Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Colman Dock

Seattle has been replacing its downtown seawall over the past couple of years. The new one provides better habitat - better, at least, than did the old seawall. But probably not quite the mixed sand and gravel beach, drift logs, and forested bluff that once stretched continuously from Smith Cove to the little point of land at the mouth of the Duwamish River that is now Pioneer Square.

The new seawall includes a low-tide bench, textured panels, and a cantilevered walkway with glass block to allow more light to reach the water. And here, just south of Colman Dock (the ferry dock is getting rebuilt, too), a beach is being added. But unlike the Sculpture Park farther north, where a pocket beach was carved into the old filled shoreline, here the beach is being perched between rock sills on a constructed platform that juts out into deeper water. This is a very strange beach.

One of the big benefits of beaches in urban settings is that they allow people to get to the water, but I've heard a rumor that this may not be possible here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


The pictures in this post are from just a little farther north than those in the previous post, since Irondale and Chimacum are just different ends of the same beach. While this is a frequent stop when I'm visiting the Port Townsend area, I just realized that I hadn't posted from here for more than ten years (the project itself only occurred in 2005-2006)!

Chimacum Beach: June 2008
Chimacum Beach: July 2006
Chimacum Beach: May 2006

Like at Irondale, the beach is almost entirely sand dredged up from the bay a very long time ago and I suspect most of the clam shell on this beach probably came along with that sand.

The back-barrier wetland, behind the spit that formed following the initial project, is pretty high so only the northern portion, near the mouth, gets much saltwater inundation. The central portion looks fresh. And the southernmost portion is more meadow than wetland.

Chimacum Creek exits from its beautiful little forested estuary at the very north end - I've been meaning for years to come back and explore with the kayak. Maybe this summer - when I'll have a little more time to play with!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Irondale and Chimacum are the southern and northern halves of the same beach, at least as I see it, and as they have before, they will generate two posts. Short posts - since I'm way behind and I promised myself I would write less this year.

Irondale is the site of a large 19th-century iron smelter which was finally cleaned up a few years ago after more than a century of abandonment.

Irondale (March 2013) (which in turn links further back)

The old brick beehive ovens continue to gradually erode onto the beach, some of the smelter slag still crops out as ledges on the beach, and a number of old stone foundations pieces were left behind. But the beach is doing great. This is an unusually sandy system (by Puget Sound standards) - the virtue of having been constructed a century ago with sand (and clam shell) dredged from the bottom of the bay. 

There's a gentle promontory in the central portion of the site where the berm inevitably wants to shift landward, but this is neither rapid nor a problem. A few of the logs that were placed along the berm have been undermined and as I recall there might be some sort of monitoring well(?) that may in time be exposed (if so, it will make a nice erosion reference).

The Irondale Beach continues seamlessly to the north, eventually becoming Chimacum Beach, where we'll go next.

Friday, April 12, 2019


If you're going to build a town on the water, it makes sense to find a piece of ground that's low enough to allow easy access to the town pier, yet high enough so the town doesn't flood every December. You want to pick a shoreline sheltered from the prevailing winds on a relatively protected bay.

Building over the water made sense in a 19th-century maritime community and the high bank lead to buildings that sort of spill over the bluff -- people and wagons approached on the upper floors, boats pulled up below. Stairs and hoists and gangways connected the two. Early Seattle - along the central waterfront - developed similarly. As did many towns in many other parts of the world.

In many places - Langley, Seattle - development eventually led to foundations being built to replace the piles or to the beach being filled behind a community seawall of some sort. Some of this happened here in Coupeville, too, but in some spots the beach remains, between and beneath the buildings.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Mutiny Bay

The low shoreline of Mutiny Bay once consisted of a complex series of wetlands, tidal inlets, and northerly-directed sand spits. But these low areas also lend themselves to development. Wetlands were diked and plumbed and tide-gated. Inlets were filled in. And small fishing resorts, and later residential beach communities, were built on the spits. But the whole place is still little more than a big bunch of shifting sand bars. And there is a lot of sand in this system, particularly compared to many other beaches on Puget Sound.

There is a boat ramp at the end of Robinson Road (Mutiny Bay: February 2010), but like some other ill-fated boat ramps on South Whidbey (Maxwelton: July 2016), the ramp is regularly, and increasingly, buried by the accreting beach. Clearing it has turned from minor maintenance to a major earthmoving operation. And that practice may have other affects on the beach - and even if it doesn't, nearby changes are quickly attributed to the most obvious culprit, which is the county guy in the backhoe. It's harder for people to see the bigger picture, which is a complex system undergoing big changes over relatively long periods of time.

There are other complications, too. There's an outfall (which substitutes for the historic tidal inlet) right next to the ramp that at times is completely buried, but at others flows vigorously, rearranging the beach in the same location as the boat ramp. And then half a mile downdrift (north), there's an old pier that may have continuing effects on the beach both up and down drift.

This would make a great example of the problems with building on sand spits, except for the fact that there are other even better examples nearby. Sunlight Beach comes to mind, but so do Maxwelton, Columbia Beach, and Bell's Beach!

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Perego's Lagoon

A series of photos illustrating the role of overwash in shaping barrier beaches is a standard element in many of my beach talks and one of my favorite examples is Perego's Lagoon on the west side of Whidbey Island. This Saturday I was up on Whidbey (at Sound Waters) and just before my presentation, someone mentioned that waves had recently breached that spit.

