Fall means rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. However, Thanksgiving Day (last year) promised to be a fairly sunny day albeit a cold one and we took advantage of this respite-from-the-rain and decided to go exploring the region. We were in Vancouver, Washington and our plan for the day was to hit the scenic route along the Columbia River Gorge, which these parts are very proud of.
For those who are not too familiar with the Pacific Northwest, let me tell you that the Columbia River originates in Canada, flows down to Washington State and for a good part, flows in between Washington and Oregon dividing the two states yet bringing them together with an interstate scenic area.
|The Historic Columbia River Highway|
Another geographical feature that fills the area with pride is the Columbia River Gorge that runs along the aquatic border between these states. This over 80-miles of a gorge owes its existence to the vibrant Columbia River as well as volcanic activity and glacial floods, I hear. A drive along the gorge is nothing but scenic. And better still, it can be done on either side of the gorge – Southern Washington or Northern Oregon.
Our trip started off on the busier and wider side. We took the bridge on 205 to cross into the state of Oregon and then we merged into I-84 (the interstate highway that goes into Boise, Idaho). Now, if you want to do it on the Washington side, your route would be WA SR – 14. We chose to take I-84 one way and drive back westward taking 14.
The first point of interest of that day was a glimpse of snow-capped Mount St. Helens and then that of an equally white and snow-covered Mt. Hood. Once Mt. Hood was behind us, we found ourselves driving just beside the mighty Columbia River.
A part of the area along the Historic Columbia River Highway had already been stripped off its Fall colour. For stretches, trees had gone naked and the rest of them seemed to be on the way to going bare-minimum for the winter months. That did not make the drive less scenic. The skeletal trees had a charm of their own and the mist that had settled on the rugged terrain of the gorge provided quite a scenic landscape. In the middle of all this, the Columbia River that flowed on the left side of the highway seemed to be adamantly holding on it its rightful bright blue.As if taking inspiration from the flowing water that coloured the area, the wooded area started showing some green. And between that, we spotted some snow and some small frozen waterfalls on the exposed rocky patches.
We drove on.
Our first stop on the way was Multnomah Falls.We had came across several hiking trails and state parks on the way but since it was not exactly a good time for long walks for me, we headed straight to US’s second tallest waterfall.
|Columbia River and Columbia River Gorge from the Oregon side|
After a wee little hike up the lower half of Multnomah Falls we were back on the road, hoping to cover as much of the scenic route we could on one day. We passed Bonneville and had a glimpse of the dam there (the place seemed closed around that time). We also drove past Bridge of the Gods and stopped to have lunch at a small, sweet-looking town called Cascade Locks. After a very filling Thanksgiving lunch there, we were back on Highway 84 taking in more of what Columbia River Gorge had to show.
One other stop that was a high point — literally– on the scenic drive was Mitchell Point. This viewpoint made us take an exit from the busy highway and watch it from another level. Should I mention that that ‘Columbia River Gorge POI’ included a panoramic view of the big blue river and its rocky banks?
While we were at Mitchell, we learnt that there used to be an almost-unique tunnel there. The Mitchell Point Tunnel, also known as the Tunnel Of Many Vistas is said to have been a tunnel with windows on its north wall. And these windows are supposed to have let in air and light and views of the Columbia River. Unfortunately, this spectacular road tunnel had to be blasted off to make way for the new and improved Interstate 84. (Alas! I wish I could have seen that.)
|A view from Mitchell Point|
We made one more stop for the day before we headed back. This was at Hood River, one of the bigger cities along this part of the Historic Columbia River Highway with lots of food and shopping options. A part of the town seemed to be a downtown fit for a stroll on a warm day. It was lined with attractive little boutiques, jewellery shops and and a picturesque waterfront. It looked like a Hill Station with its own B&Bs.
On the way back, we drove onto Bridge of the Gods, crossed the Columbia River and continued our scenic drive along the state on the other side of the river (WA 14).
|The Bridge of the Gods|
The Washington side of the gorge also had lovely views to show. To me, the best part was the river itself. The sun had begun its descent, needless to say it seemed like it was in a hurry considering it was late Autumn. The sky was a pretty pink-and-orange and the silhouetted leafless trees in the foreground made pleasant picture . The Columbia River that was now flowing westward — the same direction that we were going — was bathed in golden-hour-hues all the way.
When we drove past Camas, WA, we knew our drive was over. I wish I could be back on the Historic Columbia River Highway once again. Or maybe twice, if I’m not asking for too much — once in early fall to go fall-colour-peeping along the river, and in the Spring or Summer months when the Evergreen State and its neighbour are at their greenest.
|Washington State Route 14.|