From The Road
Search TRS
Keep In Touch

Entries in Luca Furnare (2)


Touring Seattle: Chittenden Locks and Pike Place Market

Well, I didn't quite make it to Olympia to visit the capital last weekend. Due to a...let's call it a timing issue...the trip was postponed until tomorrow (as the weekend has arrived once again!). In true TRS fashion though, the diversion was overcome and a plan B quickly concocted. After a long lunch with fellow Road Scholar Luca and his girlfriend Tabi, we drove to Ballard, a suburban Seattle neighborhood north of downtown near the Sound. Ballard is home to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Gardens. 

Unlike many parks and beaches with tourist appeal, the locks and gardens are run not by Parks and Recreation but by the Army Corps of Engineers. They offer free, guided public tours of the locks and gardens. The tour was fantastic. Free is always good and our guide was friendly, knowledgeable, and sensitive to what visitors are typically interested in knowing. It was a busy weekend with great weather, so there was a lot of activity at the locks which we got to observe while the tour guide gave her spiel and answered questions. I won't do the tour justice, but here are a few highlights about the history and current operation of the locks.

Hiram Chittenden was an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers at the turn of the century (the 1900s not the 2000s). As you might imagine, around that time the logging industry, the railroads, and the discovery of gold in California and the Klondike all contributed to an increase of population and industry in the Pacific Northwest. Due to geography and nascent railroad development, transporting goods such as logs from inland Washington to Seattle was a lengthy and tedious process. Chittenden decided there must be a better way and developed plans for a system of locks and a dam to connect Puget Sound with Lake Washington and allow for better flood control of a region saturated with rivers.

The result was a ship canal still in use today that allows vessels from kayaks to cruise ships to pass from Puget Sound, a saltwater body of water, to the fresh waters of Lake Washington approximately ten feet above the sound. The construction of the locks and dam changed the natural drainage route for freshwater out of Lake Washington, blocking the spawning runs of pacific salmon. To preserve the salmon runs, a fish ladder was also constructed to allow the salmon a series of 21 "steps" on their swim upstream to lay their eggs. The ladder provides the fish a means to swim up shore without the dangers of lock travel, such as boat propellers and birds of prey. There is a viewing area at the 18th step that allows visitors to see the salmon making their way up the ladder. Luca captured a brief video on his iPhone:


The locks are gravity fed, meaning no power is required to move water from one section to another.

Ships moving from Lake Washington to Puget Sound enter the lock from the lake. The gate and freshwater release valve is closed, sealing off water flow from Lake Washington into the lock.

  1. A lower release valve is opened allowing water to flow out of the lock into the Sound, lowering the ships to sea level. When the water level is equalized, the lower gate is opened.
  2. Once the ships clear out of the lock, ships traveling into Lake Washington enter the lock and the lower gate and release valve is closed behind them.
  3. The release valve at the other end of the lock opens, allowing fresh water from Lake Washington into the lock, raising the water level--and the ships--to the level of the lake.
  4. The gates are opened and the process repeats.

Wikipedia has some great descriptions and graphics showing the operation of the locks and the fish ladder:Click Here

Today I left work early and joined the LMC for lunch downtown at Pike Place Market. In all the trips I've made to Seattle, I've never actually been to Pike Street...until today. In true Seattle form, it took us the better part of an hour to get from Everett to the Convention Center, seven blocks from Pike Street Market.


Once there, we made the obligatory trek to the original Starbucks, took the photo and were on our way. I'm sure the marketplace has a fascinating history, but today was not about exploring it. We snapped our photo, scarfed down a bratwurst, and walked through the marketplace as it stands today. It's mostly home to runaway consumerism with touristy trinkets of all shapes and sizes; everything from flowers and fresh fruit to paintings, keychains, and T-shirts. There are a couple fish markets and I'm told they still famously toss fish off of trucks and over counters, but we didn't witness that on this lunch excursion. The place was packed to the gills--pardon the pun--with people of ALL kinds. This place is San Francisco on steroids as far as diversity, and I mean diversity of every kind. Like the guy with no teeth on the corner of Pike and Second holding up a sign advertising "Kissing Lessons".


I would have taken a picture, but there was no way I was putting myself in a position to have to give that guy a tip. Interpret that however you want.

Tomorrow, it's off to Olympia and a visit to the Washington State Capitol. No really, I mean it this time.