Columbia River Gorge

Friday, 14 July 2006, Big Fir Campground and RV Park, WA
By the time we had accomplished all the necessities on Tuesday, it was well into the afternoon and time to start our journey along the Historic Columbia River Highway. This highway follows the Colombia River Gorge which is a National Scenic Area - the only area with that designation in the United States. The Columbia River cuts a gorge all the way through the Cascade Mountains, from East to West and was used as a major trading route by the Native Americans, a discovery route by Lewis and Clarke, and to this day a major shipping route. The original highway was constructed from Portland to The Dalles between 1913 and 1922. Not all of the highway is open to motor vehicles. The Interstate 84 has replaced it for through traffic and this scenic highway is used mainly for sightseers and recreational users. The first part of the Historic Columbia River Highway that has been restored for use by motor vehicles runs between exits 17 and 35 of Interstate 84. This was the section we were driving on Tuesday afternoon. A lot of the road was narrow and winding, and still had the original stone guards along the steep bits - some of them, anyway!
The first view of the river is at Chanticleer Point in the Portland Women's Forum State Park. As a first view this is really quite impressive, but our next stop was the Vista House at Crown Point which really catches the eye as you round the bend and it comes into view. Built 600 feet above the river, this building, which began as a simple rest stop for travellers on the highway, affords a 360? view, up and down the river. The 1918 building itself has been recently renovated and the cleaned up stonework is most impressive. It is purported to be one of the most photographed and recognised sites along the Gorge! Small wonder!
Leaving Crown Point you drive through a Cascade forest which has an amazing collection of waterfalls. The water is snow-melt, which originates from Mt Hood, and is on its way to the river. We stopped at the first, Latourell Falls, only a couple of miles further on from the Vista House. To see this properly, one needs to walk either up to the head of the falls or down to the pool below it, but as it was getting late and we wanted to make sure of a campground, we decided to just view them from the car park and travel on to Ainsworth State Park Campground to spend the night and drive back to the waterfalls tomorrow. We did make one more stop, at the Horsetail Falls because they looked so absolutely impressive as we were driving by. And up close they were truly splendid, with a massive amount of water thundering down to the pool below. The air always feels so fresh around a waterfall and we sat for some time, just enjoying the view and the smell before we continued on to find a campsite.
The Campground appeared to be very pleasant - nice shady sites, a good bathroom with hot showers, full hook-ups at each site (power, water and sewer) - but then we discovered, whilst sitting outside enjoying the late afternoon, it also comes with all the added amenities we have come to know and love - highway and train line! The canyon is quite deep and has little available land either side of the river, so of course the campground is very close to the interstate and the train line - we realised that it couldn't be changed, and we just had to hope there was not too much overnight traffic on either!
Unfortunately, our hopes were not fulfilled - there were many trains overnight and they seemed to go on forever. I have never seen such long trains as since I have been travelling this country (the other day I counted 3 locomotives and 76 carriages, and that was only an average freight train - many are much longer)! But it rained overnight, which sometimes dulls other sounds and is conducive to sleeping, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. As Wednesday morning wore on the rain got heavier. We have been very lucky on our travels that we haven't really experienced many rainy days - 3 or 4 at most. But this looked like it was here to stay. We stayed late at the campsite, hoping that it would clear a bit, and worked on the updates for the website that were getting a bit overdue... When we left at 1.00 the rain was actually heavier, and by the time we drove the 4 miles back to Multnomah Falls, we were in need of rain jackets and wished we'd remembered the umbrella! Juergen did manage under these dire circumstances to get some quite good photos of these amazing 620 foot falls. The Multnomah Falls Lodge, constructed in 1925, today houses an information centre as well as a restaurant.

Continuation on > Page 2 > !

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