Kalama Harbor, WA

Trip Dates: June 23-24, 2019

Carla and her sisters were on an adventure up to Lake Chelan, Washington so I was left to my own devices for a few days. I’d been eyeing the new McMenniman’s lodge squeezed between I5 and the Columbia River about 28 miles north of – well north of the Columbia River that separates Portland and Vancouver (Washington). It’s odd; I always think of the Columbia going straight west from Portland but actually it curves north for almost 40 miles before heading west from Longview. Taking a quick look at a map you see Washington north of Oregon. But for almost an hour after crossing the Columbia on the Interstate Bridge and heading north, you can look out your window to the left and still see Oregon just across the river.

Anyway, I was able to get a Sunday night reservation at the new McMenniman’s Kalama Harbor Lodge. Just a hundred yards east of the lodge is the BNSF line that travels from Seattle down to Los Angeles. Sit on the back patio and you are looking over the Columbia. Photographing trains and ships: what a great way to spend a couple of days.

Soon after checking in to my room I grabbed my Sony A7R3 with the 24-105 lens and headed out to get some pictures. My first site was of a freight ship at anchor in the middle of the river. We’ll see more of it later.

Freight Ship at Dock in the Columbia River. Kalama, WA

Looking up and down the river I didn’t see any traffic coming so I headed over to the pedestrian bridge that crosses over the BNSF mainline. I saw the bridge on Google Maps when I scouted my trip. I knew it would help be get a vantage point above the chain link fence that parallels the tracks. Well, I conveniently forgot my dislike/fear of heights. The bridge steps were metal but a grid-like pattern that afforded me the view of the ground – so far down. I camped out on the first landing that was 15 to 20 feet above the ground. No sooner had I got settled than a Amtrak Cascades passed by heading south toward Portland. I hadn’t seen this smaller type of locomotive before so that was fun.

Amtrak Cascades Heading south in Kalama, WA. Newish locomotive syle

These trains are dedicated consists with a locomotive at either end so there is no need to turn them around when they reach their destination. After sitting for another half an hour with no other traffic I decided to head back to the Lodge and have a beer. Sure enough as soon as I was down the bridge and across the street, a freight rumbled by heading north. Oh well, I planned on going back later. I’m thinking of investing in a scanner radio to enable be to get a better idea of rail traffic on my expeditions.

McMennimans are known in the Portland area for their brew pubs – they have pretty good ales, and the burgers are passable but service is not always great. After getting conflicting instructions from various employees I sat down on the patio to watch the river. Eventually I got my beer: Hammerhead. It was breezy and a bit chilly but the sun was catching the vegetation just right.

View of the Columbia River from the Kalama McMennimans Patio

I sipped my beer for about 45 minutes then I wanted my bill so I could get back out to take more pictures. I made eye contact with server and made the universal motion to ask for my check. I waited another 10 minutes and motioned again. Still nothing. Another 10 minutes and I tucked the cost of the beer under the glass and left. I guess I didn’t need to pay; no one challenged me on the way.

Back to the bridge. The light was getting good for capturing some photos of trains. I kept a closer eye on the signal lights to the north and south to get an idea of what traffic might be headed my way. The signals were close to a mile away so I’d take a picture, then review it and zoom in to check the lights. As I expected from the signals – red in one direction and green the other – I readied my camera. I was soon rewarded by a northbound BNSF freight.

Northbound Coal Train rolling through Kalama, WA

Not long after it cleared the block a following grain train with the locomotives elephant style came into view.

Northbound Grain Train rolling through Kalama, WA

While on the bridge I called for a dinner reservation at the lodge and found I couldn’t be seated until 7:30. On the positive side that gave me time to wander around the grounds. When I showed up at the restaurant at the appointed time I was unamused to find it less than half full. Then I had another long wait to order – I was living large and ordered the flank steak medium rare. It was so TOUGH I could not chew it. I grill flank steak quite often and know how to cut it across the grain to get a tender bite. But I just couldn’t eat it. I almost never complain about my food at a restaurant and can count on one hand without using my thumb, pinky, or middle finger the number of times I’ve sent food back. The server was helpful if not cheerful and took it back for maybe a bit more heat. Another 15 minute wait and it came back; less tough but I had to cut it into very small portions to be able to eat it. My jaws had a workout. A little after 9:00 I was done and went outside to see the river.

