I wrote about it in my last post but I can’t say enough that the Gorge is a place of spectacular natural beauty. The steep canyon walls rise in places to more than 4,000 feet above the river. It is a place of waterfalls, deep forests, near-desert bluffs and unusual geography and climate. Samuel Lancaster, who designed the first highway through the Gorge — it opened in 1922 and parts remain in use to this day — said of the Gorge:
“God shaped these great mountains round about us, and lifted up these mighty domes. He fashioned the Gorge of the Columbia, fixed the course of the broad river, and caused the crystal streams both small and great, to leap down from the crags and sing their never ending songs of joy.”
In Native mythology, the creation of the Gorge was the work of Coyote, who fought a great battle with the beaver god Wishpoosh. As the two fought, Coyote backed Wishpoosh steadily west; the beaver’s great tail slashed at the mountains as he fought and carved the river’s passage to the sea.
The weather can change by 20+ degrees from day to day. Hot, cold, sun, rain, wind, snow, it’s all there you just have to wait for it. Probably best known now for it’s wind and popularized as a windsurfing destination in the 1980s, the “Gorge” is blessed with mild temperatures nine months of the year, while nearby Mount Hood never runs out of snow. The result is an outdoor adventurer’s playground, and the saying “the Gorge is my gym” is frequently heard. The gorge provides ultimate workout for the outdoor adventurer. When asked by a local “what do you do?” they are not asking about your career but about what you do for fun, they are asking about your passions and for those in the Gorge there are passions galore. Once you’re hooked, the hardest part is making the decision, what to do today.
The wind-tunnel attribute of the Gorge makes it one of the world’s finest venues for wind-surfing, and communities, particularly Hood River, have capitalized on the popularity of the sport. On windy days in the spring and summer literally hundreds of colorful sails dot the gray-green waters and the wave-top whitecaps of the river. This among other things is what brought Karen and Osh to the “Hood” after they retired from California State Parks.
During my weeks visit we took advantage of many outdoor (and a few indoor) adventures. There is a great Masters swim program at a beautiful 25 meter pool in the town of Hood River and Osh is a frequent swimmer with the group. I always enjoy joining him for the morning swims and this time had the opportunity to work a bit on my stroke form. On this mornings when I wasn’t swimming Karen and I hit up her local workout place for spin class followed by a strength training class. Those two hours were kick butt hard and worked muscles that I forgot were there! “Flow” also has other classes like yoga and meditation and lots of dedicated attendees, a good place to stop in when in the area.
Probably my favorite (beside the swimming of course) was the great hikes that we did around the area. Somewhat limited by snow in the higher elevations there were still plenty of great places to go. If you are going to be in the area I would recommend either having a good tour guide or picking up a copy of the “Curious Gorge” guidebook available in many of the local stores. The ultimate experience of course is having a local to show you around.
Like the trails around Sedona and mentioned in the previous post much of the land around the Gorge is federally controlled and not by the National Park Service. This means that most of the trails are dog friendly.
Cory was joined by Karen’s “pack” a beautiful Aussie named Suena and a cocky mix named “Molly” who just happened to be the same size and in many ways had the same little dog attitude as Cory has. It was great fun watching Cory and Molly romping through the woods each claiming to be the “pack leader”. I have to say that Molly had one up on Cory as this was her home “turf” and she knew all of the cool side trails at times leading him on some great adventures.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” –Edward Abbey
Clear Branch Rim Trail starts at the Laurance Lake dam and climbs switchbacks up to the ridge where it meets Bear Creek Road (a forest service dirt road). There was no snow on the ground where we started the hike but as we climbed the switchbacks and came out on top of the ridge the snow was all around us. Trudging along the snow-covered fire road was difficult work. Cory (and me too) isn’t used to hiking in the snow. The views of Mount Ho0d from the top were spectacular. And we stopped for lunch with a view before heading back down to the lake and the car. A good 5.5 mile hike and definitely worth the effort. Next time without the snow we will head further along the road for I am told even better views!
Tamanawas Falls forms a broad curtain where Cold Spring Creek thunders over a 150’ lava cliff near the eastern base of Mount Hood. We did this hike along scenic Cold Spring Creek to the falls after having lunch at the Mt Hood Timberline Lodge at the top of the mountain. A fairly easy hike it was complicated by a rockfall that had blocked the trail just before the waterfall. Scrambling over the rocks was much easier for the two small dogs then it was for Suena, Karen and I! “Tamanawas” is Chinook Jargon for “spirit” or “spiritual guidance”. Not surprisingly, there were several Native American Tribes that made this area their ancestral home and that are still living here. Treaty rights dating from the 1850s grant tribes in Oregon and Washington the right to their customary fishing and hunting grounds in these areas.
Political commentary: With all of the political uproar about immigration, in truth, if we study history, wouldn’t the Europeans that first came to the US be considered the illegal immigrants?
In many cases these dedicated tribes are still using these rights to challenge industrial and environmental projects across the Northwest. Along the Columbia River, Native tribes are engaged in multiple fights over land and water. They are a modern day resistance to projects that have the potential to cause long term environmental damages.
“What I stand for is what I stand on.” – Wendell Berry
Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy oil terminal is attempting to double the number of oil-carrying railcars through the Gorge. The Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Warm Springs tribes–all part of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission–have testified to the increases in oil train traffic along the Gorge and the risk of derailments.
Union Pacific wants to build a 4-mile stretch of track that would allows slow trains to pull off the main track to let faster trains pass. The Yakama Nation hired a legal team that successfully persuaded rural Wasco County’s board of commissioners to vote against the plan last week, partly because it would interfere with the tribe’s access to its fishing grounds.
Hood River County voted last year to ban water-bottling plants, but the town of Cascade Locks still wanted the business, and worked to overrule voters in the courts. A member of the Confederated Tribes of the GrandRonde went on a hunger strike for five days outside the state Capitol to highlight the tribes’ objections to the impact on their fishing rights.
The Columbia River Gorge has been home to Native people since “time immemorial”. You can see the Indian fishing platforms along the river bank throughout the Gorge and can run into fisherman bringing in the catch using traditional fishing methods.
The last hike before I headed north was with a great group of ladies from Hood River. Karen, Martha, Leslie and I took the dog pack and headed for Trapper Creek on the Washington side of the Gorge. The 5,963 acre Trapper Creek Wilderness protects nearly all of the Trapper Creek drainage and provides critical anadromous fish habitat in the Wind River watershed. Streams are plentiful among the steep forested canyons along the trail. The old-growth Douglas-fir forests that comprise the heart of this Wilderness provides habitat for a variety of wildlife such as spotted owls, pileated woodpeckers, goshawks, blacktail deer, Roosevelt elk, and black bear. Our trail climbed through an old-growth forest and along rushing creeks. The evidence of a harsh winter was all around us. Just a few patches of snow but the forest floor almost looked like a war zone with downed trees literally ripped in half covering the trail in many areas. It was a bit slow going but we enjoyed the afternoon and the great company.
Hood River is another of those places where I immediately feel at home when visiting. It is certainly going on my potential list of places to settle when I become so inclined. For now suffice it to say I know I will be back!
“We don’t stop hiking because we grow old – we grow old because we stop hiking.” – Finis Mitchel