Lewis & Clark’s Spirit of Adventure is Ever Present
By Karen Rubin
Just 30-minutes drive from downtown Portland, Oregon, you feel like you are in that commercial where the car drives into a painting — as if you have driven your rental car right into those stunning landscape paintings from the 1800s that depict Lewis & Clark’s first sighting of the Pacific Northwest. The scenes are awesome, majestic and all the more astonishing considering how close these primeval landscapes are to Portland’s modern metropolis.
The wilds beckon, even from the cobbled streets of Portland, where the snow-capped peak of Mount Hood provides a stunning backdrop and constant presence.
My first view of the Columbia River Gorge was from the curiously named Portland Women’s Forum scenic overlook at Chanticleer Point, just a short drive from where you get off the Interstate 84 at Troutdale and get on the Historic Columbia River Highway (Rte. 30).
As I scampered out onto the point and turned toward the Gorge, it took my breath away. It was a foggy morning, but that didn’t affect the awesome majesty of this place.
The Historic Columbia River Highway is itself, a sculpted homage to the extraordinary wonders of the Columbia River Gorge-not just the gorge, but the most amazing array of waterfalls strung together in a compact area.
The Highway shows the reverence to the splendor of this place, which in 1986, became the first and only National Scenic Area in the U.S,
Good thing, too, because in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark came scores of others-the pioneers, the lumber jacks, the railroad men, the fishermen. Somehow, the sheer majesty of this place was powerful enough to restrain commercial development.
The Historic Columbia River Highway, 22 miles long, was the first major paved road in the Pacific Northwest, laid down in what should have been an impossible route. The highway was less to tame the wilderness, than to protect it while providing access to Mother Nature’s treasures.
Inspired by that same vista from Chanticleer Point, Sam Hill, a lawyer, “good roads” advocate and entrepreneur, with engineer Samuel Lancaster, began the construction in 1913 completing the feat in 1922. Much of the road has been modernized, but the Highway itself is being restored-with stone guard walls, graceful arches and guard rocks that so compliment the natural formations.
The original road is narrow and winding, and must be shared with bicyclists and hikers.
A short distance beyond the Women’s Forum, you come to The Vista House at Crown Point. This is Oregon’s pride and one of the most photographed and recognizable sites in the Gorge. Oregon’s Statue of Liberty, it was built as a memorial to Oregon pioneers, and commands a stunning vantage point of the Gorge. The structure is itself an architectural jewel, which architect Edgar Lazarus accurately described as “a temple to the natural beauty of the Gorge,” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are stunning stained glass windows and a fascinating exhibit inside, plus a small refreshment stand.
But it is from this point that you enter the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America.
My first stop was the Shepperd’s Dell Falls, reached by a short path below one of these fabulous masonry bridges of the historic highway. Next, the popular Bridal Veil Falls State Park, reached by a third-mile long hilly path, tucked into the woods in a peaceful location.
The next stop for me was the tiered Wahkeena Falls, one of the more dramatic. I went up the half-mile path, but then continued on (or rather up), another mile, to the fan-like Fairy Falls, probably named because they are delicate looking and gorgeous.
At this point, I met a couple that had hiked over the ridge from Multnomah Falls, which, by this point, I recognized by name as the climatic set. They said it had taken 2 � hours to get to this point, so, with little preparation for a major hike (no water, no map, no extra camera battery which I realized, with horror, was nearly dead), I started my trek over the ridge.
This was true hiking, and I climbed higher and higher. Finally, I came to a point at what I thought was the top, when I faced my first true obstacle: I had to traverse a small stream, with a tiny, narrow plank set on slippery rocks on the incline of the hill. I took my inspiration from the movie about the blind guy who conquered Everest, and how he had to at one point jump across a crevasse to the other side; failing that, he would have fallen to his death. (My predicament was no where near as dire, of course.) I got myself on the plank and realized I had nowhere to go. So, I took a breath, kept my eyes where I wanted to land, and threw my weight across. Fortunately, I never had to do that again, but it was an incentive to keep going forward, because I didn’t want to have to go back over that plank again.
