Partly cloudy, 28-35
Another little snowstorm overnight traced every branch and twig in white. While I was out taking
pictures the stratocumulus overcast began to break up and we were graced with a few sunbreaks. By
afternoon the air warmed up and all the snow around the house disappeared. I took advantage of the
bright conditions to snap a few photos with the 80-400 zoom. The minimum exposure to get
reasonably sharp shots with that lens seems to be 1/250 at f11 using ISO 400, which pretty much
Black-capped chickadee ducking junco
requires midday sunlight or very bright overcast. Occasionally I can get a decent picture at 1/50
or slower though, tempting me to chase our yardbirds even on the more typical gray days.
I added Susan to my Y membership today, then we went swimming together, as we had been doing once
or twice a week in December before things got too busy around Christmas.
Ovc, rain, 40
Today, the second of two days of continuous rain, we received 1.6 inches on top of 2.7 inches
yesterday. That's close to a two-day record for us. Rivers are flooding around western Washington,
with the Tolt and Snoqualmie predicted to set new records, and possibly the Newaukem and Chehalis
rivers down Pat's way as well. That could make for some good agate hunting next week, one of the
few bright benefits of this radical weather. Centralia and Chehalis are bracing for severe flooding
and I-5 is expected to close sometime this evening, hopefully after Daniel comes through on his way
home from Bend. He drove down to Eugene to visit a friend for a few days then drove over Santiam Pass
to Bend to stay with another friend and do some snowboarding at Bachelor. Unfortunately conditions at
Bachelor were so bad the mountain closed and he wasn't able to do any riding. Now he's headed home,
hoping to beat the I-5 closure. I-90 and the other passes are already closed due to extreme
David and I drove around in the morning to inspect the flooding then I got out
my kayak and tried paddling in the ditches. The puddle at the foot of the driveway was a little too
shallow, so I portaged down our road and put in where water was running across the road. I couldn't
really paddle across the road but it made a good photo (by David). I climbed over the fence and
paddled across the field and back, then down the ditch to the culvert and up the stream, dodging
alders. Mother and daughter in the house with the garden and swingset came out to take pictures of
the kayaker in their creek.
Daniel arrived home about 7PM to report that he was the last northbound vehicle on I-5
before the DOT closed it between Hwy 12 eastbound at exit 68 and westbound at exit 88. Hwy 12 is
also closed both directions due to mudslides, as are about 60 other roads around western Washington.
Approaching exit 68 Daniel noticed that the traffic was speeding up despite the heavy rain and poor
visibility. When a DOT vehicle passed him going 80, then slowed down ahead of him and turned on its
flashing lights, Daniel accelerated and re-passed the DOT car. Shortly afterwards he reached the
Hwy 12 exit where two other DOT trucks were pulling over with their lights flashing. Daniel passed
them too and kept on going, and when he looked back, there were no other cars behind him. He figured
he'd better not be the last car so he drove hard, following a fast pickup in front of him, and
passed a number of cars and trucks in the next few miles. Looking out on either side of the freeway
all the fields were flat, dark and shiny; everything was underwater but the roadway. There was only
one section where water was encroaching on the freeway itself but most of the exits were blocked.
Cars were being directed off the freeway at one exit but the pickup ahead of him kept going so
Daniel did too. Lots of lights at the blockade on the southbound lanes at exit 88 but northbound
traffic was being allowed to continue. Adrenaline kept him awake the rest of the drive home. Susan
was very relieved that he made it through.
Daniel with agates
Mostly cloudy, 47 Up an agate creek, part 1
The flooding last week, though not as bad as predicted, still promised good agate-hunting on the
re-worked gravel bars of the tributaries of the Newaukum River. We were late getting down there
though. Pat and Shirley drove up to
on Sabbath afternoon and found a crowd of cars lining the logging roads near the
creek. He reported that gravel bars were already exposed even though the water was still high and
murky. We decided to wait a couple more days to let the water come down and and hopefully expose a
few agates that the early birds missed.
