The salmon head to spawn in phases with the three different breeds coming at slightly different times. They head through the ladder at the locks in Ballard in the fall but, before they head into Lake Washington, they pause in the approach area. The transition from salt water to fresh is something that they have to adjust to and the area just by the locks where the fresh water is spilling out provides a good place for them to get adjusted. They can stay for a couple of weeks or more. The result was that we saw a lot of salmon swimming around in the waters by the dam. This was not a risk free occupation as shall be covered in a future post.
While watching a bunch of leisure craft heading through the locks at Ballard, a tour boat was coming from the opposite direction and was fed into the smaller lock. I headed across to watch it come into the lock. It was a pretty snug fit. All of the people onboard were out on the deck watching the lock process. I was watching them watching us. They were below me when the boat entered the lock but, once the water level was up, they were looking down at us on the lock side.
As the locks at Ballard transfer the water, they manage to catch a lot of salmon at the same time. It was very common while we were there to see the salmon leap out of the water. Some would leap out and crash back into the water on their sides while others would leap upright and nose back in to the water like a dolphin. Catching this on the camera was a touch trickier. I have a lot of shots of splashes as the salmon has just reentered the water. I did get some on video though so you know I am not totally making this up!
Hiram M Chittenden was not only the man in charge of creating the Ballard Locks, he also was ahead of his time in understanding some of the ecological impact of what he was doing. The importance of the fish to the region and the disruption that the salmon would experience led him to the creation of a fish ladder. There is still one there now although it appears to be of slightly more modern construction.
There are ramps alongside parts of the ladder so you can look down and see the fish as they work their way up the steps. You can also look down and see a lot of them swimming around in the approach to the ladder itself. Meanwhile, there is a viewing gallery that has windows into the side of part of the ladder where you can watch the fish either resting in the quieter flows or forcing their way up to the next level. There were signs telling us which types of fish there might be but I have to admit they all looked alike to me.
Just north of the center of Seattle is Ballard. Aside from being an interesting area with shops, bars and restaurants, it is also home to a set of locks that connect the salt waters of Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington’s fresh waters. The locks are the busiest in the US with a steady stream of traffic. On the weekend, this is heavily dominated by pleasure craft but commercial vessels are also a big feature. Indeed, while we were there, we found out that there is a hierarchy of which types of vessel get to go through first, even if some of the owners of the small pleasure craft were not up to speed on the rules!
The locks are named after the man who was instrumental in the early phases of their construction. Aside from leading a big construction project, he also was quite visionary in other areas but that will be the topic of another post soon. There are actually two locks. One is a small lock that suits pleasure craft or small commercial vessels. The other is far broader and longer and can be operated with a middle set of gates if less vessels are coming through. It can also take a lot of smaller boats wedged together like a giant game of Tetris when demand is high such as is the case on warm holiday weekends.
The locks are open to the public along with a small botanic garden. You can cross over the top of the gates (although these are rather narrow and can get congested when people decide to stop and hang around rather than keep moving). There is plenty of space along the sides of the locks to watch the boats as they come in and as they rapidly rise or fall when the water levels are adjusted. We obviously weren’t the only ones to find it a relaxing spot to hang out for a while.