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:
Due to extensively dry and hot conditions, Oregon State Parks everywhere have banned fires.
The ban covers all open fires, including those in designated fire rings. For parks in the West Gorge (between Troutdale and Cascade Locks), it also includes briquettes. (Propane stoves are okay—check with your destination park to confirm.)
And visitors are not the only ones affected by the ban. Even park rangers are scratching their heads now that they cannot burn charcoal briquettes for their annual Volunteer Appreciation BBQ.
At a loss for what to do without the grill? Here are some ideas.
If you’re like me, this is one of the first places your brain went when you heard the words “fire ban.” Cold cuts, lots of spreads, a variety of cheese, garden-fresh veggies . . . the options are limitless with a good old-fashioned sandwich. Everyone can build his or her own to his/her own liking. But. Sandwiches can be somewhat, well, boring.
Here’s the twist. Instead of loaf of bread, try:
- Bagel sandwiches
- Loaded pita pockets
- Flavored wraps
- Multiple gourmet breads cut and sized for multiple mini-sandwiches
And if your brain tracked like mine, soon after sandwiches you thought of trays. Trays full of delicious finger foods. Again, it’s bound to be a crowd pleaser as you’re sure to have something for everyone.
A few twists on the ol’ veggie tray:
- Fruit kabobs
- Veggie kabobs
- Cheese and sausage kabobs
- Bread or cracker platter with a various sweet, spicy, and tangy dips
Thinking outside of the box and depending on where you’ve planned to hold your picnic, you might have access to regular old electricity. Our picnic shelters and our improved campsites have power. What can you do with power? Plug in your kitchen appliances!
A few appliances and picnic suggestions:
- Electric Skillet + Power = Grilled Cheese Bar
- Electric Skillet + Power = Sandwich Melt Madness
- Crock Pot + Power = Chili Bar
- Crock Pot + Pre-Baked Potatoes + Power = Baked Potato Bar
- Fondue Maker + Power = Fondue Party
- Toaster + Power = Toast Bar
- Blender + Power = Smoothie Station
OTHER BAR-IFFIC IDEAS
The build-your-own or bar-method of food is always a solid one.
In addition to the above, here are a few every-day and “outside-the-bar” ideas:
- Salad Bar: Spice this staple up with nuts, chopped meats, crunchy toppings, fruits, and different kinds of greens.
- Cool Pasta Bar: Use a range of flavors and shapes of pre-cooked noodles; sliced and diced veggies, meats, and cheeses; variety of dressings.
- BLT Bar: Assorted breads, veggies, spreads, flavors of pre-cooked bacon. Include a “toasting station.”
- Nacho Bar: Use the crock pot for cheeses and meats; switch up your chips for more choices; think of the Baja Fresh array when planning your salsas.
- Trail Mix Bar: Go nuts with unusual dried fruit; candies like gummies, Mike & Ikes, and coated chocolates; crunchy grains like pretzels, chips, and cereals; and, of course, nuts.
- Cupcake Bar: Various frostings and creative toppings.
- Ice Cream Sundae Bar: You know the drill. Call your local grocery store to see about dry ice for the cooler.
- Ice Cream Float Bar: Mix it up with unusual sodas and frozen creams.
- Ice Cream Sandwich Bar: Exactly what you think it is. Fun!
All of this sound too complicated? For a few extra bucks and a lot less hassle, you can always order your hot food from a local restaurant or store and then supplement with your own sides and desserts. Simply order ahead, and then take your take-out outside.
Have an idea you’d like to share? Please post below!
Join us at Vista House on Friday, August 28 from 7-9 pm for our special childrens’ sing-along event with musician and educator, Jory Aronson!
Bring your favorite young people and a couple of chairs for a lively evening filled with songs, instruments, skits, and puppets.
* * * * * * * * * *
We have been hosting (and, at times, leading!) a series of singing events in the Gorge this year.
At Rooster Rock State Park, it has been monthly song circles on the waterfront–singing songs of yesteryear as swimmers romp around in the Columbia, barges plod through the channel, and the sun sinks slowly over Washington in a crimson wave.
At Vista House, it has also been monthly song circles, but within the magical sand and limestone walls of the rotunda as visitors flock to capture the last moments of the sun’s rays falling across the Gorge, birds soar towards their final resting spots for the night, and the Columbia rolls on for as far as the eye can see.
Although they are not widely advertised, we are also bringing song back to the campground with “Old-Fashioned Campfire” events at Ainsworth State Park on the first and third Fridays of the month. These programs, as you might imagine, are a bit different. There are fewer instruments, Ranger Patrick and I sing far less well (although Ranger Jami can hold a tune!), and the songs are less formal. Instead, we stomp and clap and lead skits, we beg and plead until campers come up to sing for us, and the songs less than sing-y are more, well, campy.
Our last old-fashioned campfire at Ainsworth was hands-down our best. Sure, we rangers are getting our shtick down. But what really made the night so wonderful was that before the 8:30 hour even rolled around, a little camper was up on the stage declaring that she would like to sing the first song. We could hardly say no. And without a moment’s hesitation, she started in on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Not one song later, she was marching up to the stage again, this time with her cousin in tow. They performed “The Alphabet Song,” complete with the elemeno p. Five minutes later they were back. Something from Frozen, although they couldn’t agree on what until another young camper from another family jumped up and in to help the group settle on “Let It Go.” This other camper also led us in a handful of her favorite camp songs, from “Apples and Bananas” to “Bazooka Bubblegum.”
Besides we rangers, only one other adult dared lead any part of any other song. It was really the kids jumping up and leading unabashedly that made the night a roaring success. It was a reminder of both how fearless kids can be and how important singing is to us in childhood. Learning a song as a child was a big deal, something to be celebrated . . . by singing it repeatedly. And which of we did not use the alphabet song to learn our letters? Many of us teach it to our kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews today. In some ways childhood and singing are inseparable.
