Oregon–Camping in the Gorge
Wednesday we woke to more rain. We don’t have any cell coverage, but the last forecast we had was for rain all day, and that’s what the natives confirmed. We waited until about noon and finally packed up, once again in the rain, dumped our tanks, once again in the rain. The pouring rain. Then we put Lost Lake behind us.
We drove back to Hood River where it was simply cloudy, therefore quite delightful. We parked on the street with the camper and walked around town for awhile, grabbing some lunch. Hood River is built on the banks of the Columbia River and slopes up a big hill. After lunch we drove down to the river and watched some wind surfers. It’s a big business around here with shops set up at the river to teach you how to do it. The surfers seem to come out in every kind of weather conditions, as long as there’s wind. It didn’t look as much fun as it did down in the Florida Keys in the sun and warm tropical water.
Since we left Lost Lake a day early we didn’t have any plans for the night. We drove west 10 miles and found a spot at Viento State Park adjacent to the river. We had power and water and it wasn’t raining. We enjoyed some fresh halibut that we had picked up in town. Again, something we cannot get in Terre Haute. Once again, life was good. Unfortunately Lost Lake was kind of a bust. We’ve been in the rain before, but not solid for two days. No spectacular photo of Mount Hood for Melinda and no fish for Chris. But we are in the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest and have lots more great things to see. Like the Columbia Gorge, our next destination.
Thursday, we woke to 50 degrees (a heat wave) and no rain! Our thermostat stopped working last night and we don’t have a way to control the furnace, heat pump or A/C. Fortunately there is a large Airstream dealer south of Portland, about 55 miles away, in the direction that we are heading. We packed up and drove down to the dealership where they were able to fix the problem. They were also able to fix a brake light that had gone out. The Airstream has LEDs and we cannot simply replace a bulb.
We drove back to the Gorge and had lunch in the camper at a park dedicated to Lewis and Clark at the mouth of the Sandy River. They stopped here for several days on their return trip. Apparently the river water was gritty with ash from an eruption of Mount Hood. And the river bottom so soft and that Clark called it the Quicksand River. There were trails and informative signs that explained the native plants and trees. We are getting educated on this area of our country. There will be a learning curve.
The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon formed by the Columbia River. Up to 4,000 feet deep, the canyon stretches for over 80 miles as the river winds westward through the Cascade Range forming the boundary between the state of Washington to the north and Oregon to the south. Extending roughly from the confluence of the Columbia with the Deschutes River (where we were camping a week ago) down to the eastern reaches of the Portland metropolitan area, the gorge furnishes the only navigable route through the Cascades and the only water connection between the Columbia River Plateau and the Pacific Ocean. Barges are seen regularly passing both up and downriver. On land, the highway shares the narrow strip of land with the Union Pacific Rail line. Trains are a constant feature, and 40 trains a day pass through the Gorge on each side of the river (take it from us, that’s a lot!). We have to remind ourselves that the river does not look like it did back in 1804-5 when Lewis and Clark traveled here and back. The dams have changed the landscape, and made the river much wider.
We ended up in Crown Point RV Park on the headland of the Gorge. It’s a small place (20 sites) where we have water, electricity and sewer, but not much more. We dropped the camper and drove down the Historic Columbia River Highway, US 30. This is a narrow, winding road that roughly parallels the river. Construction began in 1913, and was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the modern age. The head designer and builder of the road went to Europe to study ancient road patterns. Not wanting to mar the natural features, he worked diligently to showcase the waterfalls and other “beauty spots” on the highway’s route. He worked with Italian-American stonemasons, whose arched guardrails gracefully line the road. The road was finished in 1916. President Theodore Roosevelt declared that it was the greatest piece of engineering of its day. It was the first scenic highway in the U.S. and has been declared a National Historic Landmark.
After following along the road for several miles, we stopped at the trail head for Fairy Falls. It was a 2-mile hike and 800 feet up to the falls. It was very scenic and we felt like we were in Jurassic Park. Everything was lush green and covered with moss and ferns.
