Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wind Farms are Sexy... and Other Adventures

Sometimes you just gotta get away. By yourself. I took a long weekend to get away in the incredible Pacific Northwest. I spent two nights at my favorite campsite near Mt. Hood and one night at the sardine can campground better known as Deschutes River State Recreation Area where the Deschutes River meets the Columbia River... not really my idea of camping, especially because the county fire marshal wouldn't allow campfires there. (In-depth critique later in this post.)

Night One: The First Presidential Debate 
I risked not receiving a radio signal by going camping that first night, but I thought, hey- if I can get cell phone service out there, surely I can get a radio signal... luckily, I was right. Although it was a bit fuzzy, I listened while I was setting up camp. There were no surprises for both the debate and for the campsite- the same back and forth bickering and accusations and the same cloudless night sky complete with millions of stars and nearly nobody around...

Day One: A Whole Lotta Nothin'- Just what I needed.
I journaled, read, lounged on the "beach" of the river- quality Nicole time- something I haven't had for quite a while. It was good to cleanse and purge, to reflect and anticipate, to remember and to try to forget. I didn't even leave the campground until the next day. I didn't need to. Everything I needed was right there- the river, the clear blue sky, fresh air, me.

Night Two: Fire!
I have been rightly accused of putting out fires in the past. Not the ones that need to be put out- like the ones that occur when something goes wrong at work- those are usually not a problem and those "fires" need to be put out.... I'm talking about campfires. Campfires that are essential for heat on chilly September nights and for cooking food while camping. My problems with campfires are that I want to blow on the fire at the wrong time or I want to continually "stir" it up and make it bigger, which tends to have the opposite effect. Anyway- my goal was to teach myself to keep a fabulous fire going.

I have to say- the key to keeping a good fire going is to have a good supply of all sizes of dry, burnable wood. The small stuff/paper (aka "kindling"), sticks, and the big stuff. Then, it's just a matter of putting the kindling in the center and piling out from there smallest to biggest, and then adding the appropriate sizes depending on the life of the fire. Wow. I didn't know this fire thing would be so easy! Lucky for my previous accusers, I have proof of my success. Three hours after ignition, here was my fire- nice and hot:

I felt like I should beat my chest and exclaim, "I have made fire!" like Tom Hanks did in Cast Away...

Day Two: White River Falls and Maryhill Sitings Project
I like to take a new route whenever I can, so from Mt. Hood I went east and then north instead of going north through Hood River and then east on I-84. Once I was out of Mt. Hood National Forest, I thought I'd made a big mistake. Soon I was proven wrong. The tiny little town of Tygh Valley is absolutely gorgeous! While I don't recommend going out of your way to see this rural metropolis, it is one of those quaint sleepy towns that I'm surprised NOT to see in any movies... yet. Or maybe it IS in some movie, I don't know... 

Also along this scenic route of mine was quite possibly the smallest state park I've visited in a while. (Let it be known that I don't visit a lot of state parks.) I was prepared for disappointment (again), but (again) I was wrong. White River Falls State Park is really gorgeous- the White River plummets 90 feet over basalt cliffs. There is a short trail that leads down to the bottom of the falls where the river is calm again. At the bottom is the ruins of the hydroelectric power plant that supplied electricity to the surrounding counties until The Dalles Dam was built in 1960.

Next stop: Maryhill Museum. I actually didn't go inside the museum- what I wanted to see was free and outdoors on the Maryhill Museum grounds. The Sitings Project was designed by Portland architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works. When I first saw photos of this project, I was convinced that Brad came to Montana State University School of Architecture and copied my idea from my 3rd year design project, which set the stage for my thesis. One of the photos I took while I was there is the exact rendering I did for both projects. Whether he stole my idea or not- his got built and there I was taking way too many photos of it... I love concrete. 

Final Stop for the day: Deschutes River State Recreation Area. While I don't recommend this campground one bit, I can see how all the fishermen love it. I think there were 60 people fishing the Deschutes within view of the campground and three people at my camp loop gutted salmon the size of a small toddler. Minus the campground, the setting was amazing- rolling hills in the background with the river flowing gracefully over and around greenery and rocks with trees at the river's edge that allowed the sunset to sparkle in the river like sequins.

The problems with this campground: campfires were NOT allowed and the campsites were nearly on top of each other. There was actually a line in the grass that separates each site from the adjacent one. Strategic car parking and tent setup was key for any privacy whatsoever. If there wasn't a river right next to me creating white noise, I could have heard the people next to me breathing.

Day Three: The Grand Finale
I love wind farms. They make me happy. 

(I'm glad this photo isn't scratch & sniff- after 3 nights of camping, I was pretty ripe...)

I toured the Biglow Wind Farm outside of Rufus, Oregon. I'm puzzled as to how a piece of machinery can be so beautiful. Perhaps it is the romance of renewable energy that has me so in love.

The 76 turbines I saw are only phase I of three phases that will produce enough electricity to power 100,000 homes. These turbines don't generate power that goes directly to your home even if you are a renewable energy customer- the power is transferred to a grid that includes hydroelectric power from the John Day Dam/substation on the Columbia River.

Some fun facts about these turbines (from my tour handout and from all of my stupid questions):
  • When the tip of the blade is straight up, the height is 396 feet tall. 
  • Each turbine weighs 246 tons.
  • The towers are 13 feet in diameter at the base and 7 feet in diameter at the top, just below the nacelle (aka, the "motor" behind the blades).
  • Each turbine costs $3 million installed.
  • The concrete footing that holds these in the ground is 52 feet in diameter and contains 340 yards of concrete.
  • Each turbine blade is 131 feet long and weighs 16,000 lbs.
  • Rotors turn at 14.4 rotations per minute, with the blade tip speed at more than 130 mph.
  • To stop the turbine, the computer inside the tower rotates the blades to be parallel with the wind direction (as opposed to perpendicular for power generation).

I'm smitten....

(Can you kinda see Mt. hood in the background in this one? Damn forest fires...)

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At 6:49 PM, October 01, 2008, Blogger amy said...

i'm so impressed by your self-sufficiency...i know people who won't even go to the grocery store alone.

there was talk of putting a wind "farm" in the water on the coast of cape cod, mass but one of the reasons the residents protested it was because they thought it would ruin the view. personally, i think they would look kinda neat in the water...

At 10:08 PM, October 01, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your getaway from the Pacific NW to the Pacific NW? ;)
I hope the Search for Nicole yielded some good personal growth experiences.


At 12:21 PM, October 03, 2008, Blogger heidi said...

Nice weekend! I'm one of those people "who won't go the the grocery store alone" so I commend you on being brave enough to go camping alone. I swear you should be hired by Oregon Field Guide to travel around Oregon and write about it!


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