I have done some wonderful hikes, but this easily was one of the most magnificent. The ridge trail was just that: at points, you had only one side, and then a sheer drop, hundreds of feet. At points, you were also rewarded with views of the Columbia River and the Gorge, or came upon waterfalls tucked into the woods, which you could enjoy as if you were the first person in the world to see them. You rarely felt closed in by forest on both sides.
The pine trees rose majestically-you couldn’t see the bottom at all. These extraordinary pines grow still higher, straight up so you can’t even see where they begin. Near where you hear sounds of more falls and the air is thick with cool moisture, the pines are covered with moss, like a velvet sweater.
This is where you can imagine the landscape as Lewis & Clark first beheld it.
Bridal Veil Falls (© 2006 Karen Rubin).
Then, after about 3 � miles, you begin the descent toward Multnomah Falls. There are several beautiful falls along the way, and as you get nearer to this, the main attraction of this extraordinary cluster of falls, it gets more and more crowded with people. This was a summer Saturday, and it was jam-crammed with tourists. Now the noise of people playing in the water or climbing boulders was rudely loud, shattering the peace of the backwoods, all the more noticeable having come from such peace and quiet.
But coming this way, you come first to the top of the Multnomah Falls. At this overlook, you can’t actually see the Falls at all, just the edge where the water rushes down, but you get a glimpse down, of just how far the falls go, and for perspective, you see how tiny the people and cars are below.
Continuing along the mile-long path (this part is really crowded on a weekend), you come to the first full view. It simply takes your breath away, and is even more incredible having had the perspective from the top to really appreciate how high these falls are. The falls thunder down 541 feet to the first ridge, and then 79 feet further, as if a second set of falls. There is a stone bridge at the first “bottom”, which itself is part of this astonishing tableau from below.
At this point, I was so glad (and proud) I hiked over the way I did, 4.8 miles taking 2 � hours; the trail requires commitment, but it wasn’t too hard for young children (or the occasional pet dog).
Another benefit was that I didn’t park in the exceptionally crowded parking lot in front of Multnomah Falls, where there is a stone lodge, grandly built in 1925, right at the base of the falls, affording an incredible panoramic view. The lodge is fabulous and offers a sit-down restaurant (expensive; long waits), a gorgeous lounge and bar, snack bar and an information center (finally, a hiking map!). The hike finishes with an easy half-mile trail through the woods back to Wahkeena Falls trailhead.
There are innumerable hiking trails all through this area; more ambitious hikers can take the strenuous Larch Mountain trail from Multnomah Falls, 13.6 miles roundtrip,
Hiking in the Cascades(© 2006 Karen Rubin).
Locks, Dam & Bridge of the Gods
The Historic highway ends here for cars, but I continued on I-84 a short distance to Bonneville Lock & Dam.
My visit to Bonneville Lock was totally serendipitous-I don’t even know what compelled me to go there–but in this one place, you learn about how locks facilitate transportation; how the water is harnessed for hydroelectric power; how fish migrate downstream; and you can see a fantastic film about Lewis & Clark.
The Columbia River Gorge is remarkably pristine-to think these forests have been left virtually exactly the way Lewis & Clark first beheld them. This makes the video on view at the Bonneville Lock & Dam Visitor Center all the more meaningful. A film of Lewis & Clark’s discovery uses an interesting device: the historical characters appear as “ghosts” against the real images of the places.
The Bonneville Lock, first built in 1938 and replaced with a newer, more modern one in 1993, itself is pretty amazing and you can see a film that shows how the locks work. You also see the huge hydroelectric plant, and, as a third element, a fish hatchery and ladder. A window gives you a view under the water, to see how the fish make this extraordinary journey against the current; the fish suddenly materialize momentarily out of the murky water.
The Bonneville Lock and Dam was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district in 1986 and is also a National Historic Landmark. It is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There is a wonderful visitor center (541-374-8820).
Portions of the Historic Columbia Highway can no longer be traveled by car, but by bike or by foot.