Daniel and David came with me. Whether or not they have a knack for picking the right days to come
agate hunting, I'm not sure, but they sure picked the right day today. We left here around 7,
joined Pat for a little extra breakfast then drove over and parked where the county road bends up
the hill, about a quarter mile above the big culvert on the main stem of the creek. We walked past
the gate about a quarter mile then dropped into the creek. Didn't find anything but tracks below
the first tributary. Lots of new mud in the floodplain - the creek must have really been up. We
soon discovered why. About 0.3 miles above the first tributary, elevation about 650', we ran into a
10' high wall of logs and brush which spanned the whole creek valley. The boys scrambled up on top
of the log jam while Pat and I worked our way up around one side. What a sight! A sea of logs
filled the valley from one side to the other for more than 100 yards upstream. Above it Lucas Creek
meandered in braided channels down a level floodplain of gravel devoid of any vegetation. Buried
under all that gravel and debris was the most productive section of one of the best agate streams in
the state. On the other hand, there was lots of new gravel exposed. Too bad we weren't the first
ones to search it.
Below the log jam
View upstream from logjam
Scoured valley of the landslide fork
The source of the flood
We started finding agate right away as we hiked up the gravel bars above the log jam. Daniel was
the first to find a good-sized chunk, then I spotted a large rounded cobble at the edge of the
stream. It was pitted like vesicular basalt but a little rougher and appeared dark gray with just a
hint of red. As I stooped to inspect it more closely I realized it was a very large agate; the end
which had been buried in the gravel was broken and the smooth, semi-gloss surface of the fracture
was very dark red. It was nearly 8" long and 4-5" in diameter, certainly the largest chunk of
carnelian I'd ever found. It would not be the largest of the day though.
That agate was nearly in the same spot as the 5" slab of carnelian
I found back in 1996 after the
big floods that year. I recognized the potholes in the blue-gray clay of the streambed. The second
tributary was where the log jam had come from, scouring the slope on either side of the narrow
valley up to 10 feet above the stream and leaving nothing but mud, rocks and woody debris in its
wake. The subsequent heavy rain and high water had washed the gravel bars clean and left quite a
few chunks of red and orange agate exposed. The tracks we'd been following continued only a short
distance up the tributary; beyond that point we were the first on the scene and we found some
spectacular agates. Daniel found the largest, a 17 lb cylindrical gray and orange nodule up to 5"
in diameter and more than a foot long. By contrast, my dark red cobble weighed in at only 6 lbs.
By the time we stopped for lunch about a half mile up the tributary (about 100 yds above the
clearcut on the north side of the creek), we'd found more agate than we ever expected to. Just while I was eating my lunch I walked
back down the stream 50 yards or so and found another chunk of carnelian larger than anything I'd
found ever found on previous trips. What an incredible day!
Seam agate in situ
5" nodule below the waterfall
A few hundred yards above our lunch spot we found a 30 foot waterfall where the stream cascades
over a rounded wall of basalt. The boys and I scrambled up while Pat decided to search back down
the valley. About 0.3 miles above the waterfall we emerged into a recent clearcut. Agate was scarce
from that point on up. At about 1400'
I found the source of the mudflow, a multi-level slump of deep reddish soil in a stand of young
timber about 500' above the upper edge of the clearcut. The slump area appeared to be about 50 yards
across. Unobstructed as it crossed the steep clearcut, the mudflow had been able to build enough
momentum to take out all the trees and brush in its path once it entered the forested portion of
the stream valley, through which it had flowed over a mile before the gentler gradient and more
mature forest along the main stem of the creek had succeeded in stopping it. Devastating for the
riparian ecosystem but fortuitous for the first agate hunters to show up.
Our lunch spot
Pat was waiting for us back at our lunch spot. We sorted through our agates and filled our packs. Pat carried his out in a 4-gallon bucket. His arms and shoulders were pretty
sore by the time he got back to the car. Our packs got heavier on the way down as we
came across agates we'd dropped on the way up. Shirley fixed us all spaghetti for supper. I was
hoarse from shouting all day about the agates we were finding, and exhausted from the hike and
little sleep last night so David had to finish driving home.
