Category Archives: Weather & Scenery
Winter storms have hit early and hard this year in the Columbia River Gorge. Wind gusts are consistently in the 70 mph-range and ice still coats the trees, roads, and buildings around Crown Point. Temperatures are slowly rising and winds have crept down from the 80s. And Vista House’s Crown Point — once called “Thor’s Heights” — has lived up to its stormy name.
Here’s a look around the west end of the Gorge:
Wondering what the winds and temps are like at Vista House? You can click here to check our weather station:
Of course, if the wind gauge is iced over (like it has been for the last two days), it will look like there is no wind at all . . .
In October of this year, visitor Linda Hill rode her bicycle from Portland, Oregon to The Dalles. One of our Park Managers had the pleasure of meeting Linda at Senator Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead outside of Hood River and asked that she share her story. Kindly, she did.
I spent 4 wonderful days in early October 2015 cycling a hundred miles from Portland to The Dalles along the Historic Columbia River Highway. This was my dream ride to celebrate my 61st birthday and I savoured every moment.
The location of the small towns along the route let me slow down to a very enjoyable rhythm of 20 to 35 miles per day. This pace gave me time to stop when I wanted to chat with people and enjoy the views, waterfalls, tunnels, plateaus, and a few of the many trails along this stunningly beautiful bikeway.
Even though there are plenty of campsites along this route, I decided to stay in a few of the many motels in Troutdale, Cascade Locks, and Hood River. This decision meant that I didn’t have to carry much gear and I had a comfortable bed to sleep in each night.
By traveling weekdays instead of on the weekend, the traffic was very light on the portions of the historic highway that are shared with cars. The ride from Troutdale to Cascade Locks is probably the most beautiful day of cycling I have ever had.
The decision I felt best about, though, was to make use of the Columbia Area Transit (CAT) Dial-A-Ride Service to get around the yet-to-be re-connected 10 mile stretch from Wyeth to Hood River. After watching the ODOT videos about the plans for the final 10 miles of trail, I had no interest in attempting to share any part of the I-84 Freeway with huge trucks hurtling along at 80 miles per hour. I was especially worried about the narrow section around Shellrock Mountain that is described by Park Rangers as ‘frightening’ and ‘harrowing.’
What a relief to find out about CAT and their bicycle friendly busses. I simply called 541-386-4202 a couple of days ahead and booked an early morning ride from Cascade Locks to Hood River. Then after being shuttled around the scary part, I hopped on my bicycle and spent a wonderful day riding up the easy 5 percent grade to the West Mark O Hatfield Trailhead and then on to the famous Mosier Tunnels, the town of Mosier where bike racks are works of art. I climbed up and up some more to Rowena Crest and then rode the swooping loops down toward The Dalles.
At the end of my trip, I caught the scheduled CAT bus service from The Dalles back to overnight in Hood River and then the next morning I caught the bus back to Portland.
ABOUT THE HISTORIC COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY
The Historic Columbia River Highway was designed by Samuel Lancaster and constructed between 1913 to 1922. Its purpose was not merely to offer an east-west transportation route through the Columbia River Gorge, but to take full advantage of every natural aspect, scenic feature, waterfall, viewpoint and panorama. When bridges or tunnels were designed, they stood by themselves as artistic compliments to the landscape. The Columbia River Highway served millions of travelers and became one of the grandest highways in the nation.
When transportation needs required faster and larger roads, sections of the old highway were bypassed. By 1960, a new interstate highway had replaced nearly all the older road. In the 1980s, new interest in the old scenic highway began to resurface. Lost sections of highway were identified, unearthed and studied for potential renovation. Ambitions restoration projects began. Since the 1987, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been charged with working with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), the State Historic Preservation Office and Travel Oregon to preserve, enhance, and reconnect the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Much work has been accomplished since that date. 63 of the original 73 miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway are now open to travel either by motor vehicle (by Highway or connecting county roads) or by foot and bicycle (State Trail.) Only 10 miles are needed to complete the connection.
To learn more about cycling the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, check out our website:
We have all been asked the question before. “If you could have dinner with a famous person (dead or alive), who would it be?” Over the holidays, we were sitting around with friends, and someone pulled out a “TableTopics” conversation starter game. The dinner question was the first one.
