?”
“It is today. When you go agate hunting the rare one is the one that is most unusual that day”

The Agates (or at least what we think are agates)

“You know something else?”
“There is a pretty big and fast rising tide in the Willamette river.”
“Oh? What makes you say that?”
“Well, your kayak is floating away”

And then there was some scrambling and some splashing and some re-apportioning of kayaks.
And it was getting a little late.
So we climbed in, buttoned up, and headed back along the east coast of Ross Island. The east coast has much less boat travel since a stretch of it is “No Wake” and so that keeps the jet boats out and many of the skiiers out. We did some rescue practice because we knew we were going on an OOPS trip soon and we didn't want to seem like nubies. We have also been practicing to see what is the most efficient way for us to rescue each other. Personally, I don't like the heel hook method. I like to zip up on the my stern on my tummy far enough that I am holding onto the bow of my rescuers boat, that gets me up and has us both better balanced. Then I can just spin into my seat and get on with things. My partner tried that with good success too, but she hasn't given up on the heel hook. (She has informed me that she likes this entry, but her rescuers don't like it. It is hard to hold the boat level. So she doesn't like it anymore just because it isn't easy for her rescuers. I, personally, want to know who these other rescuers are...).

My Partner Practices her Roll

Right after the entrance to the Ross Island Lagoon (which is really a huge gravel pit dug by the Ross Island Gravel company over the last 100 years but since it is filled with river water people call it a lagoon) when I saw a family of Canada Geese. I guess this is the same bunch that we saw as goslings at the beginning of the summer. How fun. Let's see if I can pull up the pictures of them as chicks.


Are these the same Geese as above?

I think this would be a good time to say a little about Ross Island and the unmitigated environmental disaster that it might very well be. As I said, the Ross Island Gravel company has been in business for a long time. They have a major removal setup out there on the island and they have basically been loading up the island and shipping it off for construction for most of a century. Now before we go off half cocked and say that this company was exporting one of Portland's naturals treasures for its own personal pleasure, we should point out that the gravel and sand being excated supplied most of the concrete that was used to build modern Portland. So Portland was raping itself. Ok, now that we said that, I think we can go off half cocked. SON OF A BITCH was exporting one of Portland's natural treasures for its own Fraking personal pleasure !!

The Cranes and Digging Factor out in the Lagoon.

What Some people tried to make Ross Island in the early 1900s.

Oh, and of course, since this was a big business interest and deeply involved in the building of the west, the Army Corp of Engineers has to get involved. See, originally there were these 3 islands, Ross, Toe, and Hardtack. They were all pretty big islands with even now tiny Toe having some trees and such. Then, apparently to make mining easier for the Holocene alluvial gravel (that just happens to make great concrete and exists in a 40 meter layer under the island) the Corp built a small land bridge between Ross and Hardtack. This actually had two effects, it isolated and created the Lagoon, which could now be more easily mined, and it shift the mass of the river flow to the west, which helped keep the deeper channel silt free for commercial traffic. It also had 2 environmental side-effects. First, the stunted water flow on the east side quickly built up a silt deposit, that eventually broached the surface and grew trees and is now the wild area of East Island. Second, the increased flow on the West side ate into poor Toe island and turned it into the little more than sandbar which exists there now. (if you stop there for lunch, watch the tides !!)

Notice how much the lagoon has grown. To make cement.

And Now:

And then came that 100 years of digging out that 40 meters of gravel. 40 meters. I wonder if that means that the lagoon is 100 feet deep? No wonder they are having such a big argument about who owns that hole and, more importantly, who owns the cost of refilling it since the EPA got upset and required fixes. The guy that owns it (it would be nice if he was Mr. Ross, but alas, that is the name of the original settler, not the company owner) has tried repeately to give this entire mess to the City of Portland, but Portland has held off this generosity for fear of inheriting the 10 (or perhaps 20) year plan to re-make the island. Still, some of the island now belongs to Portland, and there is great hope that in the not too distant future there will be enough clean material deposited back into the lagoon to:
  1. Stabilize the island (so it doesn't fall into that big hole)
  2. Cap the contaminated soil that was originally used at the start of the fill. Which came, by the way, from The Port Of Portland and was presumably just river dredge.
  3. Establish a shallow water and raparian wildlife refuge.
  4. Build a great Kayak destination Bar and Resort called “Powell's Great Kayak Destination Bar and Resort”
The Current Final plan for Ross Island, From the Oregonian Article

There is a lot of stuff out there written about this project (well, not so much about the bar) and if you want more, you can try here.
or read the Oregonian Article.

Wow. Where were we before we got sucked into that 100 foot deep hole?

Oh, yeah, paddling around Ross island. We continued up through the little slough between Hardtack and East, which we now know used to be one of the two main channels before East island got “created”. It was very shallow in there. The water was slow, warm, and full of green slime. We had a friendly little she mallard come up to say hi. Probably looking for food. Maybe just liked blue kayaks.

Once you get out of that channel, you can see across the main part of the river to the boat launch. So we paddled in that direction, but before you get there you get to another river bar. A place that at this water was about 6 inches deep, but I have often seen it sticking up out of the water. There are a lot of small river stones but also some large snags that floated down the river in some flood. Just beware than you might scrape bottom or even have to get out and walk. Not a big deal.

And so back to the landing. The wind was still whipping. The sky was still blue. The City was still sparking in the sunlight. Wow, it wasn't even all that late. I could still go home and blog !!

Oh, and update on agates. We got around 10 of the puppies. We need a few more handfulls before we have enough to justify a rock tumbler run. So today... we are headed out to the west tip of Hayden island, supposed to be good agate hunting there !! (oh, and much more commercial over development).
Catch you on the flip flop.

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