Where do you take relatives from Germany who have never been to Seattle, and only have one day to see the sights? When my wife and I were confronted with that quandary a couple of weeks ago, we started with the obvious: a trip to the top of the Space Needle, a ride downtown on the Monorail, lunch and a stroll at Pike Place Market, and a visit to Pioneer Square. But we ended our day at Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard for one of the quintessential experiences this area has to offer.
The Locks, a featured site in 4Culture’s Destination Heritage series, is a dynamic place to take out-of-towners, or to visit on your own. Since 1917, the Ballard Locks have been the active engineering marvel that connects fresh and saltwater, and allows vessels to travel from Puget Sound to Lake Washington and back, by way of the Ship Canal. The Locks include a fish ladder with underwater windows offering dramatic seasonsal views of wild salmon and steelhead struggling upstream to complete Nature’s life cycle.
When we stopped by with our German cousins, the fish ladder was closed for cleaning, but the two locks offered their own unique brand of entertainment for our foreign guests. A giant tug occupied the larger of the locks before the water lowered, and the boat chugged out to sea. A large private yacht entered the smaller locks, nearly occupying the chamber alone, before a single-sailor Zodiac, dwarfed by the larger boat, sneaked in before both were lifted and made their way to fresh water. Then to top off our brief stay, a cluster of kayakers, with yellow paddles flailing, bobbed and weaved into a filled chamber, holding on to one another as they were lowered to sea level, like so many toy boats in a draining bathtub. Ever changing, always entertaining, the Locks rarely disappoint.
Kayakers navigate the Ballard Locks, © 2012 Winfried Köpschall