My mind raced just like yours might be now. Robin Williams, my favorite actor. Teddy Roosevelt, my favorite conservationist President. John Muir, my favorite West Coast naturalist. Sigurd Olson, my favorite Northwoods naturalist. My grandmother, who passed when I was in elementary school. I thought for a moment. Samuel Boardman. I would like to have lunch with our very own Sam Boardman.
Samuel H. Boardman was the first Parks Superintendent for Oregon State Parks. He was around for the birth of our Oregon State Park system, and our system grew mightily under his watch. (Between 1929 and 1950, Oregon State Parks blossomed from 46 to 181 park properties with acreage swelling from 4,000 to 66,000 acres.) As charismatic as Robin Williams, as passionate about conservation as Roosevelt, with the heart of a naturalist, and the wisdom of a grandparent, what I wouldn’t give to be in presence of “the father of the Oregon State Parks system.”
I fell in love with Samuel Boardman while working at Silver Falls State Park. Early on, I found in the park archives a lengthy letter dated November 1951 from Sam to his successor, Chester H. Armstrong about the history and future of Silver Falls. I read, reread, highlighted, and read to others my favorite passages in this letter.
Most memorable for me was the two entire pages Sam took justify the need for a “carving unit” at Silver Falls—a wonderfully colorful, poetic, and passionate piece with the gist of the argument being that humans have an innate need to carve—and rather than have them desecrate restrooms, picnic tables, and trees, we should designate a place for them to do so. Further, Boardman believed that such a project for open, rather than covert, carving could actually be shocking enough to change a person’s ways:
To make people think, you must jolt them. Can’t you see the carriage of this lesson of preservation lingering with the visitor throughout the day, after he has stood before this shrine of destruction? Can’t you see this same conservationist, after imbibing his entry lesson, stepping up to some carving vandal and requesting him to desist?
Somewhere, somehow, the lesson of preservation must be put over to the American people. Somewhere a start has to be made. If through a log, a privy, then so be it. If you know of a better way of preachment, the house tops are yours for the asking. This merits your deepest consideration for an American principle of “To have and to hold” is at stake.
It seems like too small of a detail to even mention, but Boardman was passionate about all aspects of parks and the preservation of them. He touches all in his letter, leaving Armstrong with these final thoughts: “A recreational kingdom is placed in your hand. Build unto it. Guard that which has been [built].”
In other letters and essays, Boardman writes about the Columbia River Gorge. A place, no doubt, near and dear to him as he was the founder of the town of Boardman at the east end of the Gorge. It was at Latourell Falls that Boardman learned what would to him prove to be one of his most valuable lessons. Guy Talbot State Park has two waterfalls. Latourell Falls—easily seen from the highway—and Upper Latourell Falls—only visible by trail. The upper falls is a double fall (having a whirlpool in the center), and Samuel Boardman thought it a good idea to build a trail in the middle “where the hiker could stand between the two falls.” And so, Boardman blasted in a trail. And the result was, in his mind, awful:
The very foundation upon which depending the beauty of the entire picture has a great gash across it. The aesthetic sense of the individual curdled before reaching the beauty spot. … [The experience] taught me that man’s hand in the alteration of the Design of the Great Architect is egotistic, tragic, ignorant. … From then on, I became the protector of the blade of grass, the flower on the sward, the fern, the shrub, the tree, the forest. … I found man could not alter without disfigurement. Take away, disfigure, and you deaden the beat of a soul. (Oregon State Park System: A Brief History. Samuel Boardman.)
For those familiar with the Columbia River Gorge, the above might sound a bit familiar. Samuel Lancaster, who designed the Historic Columbia River Highway, is quoted saying something similar about planning and building the road:
When I made my preliminary survey here and found myself standing waist-deep in the ferns, I remember my mother’s long-ago warning, ‘Oh, Samuel, do be careful of my Boston fern! … And I then pledged myself that none of this wild beauty should be marred where it could be prevented. The highway was built so that not one tree was felled, not one fern was crushed, unnecessarily. (The Columbia: America’s Great Highway. Samuel Lancaster.)
You can read a large collection of Sam Boardman’s essays by reading his book, Oregon State Park System: A Brief History, available online through the Oregon State University Library. Although, I must mention that I noticed by comparing Sam’s November 1951 letter to Armstrong about Silver Falls to the same section in the book, that book is a meticulously edited version of his original writing—the overall content is the same and reads seamlessly, but some of Sam’s quick wit and humorous storytelling is, at times, watered down or missing altogether. I can only imagine how every other essay must have read before the editors made their marks! How I would love to sit down with Sam and ask the man, himself!
