hilly Seattle

Seattle is really long in the north-south axis. Not only that, anybody who has been in Seattle for a while will notice that lots of interesting geographic features run along the north-south axis, like, hills, peninsulas, and lakes. I’m just guessing that retreating glaciers had something to do with it.

Hills, yes.

Yesterday I drove up a fairly steep hill called Phinney Ridge (really quite steep, but not super steep by Seattle standards). I was also going west, so suddenly I was reminded of this geographic and geologic fact of Seattle and thought … “Yeah, I must be hitting a large gradient against one of these hill-spines. Gee, it’s even called a ‘ridge.’ Wonder if I can skirt around it,” and so on.

In fact there are lots of descriptive place names that didn’t register with me — like, what is “Capitol Hill” anyway? — until I saw this image. I cut it out of the USGS data site, where you can play around with such things to your heart’s content. (I also took two looks at topozone.com but decided they sucked.)

Seattle is supposed to be built originally on “seven” “hills,” (c.f. Rome) and I labeled them here in red numbers 1-7: First Hill, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Beacon Hill, Denny Hill (razed early on), and Crown Hill. I call BS on the seven hills theory. Not only do some of these “hills” not look like distinct hills, some of them aren’t even that impressive. There are lots more hills around … and Crown Hill looks sorely out of place, like an after-thought to make the number 7.

I haven’t really been everywhere in Seattle, so I can’t say where the hills are the steepest — they probably keep records of this. Where I have been though … some parts of the eastern ridge of Capitol Hill (green 1), the Downtown (green 2), and Magnolia have made for hair-raising experiences in a manual transmission car. By comparison, Phinney Ridge (green 3) really isn’t so bad.

The only really flat part of Seattle is the industrial/stadium/international district along the shores of the Duwamish River, which can be seen in the image, flanked by West Seattle and Beacon Hill. Seattle could have developed along the only river in the city: Seattle was almost called Duwamps, after all … but no, people had to go live on hills instead of flat land (yeah ok fine, there was too little of it and it was an Asian ghetto from the days of Chin Chun Hock).