So I skipped out on the third session of the day and drove up to Ebey's Landing to check it out. Sure enough, there was a small breach in the berm crest near the south end and a fresh deposit of sand, gravel, and logs in the lagoon. This looks pretty small compared to some of the older, preserved ones nearby, but still very neat to visit before it patches itself back together (which it will probably do pretty quickly).


Although I don't know for sure, this likely occurred on December 20th, when a strong wind storm coincided with a high tide and a strong surge. There have been reports, and numerous videos, showing the fierceness of that storm, particularly in northern Puget Sound (Birch Bay got hit really bad).

Here are some previous posts from Perego's, some of which show the earlier overwash fans quite a bit better:

Gravel Beach: Perego's Lagoon

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Ruby Beach

Sea stacks, lots of big logs, a gravel beach, and a small spit across the mouth of Cedar Creek. And a wonderful forested slope rising up behind the beach. Apparently, Ruby Beach gets its name from the presence of red minerals in the sand and gravel. This was a quick stop, so I didn't spend much time looking at the details. There's so much other stuff to get distracted by here!


Dan posted from here recently and provides a bit more substance, both historic and geologic: Reading the Washington Landscape.

Friday, January 25, 2019


I guess I posted from Kalaloch in 2014 (same trip as Lake Quinault in the previous post), but that's not a good reason not to do it again. Especially when the day was so nice. This was a quick stop - time for a few photos - and then on to Ruby Beach, Port Angeles, and Seattle.


Like most of the streams along this coast, the creek bottoms out in a small estuary before running out to the ocean through a low place in the beach. And running out to sea is difficult when the waves are trying to flood back in. And the path is littered with huge logs.

There's a lot to make these Olympic coast beaches exciting, but the logs are what really stand out. So much wood. So much of it so big!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Lake Quinault

A little beach on Lake Quinault, the product of a shoreline oriented to capture the westerly waves and just enough sediment to form a beach. The sediment may have been brought in or it may have been delivered by runoff in the swale above the beach - most likely both. I suspect active use and maintenance of the beach prevents the rain forest from retaking the shore, which it might if left on its own.


These photos were taken over a couple of days this past weekend - one much damper than the other. and here's the same beach from 5 years ago:
Lake Quinault: January 2014

The shoreline landscaper would suggest that instead of trying to protect that ragged edge of the lawn, they simple pull it back. The extra bit of back beach would be a better place to put a plastic Adirondack chair or a nice wooden bench than the sloping, uneven grass. And if the edge were a bit farther up the slope (just 8-10 feet), there would be no need for the rock. Instead, you could plant some low native shrubs along the little break in slope. Not a big deal, just seems easier than this persistent need to protect every last bit of lawn - of which there is already plenty. And historical photos in the lodge suggest this area above the beach used to be shrubs, not grass.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Bombay Beach

Bombay Beach isn't really much of a beach anymore. Or a beach community. But for someone who collects beaches, it was well worth a couple of hours exploring before heading up to Joshua Tree.


In the first half of the 20th century, the Salton Sea was a pretty popular spot. Speed boat racers and water skiers flocked to its shores. Celebrities showed up. Developers saw opportunities. In the 1950s, several waterfront communities were thriving. I guess it offered all the benefits of Palm Springs, but it also had beaches, a big lake, and place for your boat.

There's a nice history at:
San Diego Union-Tribune (2015)

I've also posted more photos on the Tumblr blogs listed on the top right of this page.

But the water that flows into the lake was salty and toxic (besides a lot of desert, the watershed consists primarily of abundantly irrigated and chemically treated farmland) and the water started smelling and the fish and the birds started dying. To make matters worse, lake levels varied and some communities, like this one, were threatened by flooding so dikes had to be built. Living here just stopped making much sense -- although some people still do.

The 20th-century archeology of the Salton Sea's shoreline has become a bit of a draw in itself - it's the subject of documentaries, post-apocalyptic film shoots, and "disaster tourism."

This is a pretty bleak beach on which to end 2018!

2019 will see some big changes in my life, but I don't expect the beach collecting to stop.

Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is a big, salty lake and occupies a broad low spot in the bottom of the Imperial Valley. The lake surface is currently around 237' below sea level and the bottom of the lake is almost as deep as Badwater Basin in Death Valley. Like Death Valley and the Great Salt Lake and the Humboldt Sink, this is an internal drainage - water flows in but does not flow out. It just evaporates very slowly, leaving mud and salt behind.

The current lake was a bit of an accident, since it formed in 1905 when an irrigation canal went wrong and allowed the Colorado River to flow in. On the other hand, the Colorado had apparently been doing this on its own every few hundred years long before that (perhaps aided by movement during large earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault, which runs along the east side of the valley), so the lake itself has plenty of precedent.


Much of the shoreline is salt and mud, but there are also small shells and lots of fish parts. Which form a sufficiently granular substrate that waves can turn them into something interesting. Here, at the jettied mouth of this small harbor/estuary(?) waves have formed a nice little beach with diverging spits. There were multiple scarps and beach berms, reflecting slightly different water levels and slightly different wave regimes, along with washover fans where larger waves had carried shells over into the lagoon.

In putting together this post, I discovered another blog - Salton Sea Walk - which provided a lot more background on the lake's beaches. It confirmed my suspicion that the shells are probably small, thin-shelled barnacles, but apparently, they are far more abundant on other parts of the lake and a major beach-forming material. Maybe next trip...

Farther up the "beach" there were some faint beach ridges, recording higher levels of the gradually retreating lake (more rapidly in recent dry years).