I will link to the book here and leave you with an excerpt of the book’s last paragraph, written about (you guessed it) the Columbia River Gorge.
The Gorge has so many stops and goes, unscored notes, so many varied choruses that it could be blended into a symphony. … The woodwinds in the swaying tree tops. The flutes in the mist of the waterfalls. The bases in the steady roar of wayward gales. The Rhine lives in the historical music composed through the centuries. There must be a composer who could blend the mists, lights, caprices, the songs of the waterfalls, the ripples of the brooks, the sonnets from the tree tops, the boldness of the cliffs into a symphony of the Columbia Gorge that will live in the souls of the generations to come. It is a challenge to Destiny to give birth to a maestro. Who will write a score that will make the Gorge musically unforgettable through the centuries?
For those of you who have wisely chosen to stay away this past week while the Gorge pounded out its first windy ice storm of the season, I thought we’d share a whip of the tempest.
October at the Vista House is always an interesting month . . .
From the shift in weather and beginning of the winter winds, to the outside weather (rain) making its way inside, to the shorter hours that the building is open, everything changes. And this last change, being closed more often to the public, means that the local “residents” of Vista House have more time to be in their building alone. Besides the mice, one of these local residents is (I believe) the ghost of the building’s architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.
Many staff who have worked in Vista House late night in the fall have reported feeling the presence of Lazarus. I have felt it before, too. However, I have never been scared of it. It is a nice, almost nurturing, presence to me. I feel that he is just there watching over his building. Happy that we are there, too, keeping watch and taking care—which is why I think I don’t find it scary. If I was causing damage at Vista House, it might be a different story.
One of the ways Edgar Lazarus makes himself known (other than just the “feeling” that he is there) is by playing with the elevator or “lift.” The lift is situated in the basement level of Vista House—volunteers in the rotunda level push toggles and buttons to raise and lower the lift. The control box at the main level desk is the only way to operate the lift. That said, I have had times when the lift is completely powered off, I am in the building by myself in the hallway in the basement when the lift door will start to open and close. Or times when I’m upstairs and can hear the lift door opening and closing even though I can see with my own eyes that no one’s hands are on the control. At times, it is just the outside door opening and closing; at other times, both the inside and outside door start opening and closing.
I have always attributed this lift movement to Lazarus. When the renovations were made on Vista House in 2004, we kept everything original (or at least as originally designed) EXCEPT the addition of the ADA elevator or “lift.” This was the only “modern” addition to the building. I do not think that Lazarus is upset by the lift, more than he is interested in it. I think Lazarus, being an architect with a quizzical mind, is intrigued by the lift—curious about how it works—and that he is simply playing with it.
I had always attributed the change in the temperature/weather as the sign that strange-ness was coming to Vista House. However, upon further research, I recently found out that Edgar M. Lazarus died on October 2, 1939 after a bitter dispute over his fees for the design and construction of Vista House.
Is it just a coincidence that Vista House’s ghost-play starts in October?
Or does the spirit of Edgar M. Lazarus begin making his rounds each year on the day he died, taking up residence in Vista House—the building he is best known for and one he felt he was never fully paid for?
(Special thanks to Ranger Mo Czinger for this ghostly account.)
The beach is BACK . . .
. . . And it’s free of rubble
(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)
We see it wavin’ better come out on the double
(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)
The wind has died down and the sky is mostly blue
(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)
So come out now ’cause it’s quite a view
(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)
It’s true; the beach is back at Rooster Rock State Park.
As many of you know, Rooster Rock used to be the place to go for sandy river-level picnics, sandcastles, and swims—but things have changed over the years beginning with the floods of 1996 that swept massive amounts of beach downriver. Today, a wide, rambling shoreline is a rarity. And the perfect wind and weather window is now. So, if you get a chance, take a drive out to exit 25, and enjoy the sand between your toes while it’s here and while it’s warm.
Wondering what the beach used to look like? Take a peek!
The other day, I was driving through one of our Oregon State Parks, and a sea of purple flowers caught my eye. Lupines. A towering field of the beauties in full bloom. I made a mental note to stop back with a camera.