At the Bonneville Dam exit 40, you can park in Toothrock Trailhead near the Dam and walk or bicycle on this section of the Historic Columbia Highway (closed to cars) from Tanner Creek east to Cascade Locks, about 2 � miles, just below the Bridge of the Gods, a magnificent structure; along the way, you can see restored rock walls and viaduct railings. You can visit the Cascade Locks Historical Museum, home to the Lock Tender overlooking the old locks, and exhibits about Indians and pioneers (Free, 1 Marine Dr., 541-374-8636).
There is much to do in the Columbia River Gorge, considered a premier windsurfing, kite boarding, kayaking and white water rafting destination.
If you continue on from the Columbia River Gorge area, about an hour’s further drive, you come to Mount Hood, Mount Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range.
Rising 11,235 feet above sea level, Mt. Hood is a dormant volcano (there are occasional slight tremors, and even steam vents); amazingly enough, you can ski year-round (on the Palmer snowfield, at 8,500 ft. elevation).
The Timberline Lodge is famous, built in 1936 at the height of the Great Depression as a Federal Works Progress Administration project to employ artists and craftspeople. The lodge is filled with art: paintings, carvings, weavings, stonework and architectural elements; every guestroom is furnished with hand-made draperies and bedspreads, watercolors, hand-carved furniture and hand-forged lamps. The Timberline was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978 (800-547-1406, www.timberlinelodge.com).
The Mt. Hood National Forest, located 20 east of Portland, extends south from the Columbia River Gorge across more than 60 miles of forested mountains, lakes and streams to Olallie Scenic Area, a high lake basin under the slopes of Mt. Jefferson. The Forest encompasses some 1,067,043 acres. People come to enjoy fishing, camping, boating and hiking in the summer, hunting in the fall, and skiing and other snow sports in the winter (www.mthood.info).
The Barlow Ranger District of the Mt. Hood National Forest sponsors an annual Pioneer History Camp (this year September 16-24, 2006). The history camp is along the Barlow Road (last overland segment of the Oregon Trail) and the setting is what might look like an 1840’s pioneer camp. The camp is held at White River Station Campground along the Oregon Trail in the beautiful Cascade Mountains. Admission is free, and open to the public daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. (Barlow Ranger District, 541-467-2291.).
The snow that lingers on Mount Hood is all the more remarkable, because just a couple of hours away, you can be at the beach, where the temperature varies only about 10 to 20 degrees throughout the year.
We spent a day exploring Oregon’s coast, taking 26 W straight out from Portland’s city center to the coast (passing Clapsop State Forest, where Lewis & Clark bivouacked). At the Sunset Rest stop, you can take a short hike in the woods to see what lumbering was like in 1922.
At Cannon Beach, I had the same sense as Sacagewea seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The ocean is impressive enough, but it is more dramatic here because of these enormous rocks-seastacks–that rise up just off the shore.
Cannon Beach is this charming, historic village with amazing views of tall rocks that rise up out of the water, just off the shore. The village offers absolutely wonderful shops and galleries, quaint cafes and bakeries, fine restaurants, a great visitor center and public bathrooms just steps from the beach (Cannon Beach Chamber, 503-436-2623,www.cannonbeach.org).
The beach is sprawling, giving you plenty of room to walk or run, even horseback or ride an unusual beach bike (available for rent, $12 for 1� hrs.). You can hike nearly 10 miles, amid dramatic landscapes of cliffs, seastacks and tidepools.
Haystack Rock is Cannon Beach’s most prominent (and well photographed) feature; designated a marine garden, its fish and birdlife (tufted puffins, cormorants, pigeon guillemots, gulls, oystercatchers and turnstone) are protected.
To the north, Ecola Creek crosses the beach. It was here in 1806 that William Clark, Sacagewea and a party from the Lewis and Clark expedition came to find a beached whale (recorded in their journal). Today, there is a line of riders on horseback, making their way to the water. Just offshore from Chapman Point is Bird Rocks, where tens of thousands of common murres nest.
Just next door, Ecola State Park offers one of the most photographed and painted scenes in Oregon, from Indian Point, and great hiking.
