the gorge – oregon

From Maryhill, Washington, it’s over the Columbia River to Biggs on the Oregon side, and just a few miles ahead, where the Deschutes River empties into the Columbia, we’re in the Gorge – a river canyon that descends to 4,000 feet in places and extends from here all the way to Portland.

In a westerly direction, looking across the Columbia River to Washington on the other side

The most direct route through the Gorge is Hwy 84, hugging the river all the way and passing through towns dotted along its route. We stick to 84 as far as The Dalles, stopping for lunch and to check out Klindt’s Booksellers – as the sign says, it’s the oldest bookstore in Oregon, dating back to 1870. With its original wood floors, oak book display cases and high ceilings, this is my kind of bookstore. As I’ve traveled the roads, leading me from one state to the next, I’ve been keeping my heart and eyes open for signposts of Irish history along the way. I haven’t been digging for those signposts; rather, I stumble into them, mostly when I’m not looking. But Oregon is a different matter: I want there to be a rich Irish history here, for self-serving reasons. I am predisposed to falling in love with Oregon – primarily, if not exclusively, for its natural beauty – and even before we’ve been in the state for more than half a minute, I want Oregon to be a place I will come back on some future road trip. The best reason for me to come back in the near future is to do research on the Irish here. So I walk into Klindt’s on a mission.

Oregon has a lot of history to it but, alas, not much of it has to do with the Irish. At least not at Klindt’s. But the very helpful staff find the name of one book that sounds promising – “We Irish in Oregon” – and suggests the best place to find it would be at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland. I’m told that Powell’s is beyond huge, and if I can’t find what I’m looking for there, I’m not likely to find it anywhere. Fortunately, we’re going to Portland. Leaving aside the Irish for the time being, we head back to the road.

Just the other side of The Dalles, we pick up an alternate to 84 – side road 30, an All American Road that wends its way through the trees and hills, with stops along the way for views of the river from higher up.

looking east

Route 30 drops back down to 84 near Mosier, and up ahead, around yet another bend in the road, we see a billowing cloud of smoke to the west. We’re heading that way, and I’m sure we’ll find out what’s happening when we get there.

And we do. It’s midafternoon by the time we’re in the thick of it; and one of the locals says the fire has been raging since morning. The helicopters are out in full force, dragging and dumping their buckets of water. From our vantage point on the ground and at a safe distance, it’s hard to imagine that these small buckets of water can make a dent in the fire.

Leaving the fire and smoke behind us, we followed the river along 84 until just past the Cascade Locks where we picked up 30 again through Ainsworth State Park – another All American Road that wends its way through dense forest and gorgeous Gorge falls – first Horsetail Falls …

… and then the biggie – Multnomah Falls, a 620-foot drop.

From the falls, 30 winds up and back through the trees with glimpses of the river down below. Oh no! We come to a sign that says “Road Closed Ahead.” We don’t believe it for a second and continue on. Our surroundings take our breath away, so much so that Bridget exclaimed at one point, “I want to get married here!” X marks the spot. It really is quite beautiful up here. But the sign was right – indeed, the road is closed ahead, so we make our way back and find another route to take us up to Chanticleer Point and a panoramic view of the Gorge, with the Vista House high on the hill at Crown Point.

looking east

The Vista House was built in 1916 as a memorial to the Oregon pioneers. One of our guidebooks suggested it is one of the most photographed places along the Gorge, so we of course had to check it out and take our own snapshot. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day, so we had to settle for an outside photo op …

I’m looking at it and wondering, “What does this have to do with pioneers?”

No question, though, that sitting where it does 733 feet above the river, the views from its steps are the thing. One last picture of the Columbia River as the sun falls in the western sky, and we’re back in the car for the last leg of our day’s journey to Portland.

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