A note on the river level: The Newaukum gauge
was at 5.96ft (1.91kcfs) at 20:00 hours on the chart, noon local time. At that level Lucas Creek was
easy to ford in most places with hip boots but could only be crossed in a few spots with mid-shin
muck rubber boots. Visibility was only a few inches in the water so we didn't find much in the
01/15/2009 Sun w/ fog, 35-50 Up an agate creek, part 2
Small seam agate
Pat, David and I hiked back up Lucas Creek to search for agates in the creek under the assumption
that the water would have come down significantly. It had. The Newaukum gauge
Angel Hair Ice
read 4.92ft, 1.24kcfs at 20:00 hours and David didn't have much trouble finding places to cross the
creek in my Muck boots. The water had cleared up some too, to where we could discern rocks 6"
under running water fairly easily. The foggy overcast was breaking up when we parked at the bend in
the county road. The forecast called for sun with highs in the mid-50's but sun didn't reach down
into the creek valley and frost flowers were blooming on dead branches. Neither flowers nor frost,
the pallid white "blooms" look like clumps of white fur growing out of the damp wood. Some of the
individual "hairs" were two inches long. Also called "angel hair ice", I've seen photos of it
posted on Flickr
but haven't encountered it in person except along shady creeks on cold January days in southwestern
Someone had moved the elk hide and bones which had been dumped in front of the gate prior to our
previous visit. We wondered if that someone had hiked up the creek yesterday agate hunting. There
didn't seem to be any new tracks in the mud on the creek banks but when we reached the gravel bars
above the log jam, we knew someone had been there. Two days ago a broken plastic bag with several
small gray agates scattered around it had been lying near a stout stick propped upright in the
gravel. Today the bag was still there but the agates and stick were gone.
It appeared that whoever had come in yesterday didn't hike far up the slide creek. Two days ago
we'd left some
good-sized agates sitting on rocks along the stream and most of those seemed to be
where we'd left them, including two large chunks of seam agate. I estimated that the one I'd found
weighed about 50lbs and Pat's about 35lbs. We'd left them sitting on the gravel bar where we'd
found them and today those two pieces were also undisturbed. The seam agate occurs in large angular
blocks which are often brightly colored, usually white, yellow and orange but some pieces have lots
of red as well. The color often extends all the way through the pieces. Unfortunately the seam
agate generally breaks up when cut and doesn't usually show attractive patterns. It makes nice yard
rock but since we're more interested in cutting and polishing the agates, we usually don't haul the
seam agate home.
Pat's large agate
We stopped again at our lunch spot where a battered alder trunk spears out over the creek from the
left side. Despite reminding myself this morning not to leave my lunch in the car I left my lunch
in the car, so I ate a bar I found in the pocket of my pack and a yam that David gave me. While the
others finished eating I made a cairn with some of my agate, hoping the sun would come out to
illuminate it. A few minutes after we started up the creek again the sun finally did come out.
David basked on a sunny mudbank to warm up; he'd been uncomfortably cold all morning. No
insulation. Pat and David explored up towards the landslide while I scrutinized the gravel bars for
agates we'd missed. I found only a few new pieces but two of them were big geodes . The larger one was about 3/4 enclosed by a 3/4" rind of red agate; the other was
unbroken but the agate skin looks very thin. Pat also found a large quartz-filled agate with a gray
On the bank
In the stream
On the way back down to the lunch spot I was thinking that we'd probably found about all the large
agates we were going to find in that section of the creek, and right after that I stepped over a 6"
gray agate with a white quartz center, then a minute or so later, another intact 4" nodule. So
maybe there are a few more large ones to find. Many of the agates I found today were either at the
edge of the stream or actually underwater, including the bright one in these photos.
David waited for me while I sorted my agates at the lunch spot and filled my pack. David kindly carried out one of my larger pieces along
with Pat's large agate. Definitely a burdened boy. The hike out took us 40 minutes. I saw agates
everywhere I looked on the way down to the log jam. Though none of the good ones were as large as
our bigger specimens, I was glad that the next people up the creek would have something to find.
Shirley served us kidney beans and corn bread for supper and a delicious berry cobbler with a
topping made of cake mix and Sprite. I would not have guessed that something so tasty could be made
with soda pop.
01/17/2009 Sun w/ fog, 30-45 Up an agate creek, part 3
Despite going to bed at 1AM, I woke up at 5:30 and started thinking how I could get down to
Lucas Creek, get some more photographs of the hair ice, bicycle in via a logging road I'd seen on the map and do a quick look
around for some agate and still make it back to Tacoma by 11AM when I needed to pick
Daniel up at school. Why not? I thought I could leave by 6 but it was closer to 7 by the time I
got packed up with my bike and ready to go.
