Crown Point History and Milder 1900s Weather?

January 1, 2012

It’s a slow evening with nothing of interest in the 7 Day forecast.  I figure I’ll post about one of my 2nd favorite subjects (history) since it’s directly related to today’s fun up at Crown Point.

I’ve been interested in that area since I was a kid, asking my parents what that “house up on the rock” was.  Then when I moved down to the Portland area 20 years ago for my first job out of college, I knew I had to live out there where the weather was more severe in winter.

Do you realize there used to be more buildings in the area?  Vista House was completed in 1918 to go with the first highway that was built through the Gorge.  Before that time, there had been a well-known Inn built on the point just to the west.  Exactly 100 years ago (1912) the Chanticleer Inn was built right where the lower parking lot of Women’s Forum viewpoint is today.   Here are two pics:   You can see Rooster Rock in the lower right portion of the postcard, and Crown Point is well off to the right (not in pic). People could either drive there, OR take the train to Rooster Rock (no freeway yet!) and then walk or get a ride up a winding road to the inn. You can still walk that path; my family and I did it a week ago.  From the lowest part of the parking lot at WF Park, there is a gate to the left, that’s the start.  There is a great viewpoint after the first big curve.  The path gets real muddy near the bottom, but after dropping maybe 800′ in elevation, you end up at the railroad tracks near Rooster Rock itself.  A fun short hike.  

This inn lasted 18 years, then burned in 1930.  Mrs. Margaret Henderson, who operated the inn, moved on two years later to open another inn, the Latourell Falls Chalet.  That’s the first big waterfall you come to east of Vista House.  It burned down just three months after the opening (stuff sure burned a lot back then).  So Mrs. Henderson opened up the Crown Point Chalet.  That one lasted 15 years.  It’s the large building you see above Vista House in this old postcard.  The small building you see  in between (about where the upper end of the Vista House parking lot is now) was a small cafe.  Apparently that building was there all the way into the 1960s.  Here’s a great view…check out the Crown Point Chalet looking DOWN to Vista House.   According to pdxhistory.com, this building was demolished in the 1950s.  Well, all those restaurants are now gone, and Vista House sits alone with the trees growing up around it now.  There are two or three  houses up above in that area now, one was for sale maybe 12 years ago…really unique, looked like a mini-cathedral for the living room with a truly MASSIVE fireplace and high-arched ceiling.  You can’t build something like that now, it really fit the area like a mini-Timberline Lodge.  Well, my wife and I thought $200,000 was just way too expensive; big mistake.  Should have bought it then…oops. 

Here’s the weather connection; at one time weather records were taken either at Vista House, Crown Point Chalet, or that little cafe.  In some old Columbia Basin Handbooks I bought cheap once, there is reference to a Crown Point weather station that existed from 1932-1945.  I’m no aviation expert, but  in those days there was probably quite a bit more air traffic flying through the Gorge instead of up and over the Cascades?  Maybe that was the reason for the weather station.  About 10 years ago I had a discussion with someone in the Corbett community that actually took weather records during that time.  I remember her talking about the lights in the restaurant swinging back and forth when the wind was REALLY roaring.  I found this picture online tonight:  it shows that cafe, not such a small building is it?  Looks like some sort of antennas or equipment on the roof, so maybe that is where the observations were taken.

That brings me to one final observation.  Maybe I’m staring at these old pictures a bit too hard, but do you notice the fir trees in all these pictures look much thinner?  Basically they look more “beaten up” then the trees you see out there now?  The branches are shorter.  I’ve seen it on some other pictures in the same area.  I know this is getting into Karl Bonner territory (a blog regular), but it would be interesting to see other’s opinions.  I figure there are only two possibilities:

1.  These are leftover old-growth trees that escaped the big lumber companies in the western Gorge.  Any fir tree in this area that lives 100 or more years ends up getting its branches shaved off by occasional severe ice storm and constant winter wind.  We don’t see any like that now because they were all eventually cut down and it’ll take 100 years for the younger ones to start looking like this again?

2.  The winter wind/ice/snow in the western Columbia River Gorge used to be more severe (1800s and early 1900s).  Milder conditions over the last century has allowed fir trees to fill out more than in the past.  Think about how much snow used to fall in Portland in the late 1800s compared to now.  It must have been much rougher to the east.

Your thoughts? 

If you don’t care or have any interest (quite possible and understandable), go ahead and talk weather on this post too.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


Strongest East Wind Of Winter Arrives With New Year

January 1, 2012

The strongest east wind so far this winter is blowing through the west end of the Gorge this morning and spreading out into the Portland/Vancouver Metro area.  It’ll continue through this evening, then die down dramatically overnight.  Luckily it’s not the beginning of several strong wind days.

Peak gusts as of 10am were 79 mph at Vista House and 60 at Corbett.  The highest we’ve seen so far this “east wind season” up at the Crown Point sensor is 81 mph back in mid November.  A few weeks ago when a bunch of us were up there, someone caught a gust to 87 mph on the steps while the sensor showed 72 mph, so we know it’s significantly stronger a good 10-20 feet away from the building.  It’s safe to say it’s gusting in the 90-100 mph range “on the railing” today!

Today’s wind is caused (as usual) by strong high pressure east of the Cascades, but is enhanced by low pressure far offshore.  The difference in pressure, we call it the pressure gradient, is up to 9.9 millibars from PDX-DLS at 10am.  We haven’t seen it up around 10 millibars much this winter, in fact I have a feeling there have been far fewer east wind days than normal this winter.  That’s due to the regular storms and westerly flow in November, and often flat gradients in December.  I’ll have to check out the info on this…I feel a special graphic coming on for the 10pm newscast tonight.

Long range…well, the last few runs of the GFS and ECMWF have been nothing to write home about.  Exceptionally dull weather continues through the next 7-10 days.  MAYBE something interesting beyond that point.  I’ll add my thoughts in again this evening.  Otherwise, enjoy the low dewpoints and refreshing breezes!

6:00pm Update:  It was an epic New Year’s Day for the weather weenies!  Numerous gusts 90-105 mph.  Here’s the proof, Steve Pierce sent this pic in showing a high quality Maximum anemometer reading to 105 mph.  The peak gust at the sensor about 1 foot off the south side of the building is 80 mph so far.  64 is the next closest gust at Corbett Elementary School about 2 miles west of Vista House.  Here’s a link to that wind graph: http://www.cascadeaccess.com/~mnelsen/screenID005.gif

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen