Monthly Archives: August 2014

Urban Riverwalks Out West

It seems everywhere we go, towns and cities are turning back towards their waterways. New or re-energized walkways/bikeways are popping up along rivers, lakes or other water features. In our travels out West we had an opportunity to visit several, some of which were quite a surprise.

Idaho Falls, along the Snake River, has a very neat walkway near their downtown, showcasing their namesake waterfall. Below is a view from one of the bridges.

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The waterfall is a bit odd, consisting of a dam that diverts water to pour over a long ledge. It is altered from its natural state, but is still quite pretty.

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The benches are unique and artistically designed.

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There were a LOT of people enjoying the walk on a warm summer evening. The only thing it seemed to lack was access to local businesses. There were a couple of restaurants in the area, but otherwise the link to any centralized downtown area was limited. I’m not sure what Idaho Falls has in the way of a downtown, so perhaps that was it. It was definitely worth an evening walk in any event.

After experiencing an amazing trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we ended up in the Red Desert region of Wyoming. The tiny town of Green River had a surprisingly large and pleasant river walkway along its namesake river.

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Nearby Rock Springs is an energy industry town with a small usually dry waterway called Bitter Creek (pronounced ‘crick’) passing through it. Bitter Creek does not have a walkway, but there was discussion in town on working on restoring the little ‘crick’ and possibly putting a path in at some point. The spring the town was named after is apparently now dry, due to modifications in hydrology associated with nearby coal mining. We did, though find a little park with a rain garden/bioswale type setup right next to a shopping complex. The area had just had several unusually heavy bouts of summer rain, so there was plenty of water here. Oddly, there was what appeared to be a muskrat hanging out in the water. It wasn’t easy to see how it found its way there since there wasn’t clear connectivity to other waterways that would support muskrats. I suppose nature finds a way – maybe it crawled up the culvert from Bitter Creek.

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Telluride is a mining-turned-ski town in a beautiful Colorado setting. With the tourism industry making up the majority of the economy, it’s no surprise there was plenty in the way of parks and places to enjoy the San Miguel River and its tributaries. They aren’t as urban as some of the others I’ve mentioned, but nor are they wilderness. All seemed to be abundantly enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

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Of course, there were notable omissions too. The town of Mesquite, Nevada is along the Virgin River but there was no apparent way to see the river, as the town was more focused on gambling and golf. More glaring and disappointing of course is southern California. We spent some time in Torrance, my ‘home’ town, since many family and friends are in the area. The waterway nearest my home is now called the Dominguez Channel. Its previous name was that of a racial slur I will not repeat here – an example of hatred towards people and the waterway both. Here’s what that disappointment now looks like, photo courtesy of LA County Department of Public Works: with more photos here. There are few places to even see it, and my spot where I used to peer into the channel as a child is now fenced off and smothered in sickly oleanders. I’m guessing even if it did have some sort of walkway it wouldn’t be much of a hit, as simply exists as one of the world’s largest gutters. Restoration of any sort seems unlikely. It is treated as trash and as such isn’t even really considered as a place to spend time. In Torrance there is no way to escape the concrete and lawns. There is a tiny 40 acre marsh – Madrona Marsh – but the gate is locked much of the time, and unlike my teenage senf I am no more inclined to jump the large fence. I suppose the walkway along the beach counts for something, but it runs between a solid like of multi million dollar houses and the sand which is literally combed and sifted to make sure it is manicured (and free of litter, I suppose). One would be hard pressed to find a native plant there, too. I remember at one point some were planted to help feed a declining endangered butterfly species, and the rich people nearby whined and cried because they didn’t like the vegetation looking different than their beloved lawns and iceplant. The native plants, and with them the butterfly, are probably gone now. Perhaps I’m wrong and someone reconsidered, but I doubt it. Unlike the hardscrable mining towns of Wyoming, the wealthy ‘environmentalists’ of Torrance and Manhattan Beach can’t be bothered to tend their own backyards. They’re too busy fussing over what people in Wyoming are doing, I suppose. And it shows. I passed through some of the natural gas and oil fields while in the Red Desert, and while I do feel strongly that we need to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible, the ‘ruined’ desert around them is a heck of a lot better off than the South Bay region of LA. In fact I’d take a day in the oil field over a day on Torrance Beach Boardwalk without a second thought.

Water Down the Gutter

So after our wedding and our travels out West, followed by being part of our friends’ wedding, things are finally settling down. While out west we traveled from California through Nevada and Idaho to Yellowstone and then south through Wyoming, Colorado and Utah and back through southern Nevada to California. As expected, the transition from wet Vermont to the dry West was a dramatic one… but what was not expected was that our first leg of the trip took place under a strong monsoon surge. The weather ended up not unlike Vermont’s weather, albeit not quite as humid… periods of light rain and cool weather, afternoon thunderstorms including some very heavy downpours, and even a dusting of snow and/or hail on the very top of White Mountain (the one in California).

I’ll most likely have a few posts to share about our travels… but what seems most immediate is a short observation on California’s drought. In light of reading this blog post about LA killing off the Lone Pine of Lone Pine (or at least its latest incarnation)… the use of water in southern California comes to mind. Apparently water use has actually increased in light of the recent drought, although at heast the state has clamped down on the supreme stupidity of fining people for letting their lawns dry up.

When passing through my less-than-favorite ‘home’ town of Torrance, I did notice that a lot of the lawns were actually being allowed to dry out.

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Still, others still were watering their lawns or even more ridiculously dumping water directly into the gutter. IMG_0980

We were also surprised to observe a lush lawn around the facility of a nearby Church of Latter Day Saints. Kind of odd, considering when we drove through Utah there were all kinds of water conservation measures in effect even though the drought is less severe there. One would think a religious figure would have passed the word down. Say what you like about the Mormons, they aren’t a group of people known for being wasteful. I was honestly a bit surprised by their emerald green LA lawn.

The drought in California stretches on. There is a chance some sort of tropical system will affect the area in the next week or two. Beyond that, there is hope of a wet winter, but it’s far from a guarantee. It could end up being just as dry as this year. Even if it is reasonably wet the drought could continue, too.

Meanwhile, we returned to Vermont to find an overgrown garden full of summer squash, a thriving rain garden, and three and a half inches of rain in the rain gauge from the last two weeks. Since that time another inch and a half has fallen.