It turns out the drive down to Lucas Creek is pretty close to 90 miles; it took me a little over an
hour and a half. A maroon and gray pickup was already parked in our spot, and two other cars, a
white Altima and a baby blue older van, were parked out by the other branches of the creek. The
bike ride in only took about 15 minutes. It's a pretty steep climb but I was motivated. I stashed
the bike at the first landing after the road emerges from the uncut woods and turns to the right
along the edge of the clearcut on the south side of the landslide fork of the creek. 1.6 miles from
the gate. The scramble down the steep hill to the creek wasn't too bad either, and I dropped into
the creek right at our lunch spot. The hike back up was much tougher, 500' by the map at a 40% grade. I think it took me 20
minutes, twice as long as the ride out even though I walked part of the hill on the way down because
I was afraid my worn-out brake pads wouldn't hold. On the way down I met a man on horseback leading
a mule. He told me that the landslide had taken out the road as well, so he was on his way up to
clear a trail around the slide, then would descend via the road which comes out by the first
culvert. He also reported that there were numerous other landslides up in the hills. Might be
worth checking those out someday.
Even though I was a little late, I stopped on the way out to get my photos of the hair ice along the
north branch of the creek where taller timber shades the floodplain. Hair ice only flowers in the
shade. Back out on the North Fork road I called home and found out that Daniel didn't need to be
picked up until 3PM, so I had a few more hours to kill. I called Pat but he wasn't feeling well so
I decided to go back in for another look around.
The ridge was no longer sunny; the valley fog had crept up into the hills. Seeking easier access to
the creek, I biked in a little farther, about 2 miles, and followed a game trail down the ridge into
the creek. It was easier, well worth the somewhat longer bike ride. On the way I met a rockhound named John. He
showed me a chunk of seam agate he'd picked up, along with several small nodules. I showed him the
couple of nodules I'd just picked up and explained that I'd
Today's agates, up close
bicycled in and hiked down through the clearcut, which was why I was hiking down the creek rather
than up. Not feeling sociable, I turned around when I spotted
two more rockhounds ahead of me down the creek. It was getting to be time to go back up the hill
anyhow. Figuring out where to hike back up into the clearcut proved to be a little
difficult. To avoid overtaking John
again, I started up into the clearcut prematurely and had to cross an extra gully to
get onto my ridge. Still easier than my initial route. Back on top I took a few photos and ate a
bit of lunch before heading down.
I met Doug bicycling up the road with a gallon jug of water just before I reached the car. He's a
rockhound few years older than I am who lives pretty much full time in his pickup truck up at Lucas
Creek. The boys and I met him back in 1995 when we first started looking for agates in that area.
He had showed us one of his digging spots and some of the agates he'd found - big crimson chunks of
carnelian. That was the moment I joined the Lucas Creek fan club. This morning he reported that
the fan club was parked all along the road but he was taking the day off. He doesn't explore much
in the creek anyhow because his rubber boots leak. He digs up in the hills instead. He has several
digging spots, most of them known only to himself though it sounds like one of them is in the
clearcut on the north side of the landslide fork just downstream from our lunch spot.
01/22/2009 Ovc then sun, 30-40 Up an agate creek, part 4
3" red piece
20lb thick-walled hollow geode
4" half geode
3" yellow piece
Pat and I headed up the Slide Fork of Lucas Creek again to see how much agate is left after the
Treasure Hunting Wiki trip up there last Saturday. We bicycled in the route they took,
following the Weyerhaeuser road (on the left 0.2 miles past the first culvert) up about a mile to
where a grassy spur road angles off to the right. From there it is about 0.2 miles down to a
landing from which the junction of the Slide Fork with the Main Stem is visible through the woods.
We didn't have any difficulty finding smaller agates in and along the Slide Fork of the creek, even
in the lower sections. I kept two or three pieces before we stopped for lunch at the rich gravel
bar about 100 yds below our previous lunch spot, including an intact 3" gray nodule right on the
gravel bar. Pat found a nice pale gray "limb cast" type of nodule about 7" long in the creek.
After lunch we worked our way up past the waterfall. I found several more decent pieces between
the waterfall and the clearcut, including a big orange nodule, 8"x10"x5", unfortunately broken at
both ends revealing fairly uniform light gray agate inside. That one was mostly buried in the gravel
bar and I almost didn't bother to pry it out, thinking it was probably seam agate. Glad I checked.