Which brings me to our next event at Vista House on August 28: A Children’s Sing-Along with Jory Aronson, a musician and early education trainer. Jory blends song with puppets, skits, and instruments for a fully participatory musical experience for children. Besides being fun for the whole family, there is sound benefit to music for children:
“Music is an intelligence in and of itself. It also uses some of the other 6 intelligences in various ways. Songs are linguistic, rhythm is logical, dance and using instruments is body kinesthetic, musical interpretation is interpersonal, etc. Thus, by being involved in music, a child becomes in tune with many aspects of the self.” – Dr. Howard Gardner (The Theory of Multiple Intelligences)
Join us at Vista House on Friday, August 28 from 7-9 pm for our special kids’ event!
A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday night, I took several of trips. I traveled to Michigan, back to the kitchen of my childhood home. Everything was there—the yellow and white linoleum floor, the long wooden island painted white, the over-sized industrial sink where all kids under four years of age took a bath.
My mom and I were doing dishes while belting out, “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen I know-oh-oh-oh, someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, strummin’ on the old banjo . . .” My mother had just taught me “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Thirty years later, I still know all the words. And every time I sing them, I go back to my childhood, back to that kitchen, back to my mom making “dish detail” fun.
Then I went back to Michigan again. Same area, different time. This visit to St. James Catholic Church—to the “new addition” constructed after the congregation outgrew the church.
We were all gathered there— family, friends, and churchgoers. Service was nearly over; last hymn, last words. As they closed my grandmother’s casket, the choir and congregation started in, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me . . .” And as we sang, the words reached out to my grandfather and swept him to knees, arms outstretched onto my grandmother’s casket. For the first time in my life, I saw my grandfather’s bright blue, dancing eyes fill with tears. And from that day forward, when I hear “Amazing Grace,” that moment flashes by, and my own eyes fill with tears.
“This Land is Your Land” took me back to elementary school to music class. Flashes of ribbons and highways and skyways. The feeling that everything is bright and right and Disney happy.
All the while, I am actually at Vista House at Crown Point, in the Columbia River Gorge. It is our second in a series of “Song Circles” in the Gorge. I am mostly surrounded by perfect strangers, who are surrounded by the same. But we’re all singing from the heart, smiling as if we’re with old friends. We sing songs we’ve all known for years, transporting us back in time and space. We sing new songs whose words when we hear them again will likely bring us back to Vista House . . . to a warm summer night, with a golden sunset, rich voices swirling around the rotunda, wrapping us in a blanket of fullness and contentment.
Join us for our next Song Circle on July 31 at Rooster Rock State Park from 7 to 9 PM. Bring a friend, your family, your favorite sing-along, and a chair! Parking permit ($5) or annual pass ($30) required.
For more information, contact Ranger Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser, 503-695-2261 x228
Future Song Circles:
July 31, 7-9 PM. Rooster Rock State Park.
August 28*, 7-9 PM. Vista House. *Special kids’ sing-along.
September 11, 7-9 PM. Vista House.
Did you find Samuel Boardman? Tucked off to the left of the towering trees? Congratulations to all of you who did!
This photo was taken at Silver Falls State Park while Boardman was scouting for an amphitheater site. More than one site was proposed, so we are not entirely sure where this spot is within the park.
Stay tuned for an update in April after we at second time with Sam’s relatives. Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more, Oregon State Archives in Salem has boxes of Boardman documents for your reading pleasure!
Much has happened since my last post about Oregon’s first State Park Superintendent, Samuel H. Boardman. On Friday, few of us from Oregon State Parks had the honor of meeting with the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Samuel Boardman. Over a cup of coffee, they shared stories, books, photos, letters, and newspaper articles about Sam.
We were star-struck to say the least are planning to meet again to record some of the Boardman family’s stories. And in preparation for the next get-together, we have been digging through the Oregon State Park archives to find interesting items to share with Sam’s relatives.
Yesterday, I found a gigantic photo file and let my computer work on it overnight. I arrived this morning to find this photo of Sam Boardman. At first I thought it must have been a mistake. Where was Sam? It took me a minute, but I assure you that he is there. Here is your challenge:
Part One: Find Sam in the photo.
But don’t tell us yet! Let others try, too.
Part Two: Take a guess at where the photo was taken.
Hints: This forest panorama was taken at a proposed amphitheater site. The park has an amphitheater today, as well as a campground — something Sam never allowed during his tenure at State Parks. Sam was very influential in acquiring and developing this inland (not coastal!) park.
Can you tell us where Sam is?
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?
As many of you have heard, Cheryl Strayed’s popular book Wild about the author’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is coming out in movie-form on December 5, 2014. What does this have to do with the Gorge and Oregon State Parks? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit.
First, Strayed completed her hike of the PCT at our very own Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge. The Bridge of the Gods is the PCT route’s through the Gorge.
Second, it is a little known fact that Oregon State Parks manages the Cascade Locks Trail Head right under the bridge. And although it is not officially part of the PCT, many thru-hikers take the Eagle Creek canyon route to get to the Gorge — completing their final miles by walking the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail to Cascade Locks.
Third, parts of Wild were shot in the Columbia River Gorge. If you thought you spied Reese Witherspoon in the Gorge last fall, you just might have.
And finally, in 2012, I took a leave of absence from Oregon State Parks to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I started on April 30, 2012 and finished on September 27, 2012. 151 days, 2660 miles, more than 6 million steps. And this coming Thanksgiving weekend, I am going to share my story here in the Gorge.
Please join me for a talk on the Pacific Crest Trail, “The Good, the Bad, and the Unforgettable” on Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 2 PM at the Bonneville Lock and Dam, