What We Saw before the Fire: An Adventure in the Gorge

As many of you know, at the beginning of the year I gave myself the blog challenge to explore new and strange places and/or restaurants here in the PDX area. My goal was to explore and write corresponding blog posts throughout the year. Sadly, I have not been keeping up with this goal for most of the year, so lately I’ve been pushing myself to do better and MEET my goal!

For example, when I was making plans for when my mother came to visit me in July, I decided to take her to a few places that I could use for my blogs.

So why didn’t I post blogs about my adventures in August?

Instead of blogging about the places we saw, I was busy with my latest publication, Grift and Shadow, (available at both Amazon and Smashwords). After the book was released for distribution on August 31, I was gearing up to play a major game of catch-up with a lot of my other duties/projects, so once again, I had pushed my blog post to the back burner.

Then the Eagle Creek wildfire happened.

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Picture posted by KOMO ABC News

On September 2, 2017, the fire was reported in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which is the same area I took my mom during her visit. The days passed on, and air quality throughout the Portland area became dangerous. It rained ash, even though the fires were 30 miles away from Portland.

As firefighters and first responders worked diligently to contain the fire, information was released that the cause of the fire was believed to be the misuse of fireworks by a 15-year-old from Vancouver, WA. A witness saw the young man light and throw the fireworks into the overtly dry grass of the Gorge. The witness questioned the young man afterwards. From all reports, the young man seemed aloof and apathetic, as if he didn’t care about the massive devastation his carelessness had started.

According to InciWeb, as of September 27, 2017, the fire is at 46% containment, and has spread over 48,573 acres. Local news reporters from KATU indicated that teams of experts have already been brought in to assess the damage and determine the best course of action for cleanup, public safety, and returning the Gorge back to “pre-fire conditions.”

Freeway access to the Gorge on the 84 has only recently been available. Before the fire started, I had made plans that sometime in September I would make a drive through the Gorge and go all the way to Mount Hood. That has not happened, and I have yet to see the aftermath firsthand; I’m not exactly eager to see it, if I’m honest.

Despite such monumental destruction in the Gorge, I try to remain optimistic.

I know that the experts, first responders, and volunteers will do whatever it takes to rebuild and heal the region. The fall and winter rains will help cleanse and rejuvenate the area. Granted, with the loose soil, the forestry department and engineers will have to move quickly to avoid massive landslides, but from the news articles and videos, it sounds like everyone understands what needs to be done to prevent more problems.

Now, without further ado, let me talk about the Gorge before the fires.

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I have journeyed down 84 a few times since we moved up here to the Pacific Northwest. Going through the region, with the Columbia River by your side, takes your breath away. The historic Columbia Highway, as pictured above, starts off at Crown Point with the Vista House, which is the building in the above picture.

Construction on the Vista House began in 1916. It was designed to be a rest stop and an observatory that would offer tourists an amazing view of the entire Gorge, as Vista House sits over 700 feet above the Columbia River.

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The first time I visited Vista House was in November of 2016, and the wind chill up there froze me down to the bone. We went inside of the observatory and downstairs, where I found a gift shop. Since I am frugal, I usually only buy postcards from gift shops, but because I was freezing, I now own a green hooded sweater with a white graphic of Vista House painted on the front.

As I drove my mom and her friend on the historic highway this past July, we of course stopped at Vista House and took plenty of pictures. Inside Vista House, they also had several displays about the August 21st solar eclipse, letting people know the optimal places to view it. The best place to view it in Oregon was Salem, which is about an hour south of us here in Portland. Of course, here in Portland we would still be able to see 98% of the eclipse, which wasn’t too shabby.

Venturing on from Vista House, we drove down the curvy Columbia River Highway. It’s a two-lane road through the woods, meant to be a slow, scenic trip to enjoy. While you drive, you’ll notice expertly crafted masonry on the walls and the small stone bridges. These reminders of an earlier era give you a clue to the age of the historical highway.

There are several waterfalls that visitors can stop at on their way to the main tourist attraction, Multnomah Falls. In the past, I have stopped at a few of these, and if you have the time, almost all of the waterfalls are definitely worth the side trip excursions. As Multnomah Falls was only the first stop on a long journey out to Hood River with my mom and her friend, we skipped the smaller falls and headed straight for the big one.

Multnomah Falls
The noon sun glares down, making the falls even more captivating.

Parking at Multnomah Falls during the busy tourist season is no easy task. If you want to see the falls, I highly recommend getting there as early in the day as possible. Arrive there after noon, as we did, and you may be circling around for parking for quite some time.

Supposedly, there is an additional parking lot, although I have not yet found this parking haven on either of my visits to the falls. The falls are right by the 84, and the parking lot is off of the 84, but on the other side of where the falls are located, so you walk under the freeway and up a path to Multnomah Falls. I have never gone to the falls via the 84, and instead have always taken the historical route. One of these days, I will have to find this elusive parking lot.

We actually drove through the Gorge on two different days when my mom and her friend were visiting. On one day, we drove mainly on the Washington side of the Columbia River, and we saw quite a number of gorgeous sites.

We had our boy with us on the first day. We’ve taken him on a number of adventures in the past, and for the most part he likes hiking in nature. Like many other six-year-olds, he will eventually get bored, and he needs some motivation to keep going. Ice cream is a great motivator, as is stopping to take pictures with Sasquatch.

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On the second day of our Columbia River Gorge adventures, it was just my mom, her friend, and me. After we saw the beauty of the Multnomah Falls, we got on the 84 and headed east to Hood River. My mother’s friend had found a tourist pamphlet about The Fruit Loop, and we decided that would be our adventure.

More than just breakfast cereal, The Fruit Loop is an area around the city of Hood River. In this area, there are multiple stops along “the loop,” including wineries, orchards, flower fields, and more. We stopped at several places to taste pretty much every flavor of jam and jelly you can imagine, including the renowned Marion berry that you only seem to find up here in Oregon. (Don’t let them fool you – it’s just a type of blackberry, but it tastes yummy!)

One of the stops on “the loop” included an alpaca wool shop. My mom both knits and crochets, so she wanted to buy some alpaca wool. In fact, she bought several bundles of dyed wool, letting me pick one of the colors, as it will become a Christmas scarf for me later this year. I promised to look surprised when it arrived!

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Another stop was a lavender field. While lavender possesses a strong odor in most beauty and bath products, fresh-in-the-field lavender has a much more subdued smell. What I found incredible occurred as I walked up to the lavender field. As I moved closer to the field, the continuous sound of a low humming noise kept getting louder.

What made the humming noise? Hundreds of pollinators! I got close enough to see the bees moving around from flower to flower.

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As my mom and her friend perused the lavender shop, I stepped outside, because I had to take pictures of Mount Hood.

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I didn’t think it was possible, but I have fallen deeply and madly in love with this mountain! It makes me smile every time I see it, and I see it almost every time I drive across the bridges, assuming the weather is clear. There are days when you can’t see the top of Mount Hood. I joke that the clouds steal the mountain from me, but they always bring it back. As I ventured with my mom and her friend on The Fruit Loop, it was the closest I’ve ever been to Mount Hood. So, of course, I had to end my adventure with a picture of me and my mountain.

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