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Traveling the River

 

It's one of the biggest rivers in the West and certainly one of the most famous. The Columbia River is not just big; it is one of the most beautiful waterways on earth, with surrounding terrain ranging from dense forests and cliffs to sage fragrant desserts. You can travel this river on either the Washington side or the Oregon side…both are lovely offering very different treats. The Washington Road is just that, a lovely, winding highway following the curves of the river. The Oregon side boasts an interstate freeway, not so much following the gorge as commanding it. We chose the Oregon side for two reasons, one, we're already on this side and two, there are some interesting sites on this side we wanted to see.

We began our journey at the end so to speak, at the mouth of the Columbia River. Astoria is an inviting town filled with houses as delectable as ice cream sundaes. The hills are dotted with brightly painted Victorians, complete with turrets and gingerbread trim. We oohed and aahed our way up the hill to Astoria's most famous house of all, The Flavel House. This elegant Queen Anne style home is fully furnished in the period and the grounds cover an entire city block. It was interesting to contrast how the family lived and how the maids lived. Your kids will love it!

Also of interest in Astoria is the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the Astoria Column. The Astoria column is 125-foot tower perched atop the highest hill in Astoria. It has 164 steps spiraling to the top and if there is a high wind (and there usually is) you might want to hang on to your lighter children while enjoying the view. I have never heard of anyone being blown off … but you never know.

Moving on up the river, you encounter dense forest with pristine salmon and steelhead streams. Passing by Portland, you then head up on I84 and enter the

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The gorge is over 80 miles long filled with ribbon like waterfalls, jutting cliffs and the glistening waters of the Columbia River.

I cannot even begin to list all the sites in this part of the gorge so I will just hit the highlights of which the Historic Columbia River Highway is a shining example. There isn't a highway constructed in the United States that was as beautiful as this road way was when first constructed. Built between 1913 and 1922 it was designed to be the nations first scenic highway. It is not only valued for it's breathtaking scenery but also the beauty of the highway itself… what other road can you find quaint rock benches built into the guardrails? Much of the highway is closed to traffic now, but parts of it are still open to motor vehicles. Along this highway are the incredible Multinomah Falls and Horse Tail falls. Both are must-sees.

Next we made a stop at Bonneville Dam and the Cascade Lochs. Most dams have a museum and Bonneville dam is no exception. Though the museum was interesting, my son was more interested in the viewing window into the fish ladder. Lots of educational value to see and savor here. You can watch barges headed up the river going through the lochs. You could study the Panama River for hours and not understand how it works until you see lochs in action. Same concept, though on a much smaller scale, of course. The grounds of the Bonneville dam are well taken care of and perfect for picnicking. We ate our lunch before taking the tour and had a hard time holding on to our food. The Columbia River gorge is notorious for it's high winds. Which brings us to our next stop.

Hood River is famous for it's wind surfing. Spring and summer are the best times to view this amazing sport. Graceful sails skipping across the water at high speeds are fun to watch especially the ones trying to avoid the barges! The town itself is fun to explore, among the windsurfing shops are antique stores and homey cafes. Don't forget to buy some fruit while you're here, their peaches and pears are some of the best in the country.

Leaving Hood River you notice the towering trees becoming few and far between and little clumps of sagebrush makes an appearance. Against the backdrop of beige's, sands and pale red rocks, the Columbia River takes on an even deeper blue. Next stop is The Dalles and important stop on the Oregon Trail. Here the weary travelers would decided whether to raft their wagons down the Columbia River, a perilous trip at best, or take the equally dangerous Barlow Road over Mt. Hood, where at one point, wagons, people and livestock would have to be lowered by ropes down steep chutes. Well worth a stop is the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.

By now we are all tired and it's time to be heading home. We are unable to explore the upper reaches of the river, perhaps some other field trip. Right now we are hungry, tired and wanting hot baths. For the field trip lady and her family it was just another day!

Resources:

The Discovery Center and Museum, 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, Oregon 97058

Phone 541 296-8600, www.gorgediscovery.org

Columbia River Maritime Museum, 1795 Marine Drive, Astoria, Oregon 97103

503-325-2323, www.crmm.org

Bonneville dam and lochs

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Lock and Dam, Attn: Visitor Center Cascade Locks, OR 97014-0150

541-374-8820 www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/b/welcome

The Flavel House, 8th and Duane, Astoria OR 97103

503-325-2203

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