Bagging the first of many waterfalls here in the Gorge, our efforts were rewarded with a winner. Fairy Falls is known to be one of the more photogenic of the Gorge waterfalls. After this leg stretcher, we returned to the RV Park and started a couple of loads of wash while we set up the camper and got dinner ready.
Friday we woke to sun. What a great feeling. Melinda had big plans made. The Columbia Gorge is all about waterfalls. The Columbia River has been carving deep layers of basalt lava for millions of years, resulting in steep cliffs on the Oregon side. Creeks draining Cascade snowfields and watersheds form dozens of waterfalls. There are more than 50 accessible falls on the Oregon side, and combined they represent all eight waterfall types: plunge, block, fan, tier, segmented, horsetail, cascade and punchbowl. It would be a challenge to see how many she could add to her collection, and just how many I could endure.
We left early for Multnomah Falls, the granddaddy of all of the waterfalls and the most visited tourist site in Oregon, surpassing even Crater Lake. Expecting busloads of tourists as well as school children to arrive, Melinda was anxious to be there before breakfast. Multnomah Falls is a spectacular two-tiered waterfall dropping a total of 600+ feet. It is the second highest all-season waterfall in the country, only Yosemite Falls is higher. It drops 542 feet in a single plunge, flows down the canyon and then drops another 70 feet. It is impossible to describe the power of this falls as the water hits its plunge pool. It makes an awesome, thundering sound, and creates quite a headwind, along with a constant spray of heavy mist. Directly over the lower drop is an old footbridge constructed in 1914.
The land was donated by a lumber baron with funds for construction of the bridge. The City of Portland built a lodge at the base of the falls in 1925. Eventually the property was transferred to the US Forest Service. After taking photos from the bottom we hiked up to the top of the falls on a series of switchbacks. The views down the Gorge from that high elevation were outstanding. We ate a huge breakfast in the Lodge after our excursion.
Afterwards, we headed east down the Gorge, stopping at Horsetail Falls for a photo. This one was near the road and didn’t require any hiking. In no time, Melinda had added another notch to her belt. Then it was on to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery.
The hatchery was established in 1909 as the central hatching and rearing site for eggs taken at other hatcheries. It is by far the biggest hatchery we have seen. Every year they release 1.2 million Coho, 8.5 million fall Chinook, 215,000 summer Steelhead and 80,000 winter Steel head. But we are between seasons and not much was going on.
They have a lot of information about Sturgeons, a native fish that can grow to immense sizes. They have a viewing area where you can take a gander at Herman who is 10+ feet long, 400+ pounds and 70+ years old. He lazily cruises around the pond with some immense rainbow trout. Surgeons can get even bigger and can live for 100 years! They’ve been around for millions of years . . . back to the time of the dinosaurs.
After lunch in Cascade Locks, another small town, we went to the Bonneville Dam which you can tour. Unfortunately, it was getting late and we only had time to check out the fish viewing windows adjacent to the fish ladders. Apparently people sit here and count various species of fish coming up the ladders. The ladders are actually a series of tiers that the fish must surmount in order to make it past the dam and on upriver. About 15% don’t survive the obstacle. Most of the fish at this time of the year were Shad, but every once in a while a big Chinook would swim by. Back at the camper we had a dry evening outside for a change.
Just up the historic road from our campground is a well-known scenic viewpoint. From a high bluff overlooking the Columbia one can have the most far-reaching span of the river. It presents one of the most photographed sites in the Gorge, and of course Melinda had to be there. In the distance you can see the Vista House, designed and constructed at the time the Historic Highway 30 was built. It has interpretive displays and is meant to be enjoyed by all passing through. The highway’s builder thought that it had one of the most spectacular vistas in the world. It certainly is a fine way to showcase our tour of the Columbia Gorge.
Chris and Melinda