The Columbia Gorge- From One End to the Other

Monday, November 18, 2019

I know, I know. I hear ya. Where ya been? Well, we’ve had an eventful month which I will share with you in the next, and last, blog that will put this trip to bed. We are home and I’ll do my darnedest to catch you up. As I write our high desert home is experiencing our first winter storm of the season complete with snowfall.

Scenes from the Historic Columbia Highway

The best way to tour the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge is to do it the old fashioned way- by auto or if you prefer astride your trusty bicycle. And the best place to start is Troutdale, OR where one can access the western portal of the Historic Columbia River Highway 30. Quote from Travel Oregon website-“The vista-inspired railroad lawyer Samuel Hill and engineer extraordinaire Samuel Lancaster to “conquer” the wild beauty of the Gorge with a grand scenic drive. It was an implausible plan — a road that would cling to sheer cliffs, traverse rushing rivers and tunnel through hammer-hard basalt — but they made it happen”. The road is narrow with a lot of tight twists and turns, poorly designed by modern standards but hey it was built beginning in 1913 during the Model T Ford era. The road today still exists in fits and spurts all the way to The Dalles. Many portions of the original roadway are now designated as the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, a hiking and biking path. When finished, the State Trail will be 73 miles long.

Vista House/ Crown Point
View from Crown Point/Vista House

The road east of Vista House takes one through beautiful deep fern infused forests offering few glimpses of the Columbia River below, the exception being the outstanding Gorge views from Crown Point’s Vista House, built in 1918. East of there is a whole passel of beautiful waterfalls, Latourell, Shepherds Dell, Bridal Veil and Wahkeena come to mind, culminating with the most spectacular fall, the 620′ Multnomah Falls.

Historic Columbia Gorge Highway Falls/ Multnomah Falls & Visitor Center

And that’s just what can be seen from the old highway. Many more falls are accessed by trail. The I-84 corridor offers many state parks and recreation areas a few of which are located on geological sites mentioned by Lewis and Clark.

The historic highway east of the village of Dodson merges with I-84. In this section of the Gorge the original road only appears as spurs going to and from the small villages and the few towns such as Cascade Locks and as part of the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail. Four miles west of Cascade Locks is the Bonneville Lock and Dam and our home for two months, the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Both are a must see. East of Bonneville are two more hatcheries- Eagle Creek and Oxbow.

Cascade Locks- Town, Bridge of the Gods and Cascade Lock

The next place worthy of a visit is Hood River. The wind tunnel effect of the Gorge has made the town a mecca for wind surfers. Downtown has several breweries for those who wish to imbibe. It has a small boat marina and a dock where large tour boat passengers debark. Another must see while in Hood River is the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum. All of their exhibits are fully functioning- the planes fly and the cars are roadworthy.

The nearby beautiful Hood River Valley is a must see. Apple and pear orchards dominate the valley where fruit stands are the norm. Alcapas and lavender are also raised in the valley. A a relative newcomer are the many vineyards that have been established. Adding to the beauty of the valley are grandiose views of 11,200′ Mt. Hood.

White House Farm Located in the Hood River Valley

The last intact segment of the old highway begins at Mosier, heads up into a fir and oak forest passing through pasture/orchard highlands where one can stop for another spectacular view of the Gorge at the Rowena Crest viewpoint. It becomes obvious from this vista that the eastern end of the Gorge is much dryer than the western portion.

Neat looking Mestablishment in Mosier
Interesting Signage in Mosier

Heading down the winding section old highway known as the Rowena Loops we find The Dalles, the eastern terminus of the Historic Columbia River Highway. The Dalles was long a Native American gathering place, another Lewis and Clark encampment and later a staging area for Oregon Trail pioneers readying for the treacherous trip down the Columbia’s rapids. A must see while in The Dalles is the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum.

Rowena Loops

The Dalles was long a Native American gathering place, another Lewis and Clark encampment and later a staging area for Oregon Trail pioneers readying for the treacherous trip down the Columbia’s rapids.

A must see while in The Dalles is the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum.

The distance between Troutdale and The Dalles is not great at less than 80 miles but there is so much to see. One could spend an entire day exploring that section of the old Historic Highway between Troutdale and Dodson. The Dam and hatchery deserves a few hours of exploration and the Hood River area maybe a half a day. Several hours can be spent at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles. A couple of days would be well spent touring the Oregon side of the Gorge.

That concludes the tour. For you more adventurous folks there are plenty of trails in the Gorge that lead to waterfalls and drop dead Gorge-us vistas to die for.

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