Nearby I found another round chunk about 5" in diameter, hard to tell what might be inside but it
does show some greenish agate in a few places on the outside.
After that I started photographing agates as I found them. I wish I'd been doing that all along but
it's difficult to manipulate the camera when already juggling a shovel and a doubled-up Walmart bag
half full of rocks and maybe lugging another big nodule, particularly when my hands are usually both
wet and muddy. My idea was to photograph the keepers, but often I couldn't tell ahead of time which
ones would be keepers, and then when one of the agates I photographed turned out to be a good one,
I was usually too excited to take another picture of it after I pried it out of the gravel bar or
pulled it out of the creek.
When we reached the clearcut it was already 3PM and Pat was thinking we should turn around but I
wanted to continue up across the clearcut
. We decided to go another half hour. Again we didn't find much in the clearcut, though I did
find a nice orange piece above it. When we reached the landslide Pat started down while I scrambled
up to the top of the slide.
View from landslide
Banked turn above clearcut
The slide originated in the backslope of a road at 1500'. Composed mostly of saturated soil with
very little rock, it slid across the road then apparently triggered a slump of the downslope. About
150' of the slope gave way and dropped into the stream gully, creating a flood 15-30' deep which
swept away all vegetation as it passed through. Where it entered the clearcut the flow swept about
40' up the left hand side of the stream gully then banked off a small ridge and shot out in a broad
arc over the clearcut above the other side of the stream, leaving behind a blanket of mud a couple
of feet deep as evidence that the flow was already both very fluid and very swift at that point,
which is just a few hundred yards below where it started.
I caught up to Pat by taking a shortcut across the clearcut but lost him again when I
went back to retrieve a big geode that I'd set on a log on the way up, then missed on the way back
By the time I started down the falls it was 4:40 and the sun was starting to set. I caught up to Pat
again at our lunch spot and we hustled on down the creek. The hike up to the landing was an effort
after a long day but the ride back down the road didn't take long; I think it was 5:25 and starting
to get dark when we reached the cars.
Ovc and fog, 30-35 Up an agate creek, part 5
I bicycled up alone today to explore a couple of feeder creeks.
Pat couldn't make it so I lingered over breakfast with him and Shirley and didn't start
up until 11AM, by which time there were already six cars parked between the culvert and the
Weyerhaeuser road in. I later learned that four of the cars were with a Treasure Hunting Wiki
outing but I didn't meet anyone where I was above the waterfall.
I bicycled up a logging road and explored a couple of the feeder streams, finding a few
nodules and a fair number of colorful but smaller pieces. I left the smaller pieces, along with
a large piece of a broken geode which had a bright red rind enclosing white quartz. It was pretty
but I didn't know what I would do with it, so I left it.
By mid-afternoon I ended up in the landslide creek, searching for agate for the second or third time
on that section of the creek.
I didn't expect to find much new material and I didn't, except for one previously undisturbed 7" dark
gray nodule which I didn't spot until I'd stepped over it at least twice. That was a nice bonus.
It didn't appear that anyone else had been up there yet because all the agate we left along the creek
was still there.
The hike back up the hill warmed me up enough to tolerate the chilly ride back down.
I don't think the air temperature ever made it much above freezing all day.
Heating chili at the start/finish
Mcd, 30-34, 1/2" new snow in AM
Yours Truly 50K
Today was the first date for the Cedar River running of the Yours Truly 50K, and the first time
I've seen some of my Maniac friends since the Skagit Valley marathon last September. It was cold.
I told the dozen or so runners about the course change and got them on their way then bicycled
down the course after them to put up a sign at the turnaround, riding hard to warm up. By the
time I got back to the start again and set out to run my one lap of the course, I was warm. And
tired - my legs felt heavy and slow for most of the 8 miles. Near the finish I met up with Monte
and walked back a half mile with him, getting caught up on the last four months. As soon as I
finished my run I drove home to get lunch - didn't have time to take it over in the morning because
I didn't pack anything up last night. At least I got the chili made though. I was back at the
start with lunch on the Coleman stove before any of the 50K runners finished.
Most of the runners stayed for chili and hot chocolate and even so, I had way too much of both.
