It Was a Gorgeous Journey

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ALONG THE COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE – Forgive me for saying this, but this place is gorgeous! (Pun intended and likely not original.)

I first encountered the Columbia River in North Portland while wandering around with our buddy Glenn, while my Beautiful Mystery Companion and daughter Abbie took a Lyft to shop at a mall. We ended up crossing that wide river into Vancouver, Washington, searching in vain for a restroom in a driving rainstorm. We finally gave up looking in Vancouver and snuck into a McDonald’s on the Oregon side. It turns out my peeps were at the mall beside Mickey D’s, so we gave them a ride back and saved $35 for another Lyft ride.

The next day, we headed north to explore the gorge. To the west, more than 50 miles northeast of Portland but appearing much closer was the volcano Mount Saint Helens, elevation 8,363 feet. Those of a certain age, like me, recall when it erupted in 1980, killing 57 people and darkening the sky with ash for hundreds of miles around.

It was a lovely, clear day. For the first time we saw Mount Hood, covered in snow and towering over the city at 11,239 feet, though it is also 50 miles from Portland from the east. It is termed a “potentially active stratovolcano.” Thus, Portland is flanked by two volcanos. Since the 1980 eruption, Mount Saint Helens has made a few rumbles but nothing major. Mount Hood last erupted right before the arrival of explorers Lewis and Clark in 1805. It provides year-round ski opportunities, the only mountain in Oregon that can boast that.

After standing in line at the famed Voodoo Doughnuts in downtown Portland for about 20 minutes, we headed out to see scenery, riding a rare sugar high. We climbed a winding road toward the Vista House, built in 1917 high above the Historic Columbia River Highway. As promised in the name, it provided a wonderful view of the river below and the Cascade Mountain range beyond. The Vista House was closed. Its website indicates it was built as a “rest stop observatory for travelers on the old Columbia River Gorge Highway, by the same folks building the road. The sandstone building is 44 feet in diameter and 55 feet high.

I stepped out of the car into a 40-mph cold headwind that swept the Fenway Park cap off my head and tumbling down the parking lot. That was unexpected. I dashed after the hat, catching it about 10 feet from the edge. Taking photos while trying to stay upright proved a challenge, but I persevered. The view was magnificent, and I managed to hold on to my hat.

We stopped at a series of waterfalls in the gorge, of which there are at least 90. Since peak season had not begun – May to September – we did not have to buy a pass, though parking often required waiting for someone to leave to grab a spot.

Waterfalls have always fascinated me. As a child, one of my favorite places to go in New Hampshire was the Flume Gorge, located in the White Mountains. It extends 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty and provides quite a sight, white water rushing down the gorge. I have returned several times as an adult. One of my most poignant visits was with my brothers and our Granny Bourque, then a tiny old woman stooped with age but always up for a hike. Because she tilted toward the ground by then, one of us each held an elbow to keep her upright. Though well into her 80s, Grammy made it to the top.

The Columbia River Gorges are equally spectacular. Our favorite was Multnomah Falls, a photograph of which accompanies this piece. It is the most visited recreation site in the Pacific Northwest, for good reason. We circled the parking lot about five times before grabbing a spot. The spring-fed waterfall is truly stunning as the icy water plunges more than 600 feet into a pool, from which another waterfall drops about 70 feet to the ground level pool.

We crossed over into Washington once again, stopping for lunch in the small, picturesque town of Stevenson. The Columbia River glistened below, the snow-capped mountains beyond. Such a beautiful place to visit, any time of the year. We are blessed to be here.

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