Seaside, further north, is a honky-tonkish town jammed with tourists, with a massive beach edged by tall cliffs.
We raced down the coastline to Cape Lookout, where the Yale Habitat Bicycle Challenge riders, including our son, David, were just about to make it to the Pacific Ocean, having biked 4,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. We wanted to see their expression as they gazed out on the Pacific for the first time.
About an hour’s drive south of Cannon Beach, Cape Lookout is absolutely stunning, dramatically set off by cliffs that fall off to the vast expanse of sand. It tends to be sunny here, and the light coming through the moisture from the ocean sparkles. The beach is set off by dramatic cliffs that fall off to the expanse of sand.
A popular campground and day-use area, Cape Lookout is located on a sand spit between Netarts Bay and the ocean, giving you a terrific view of the ocean with easy access to the beach. More than eight miles of hiking and walking trails wind through a lush old-growth forest.
Our exploration was only a small section of the 360-mile long Oregon Coast Trail, extending the full length of the state, and biker and hiker friendly (Oregon Recreational Trails Advisory Council, 503-378-4168, www.oregon.gov/OPRD/PARKS/index.shtml; also, www.traveloregon.com , 800-547-7842.
Cape Lookout State Park is an hour and a half west of Portland through the scenic Wilson River pass, which is the way we traveled back to the city.
The extraordinary thing is that you can combine the exquisite pristine nature with a luxurious, yet historic Hotel deLuxe.
“Delivering glamour at the Hotel deLuxe, this is Emily” is the way Emily, manning the front desk, answers the phone when we arrive at the Hotel deLuxe.
The Portland Hotel deLuxe was created as a tribute to the Hollywood era of glamour and romance, while paying a respectful nod to today’s filmmakers. All the design and detailing is based on the architectural and decorative arts of 1920’s through the 1940’s.
Hotel deLuxe is more than glamour–it is entertainment, showmanship, in keeping with the Classic Hollywood theme that runs throughout. The emphasis on luxury, though, makes guests feel as if they were the movie star.
Opened only this year by Aspen Hotels, the Hotel deLuxe represents an $8 million renovation and modernization of a 1912 hotel. Recreating the Golden Age of film, the design and detailing is based on the architectural and decorative arts of the 1920s through the 1940s. Almost 400 photographs from Hollywood films from the 1930s to the 1950s decorate the corridors and all 130 rooms.
Each floor is themed: the 2nd floor is a homage to The Maestro (Alfred Hitchcock); the 3rd to The Dance and Music Masters (Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, Debra Kerr, Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Bing Crosby); the 4th to The Rebels (Orson Wells, John Ford, John Huston); the 8th, to the Masters (Frank Capra, Billy Wilder and George Cukor).
Our room, a gorgeous King Deluxe, was on the 6th, themed for the Europeans (David Lean, Charlie Chaplin, Rossellini, Fellini, Berman).
There was an enormous, flat-screen HDTV (the deLuxe is the first Portland hotel to offer them), MP3 docking station, iPod menus, high-speed wireless Internet access.
We could select from menus to choose music, our pillow type, even our choice of Bible, all at the push of a “Make It So” button on phone.
The closet is walk-in size with shelves, iron/ironing board, hairdryer; the marble bathroom done in black/white with silver fixtures; a coffee maker for added comfort.
It also offers Gracie’s, an elegant restaurant, and the Driftwood Room, a tiny lounge with wood paneling, brick wall and dark ambience that was ultra-cool in the �50s, now transitioned to hipster-kitsch.
The Hotel deLuxe, which has a sister hotel in Portland, the Hotel Lucia (listed as one of Travel & Leisure’s Top 500 Hotels in the world), and the Hotel Max in Seattle, Washington is at 729 SW 15th Ave., Portland (866-895-2094, www.hoteldeLuxeportland.com).
For further information, the Portland Oregon Visitor Association has an excellent website with information about attractions, accommodations, travel packages, 87-PORTLAND (toll-free, 1.877.678.5263),www.pova.com.
© 2006 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com .