The Columbia River from Cascade Locks through Portland and down to the Pacific is pretty flat. As a result the ocean tides affect the river flow for miles. The ship I had photographed earlier had swung around almost 180° – probably due to the tide coming in – at least that’s my theory. While not the greatest light, the picture shows the dramatic change in its orientation.

Freight Ship has rotated on its anchor as the tide and current change

It was getting a bit dark for photography without a tripod so I headed to my room. My room was on the south end of the hotel and I had a little patio from which I could see trains to the left and the river to the right. After that and some TV I went to bed.

I woke up early – a little after 5:00 – when my brain and body started arguing.
Brain: “Hey, it’s good light! Grab your camera and get going.”
Body: “But I could sleep another hour!”
My brain won the argument and I was rewarded with some beautiful light.

First off, the morning sun was lighting the anchored ship – which had rotated back facing up river. Nice colors and lots of rust. I don’t have enough experience photographing ships to know if this was a lot of rust or normal.

Freight Ship has reoriented to the tide and current. Notice the anchor chain on the port bow.

As I walked back over to the pedestrian bridge I looked back at the Lodge – it looks quite nice. The Port of Kalama historical center is in the foreground.

McMennimans Kalama Harbor Lodge

I like the lighting here; it is my second favorite picture of the trip.

I didn’t have to wait long for a train to come by; it was slowing down and the locomotives came to a stop about half a mile to the north. This was another interesting siting. This line is owned by the BNSF, and the Union Pacific has trackage rights. As a result, with the exception of Amtrak, BNSF and UP locomotives head virtually every train. While there may be other road locomotives in the consist, the are behind the lead. Not today; this oil train was Canadian National from front to back.

In this first picture you can see the engineer keeping an eye on me. Click to blow it up for a better view.

Engineer keeping an eye on me as he slows his oil train to a stop in Kalama, WA

The locomotives were so different from what is normally seen here I had to grab a second picture for the blog. The engineer must have figured I wasn’t a threat so he gave me short “hello” blast of the horn. The bridge really shakes when the trains rumble underneath.

Oil train with all Canadian National power in Kalama, WA

This train came by a bit before 6:00. You can see it is not occupying either of the middle two main tracks. It was still stopped over five hours later when I headed home.

I headed back to the river to try my luck. Hmm, a bird on that piling. My buddy Jay later told me it was an Osprey. I wonder what it was up to. I took a few pictures and zoomed in; I was glad I was using my Sony RX10M4. Although it has a small sensor, it has a big zoom capacity. I watched it for quite a while and it was not going to leave its spot. I zoomed in on the picture to get a better view. Wowsers! He was having breakfast. Be warned this picture shows the food chain. This was my favorite picture of the trip. Click to blow it up if you dare.

Osprey with his breakfast

I then headed south of the hotel a bit to take some pictures of scenes I saw the previous night when it was too dark to shoot. At some point there was a storm that carried this large tree trunk down river. The river flows from left to right here. To me it looks like it had enough force to carry it over the pilings but not enough for the roots to clear.

Tree trunk couldn’t quite clear the pilings as the mighty Columbia pushes northwest to the Pacific

The totem poles are a feature of the hotel. There are currently three standing and a fourth that may need some work on the bottom to keep it steady – you can see it horizontal here.

Back side view of McMennimans Kalama Harbor Lodge and totem poles

I headed in for breakfast – where the service was actually good – and read the news until the USA v Spain womens’ World Cup game started. I was hoping it would finish before the mandatory check out time of 11:00 game. With extra time, the game – with a USA victory – just 3 minutes before I had to leave.

To get home, I drove up I5 to Longview then crossed the Columbia on the Lewis and Clark bridge and headed down US 30 on the Oregon side for my drive home. It was a nice trip – while the service and dinner were disappointing they didn’t spoil the trip by any means. I hope to get back up there and build up the nerve to walk across the bridge to capture pictures from the other side – there are some nice ones on Flickr.

Speaking of Flickr – a photography website – I have an account there where I share many of my pictures. I usually upload my pictures there before writing my blog post. While you don’t have the narrative that is available on the blog, there are albums which allows me to group photographs. For example I have a trains album (of course) as well as albums for various trips, wildlife, birds US National Parks, and such. This set of pictures is in an album which can be seen here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmExuioT

You can can view my complete photostream along with albums and what-not using this link: https://www.flickr.com/gp/21477960@N00/660M3W

You don’t need an account to view the pictures but you probably would need one if you want to subscribe/follow me there. There are some really great photographers on Flickr and you are sure to find something you love.

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