Early that evening, I drove by a second time. I couldn’t help myself. I leapt out of the truck and headed straight for the field. An hour later, I emerged. Late for dinner and grinning from ear to ear. In 60 minutes, I traveled no more than 10 feet and took 100 photos. I had a million questions. I have been scouring my wildflower guides and the internet since, and rather than less, I now have even more. Although I know far more about the lupine than when I set off to study them, I find now that I feel like I know less than ever. So goes the journey of discovery.
Below is the condensed version of what I found:
Lupine, the Plant
A Closer Look at Flowers
Rangers have been hiking the Gorge on their work and free time and capturing fantastic shots of wildflowers.
Here’s the first round from the “Crown Point of the East”:
Rowena Crest and Tom McCall Preserve
I still remember my first spring in Oregon. I was surprised by (and called home to report about) three things:
One, Oregonians mow their lawns if it has been rain-free for a mere few hours, and they do so in their rubber boots. As kids, we all had to mow our corner lot back in Iowa. And, according to Papa’s rules, you did not mow unless it had been dry for at least 24 hours – 48 was preferred. “Papa! They are mowing during something called a ‘sunbreak!’ And they’re wearing galoshes!”
Two, the weather is completely unpredictable. It will be sunny one moment, sprinkling the next, spitting hail for ten minutes, and then turn sunny again. I had two near-bouts with hypothermia during spring longs runs out in the Willamette Valley countryside before I figured out that I had to dress in extreme layers.
Three, there are more rainbows (and double-rainbows) out here than I have ever seen in all the years of my life. I remember when my college friend, Jack, came out for a visit. We went to the Mt. Angel Abbey on a beautiful spring day. It sprinkled, then it hailed, and then sprinkled again. “Just wait,” I whispered, “This is rainbow weather.” And, sure enough, a rainbow appeared as the sun broke through a hole in the clouds.
It was spring. And, in the Valley (and the Gorge), spring means Rainbow Season.
Here are some recent beauties taken by rangers and friends in the Gorge area.
While many of us were wrapping up our yard work, our barbeques, and our walks under Saturday evening’s setting sun, volunteers from Rose City Astronomers and Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers were just coming out to play.
March 22 marked Rooster Rock State Park’s first Star Party event for 2014. Organized by OMSI in partnership with Oregon State Parks, Rooster Rocks holds seven “Star Parties” throughout the year between the spring and fall equinox. This past weekend, over 200 visitors joined volunteer astronomers along the Columbia River to look at constellations, nebulas, and Jupiter with its moons. It was a spectacular evening.
Never been to a Star Party? You still have six more chances!
Here are some tips and things to know:
- Know before you go. Star Parties may be cancelled due to cloud cover and/or high winds. Call the OMSI hotline to confirm: 503.797.4000. Press #3, then #5.
- Arrive around dusk and well before dark. This will give you a chance to find parking, restrooms, and a place to lay out your blanket.
- Bundle up. Warm days can be deceiving; bring a winter coat, hat, gloves, and maybe a hot drink!
- Bring stargazing gear. A flashlight with a red lens (or red cellophane) is a must for walking around in the dark – white light ruins your (and everyone’s) night vision. Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome. Star charts are also a nice addition – paper copies are available at the event.
- Expect to pay $5 for parking. While the event is free, Oregon State Parks still requires a parking permit. $5 for a daily, $30 for an annual, $50 for a 2-year.
- Begin with the talk! Just after sunset, you can join us for a presentation and get lowdown the event and the current viewing highlights.
- Visit each ‘scope. Volunteer astronomers bring their telescopes and their knowledge to Star Parties, and they love to share. It’s simple. Walk up to a person with a telescope, ask what they’re looking at, what it is, and if you can take a peek. Never seen where stars are born? This is your chance.
Lay back, and enjoy! Star Parties are a great chance to relax with friends and family. Grab a star chart, get out your red flashlight, lay back, and map out the night sky. Find the Big Dipper, the North Star, your zodiac sign, or make up your own constellations. Contemplate the stars, the Columbia River, the Gorge, and the Universe.
Upcoming 2014 Star Parties
At Rooster Rock & Stub Stewart State Parks
- April 19
- May 10
- June 2
- July 12
- August 12
- September 20
Special events at Milo McIver State Park
- April 14 (Lunar Eclipse – Milo McIver ONLY)
- October 8 (Lunar Eclipse – Milo McIver ONLY)
We hope to see you there!
For more information and other events, visit the OMSI website: https://www.omsi.edu/starparties