Only Monte hadn't come in when I left to pick up my sign and some aid that Dan Pfunder left at
the turnaround. My second ride of the course was almost as cold as my first; I rode much of it
no-hands so I could hold my hands out of the wind.
Here's the list of everything I used for the race
01/27/2009 Ovc, mid-40's
I'm really pleased with the 70-300 lens. It's lightweight, quick to focus and quite sharp even
hand-held as slow as 1/20th of a second. The flicker was shot at 1/5 second, the others at about
1/30, though on most of the shots I was bracing the camera on the porch railing, so they're probably
not truly representative of what the vibration reduction can do. I've now used the 70-300 to
photograph most of the different birds that have been visiting our feeders recently. The towhees
still elude me - they've been staying in the shadows most of the time. The Purple Finch showed up
just recently and seems to be missing feathers around both eyes. I'm still not 100% sure it isn't a
House Finch because we have another reddish finch which seems intermediate between the two.
With the Purple Finch, we are now up to 28 yardbirds for the year, including our first Northern
Harrier on New Year's Day, a Peregrine Falcon flyover on the 9th and a Great Horned Owl hooting
down in the woods the past several evenings. I was hoping to get the White-throated Sparrow I last
saw before the December snowstorms as a yardbird for 2009 but it seems to have moved on.
Lucas Creek Agate 8" tall
On another topic, I attempted to add up the weight of
all the agate
which has been reported as taken out of Lucas Creek in the past two weeks and came up with a total
of about 2200lbs, a remarkable haul. That figure is almost certainly low too, because I used only
what I either know about or have seen reported on the Treasure Hunting Wiki. I suspect that the
actual number is 50% or more higher, which would be at least a ton and a half. Very impressive,
especially considering that almost all of that is surface collecting from the various branches of
On yet another topic, I made Indian Pudding today for the first time in many years. John usually
makes it when we visit New Hampshire, but I don't think even he has made it the past couple of
times we've been back there. It wasn't as difficult as I remembered and it used up about half of
the excess milk we bought for the hot chocolate for the Yours Truly 50K race. Here's the
Indian Pudding recipe
Feeder creek agates
pc, 38-42 Up an agate creek, part 6
Pat and I bicycled up today to explore a couple more feeder creeks and
to retrieve the big chunk of seam agate
which I discovered on my last trip. Pat set out ahead of me because he walks his bicycle up the
hills; it took me 20 minutes to catch up to him
. For the first time bicycling in recently, I was actually warm and had to stop part
way up to tie the upper part of my coveralls around my waist. First time I've tried the coveralls
too, the idea being to slip more easily through the brush, and they worked great. Not only do they
shed the stickerbushes well but they also have lots of pockets to fill with agate.
Agate lurking in feeder creek
We came across a feeder creek and followed it, finding quite a few small pieces of red, yellow
and orange agate. We both kept a few small pieces and at least one nodule to 4" or so, but we left
most of the agate where we found it in the creek. After bushwhacking back to our bikes we ate lunch
along the side of the road then proceeded to another feeder creek which we also explored. It didn't
Mushroom along bushwhacking route
have much agate so we continued on to the creek with the big seam agate. Pat had tweaked his knee
bushwhacking back from the last creek so I started hauling the big agate up out of the creek and
back to the road, enjoying the challenge. I was crossing a steep slope with it when my feet slipped
and I dropped the agate on my left hand, injuring my little finger. After taking off my glove I
decided the finger needed medical attention so we packed up to make the long ride out.
Unfortunately the big agate proved too heavy for Pat's bike rack so we had to leave it for next
time. The long ride back down was a little tricky at times riding one-handed. The finger did
require repair at the local hospital so I wasn't able to make the Longview Rock Club field trip up
Lucas Creek the next day with Pat. Not a bad day agate hunting though, despite the mishap
Six weeks after I last saw it, the White-throated Sparrow showed up again this afternoon in our back
yard. I managed to get a couple quick photos before it retreated back into the woods near the big fir.
The finger is doing OK I think. It was numb most of the day; feeling finally returned late in the
afternoon. I sanded some rocks in the middle of the day and while I was doing that it bled some,
staining the bandage. There was also some swelling apparently because in the morning the bandage
would fit into a glove but in the afternoon it was too large. That's somewhat inconvenient. This
evening it began to get a little sore so I took an Ibuprofen and the pain went away.