As the plane neared Portland, we got a preview of what was in store for us. Off to the south, a beautiful view of Mt. Hood, from above the clouds. Clean, sharp, snowcapped, stunning. It was sunny and clear up there ... Once we landed, however, it was cloudy, misty and cool. As we left the airport, I thought I had my camera at the ready. I didn't know I'd be ambushed before we even reached the highway. Right on the airport grounds were the most wonderful wooden horse sculptures they captured the horse "essence" perfectly. I was too transfixed to reach the camera in time, and no where to stop or turn around. That won't happen again, she vowed.
The plan was to follow the Columbia River Gorge east, all the way to The Dalles, about 70 miles out. The gorge was actually a canyon cut by the Columbia through the volcanic rock of the Cascades. I-84 ran along the river, as did portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway, 30. Built between 1913 and 1920, the Highway's chief engineer Samuel Lancaster sought to,"find those points where the most beautiful things along the line might be seen ...and if possible, locate the road in such a way as to reach them."
Somehow we missed the first entrance to the old highway and had to backtrack to get to Crown Point, we realized, as we saw the Vista House, a cylindrical cap on a cliff, fade into the distance. We found an exit to Highway 30 and climbed our way back.
What a great old roadway! Narrow, and with only the original low stone guardrail between the pavement and some precipitous drops. It was a winding, steep route up the 733 feet to Crown Point. Even with the mist, it was a spectacular view, particularly looking east.
I'm compelled to include these old postcards from the area. They convey the look and especially the feel of this area so much better than my shots or the modern cards. It was really a back-in-time atmosphere. Very special.
The Vista House was dedicated in 1916. Inside we found a flea market in progress, of all things, and a gift shop on the lower level. There was also a display of historic pictures and artifacts. (Including a picture of Mitchell's Tunnel I had seen it before, on an old postcard before the trip, and was on a mission to find it it looked incredible.)
Back on the old highway we retraced our route west, down to Bridal Veil State Park. The sign said it was a half-mile hike to the Falls ... what it didn't mention was how steep and rocky it was. Along the way we came upon an older couple, slowly moving ahead. I felt badly for the lady ... she was struggling up and down the steep areas, where loose rocks made the trek dangerous. But she gamely forged ahead. We heard the Falls, and finally climbed a last slope and turned a bend, and voilà. Very pretty, and we could see why it was so-named. On our hike back, we passed a family; the kids were well-prepared in hiking boots, their parents had on dress shoes; the father was sitting on a rock, emptying pebbles from one.
Back on Highway 30, we passed more tall, narrow waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls with the historic stone Lodge in its shadow.
The long day was beginning to catch up with us as we arrived in Cascade Locks, "the heart of the Gorge." A cute, small town right on the river, with friendly looking shops and small restaurants. We stopped for a late lunch (more like dinner to us) ... then spotted a nice Best Western on the riverbank. Yes, they had a room and a great one at that, with a small balcony overlooking the river and the Bridge of the Gods. More on that later. We checked in, then were back out again, heading east.
The old highway seemed to disappear and we were back on I-84, paralleling the river. I was still on my quest to find Mitchell's Tunnel ... but didn't see it on the Gorge map. Ahead was a high rock outcropping that had some kind of overlook. We turned off and stopped, and approached the ledge above the river. The sign said Mitchell Point and had information about the area and a picture of the tunnel ... but then, where was it? Oh no. The sign's last line: Sadly, the tunnel was blasted away in 1966 to make way for Interstate 84. Well, doggone it. Couldn't they have figured out some way to preserve at least part of "one of the most famous engineering features of the Highway?" I've since read that there is a wall fragment somewhere, but we didn't see it. The five-window tunnel was cut out of solid rock, 390 feet long and 19 feet high. Here's what once was ...
Good thing we had stopped at that overlook I'd have gone crazy looking for the tunnel otherwise. Peter was even more grateful, knowing the suffering he'd have had to endure.
Ah well, onward, eastward. The terrain was taking on a new look. From the towering, angular green cliffs, to lower, rounder, browner terrain. It was also getting warm and sunny ...
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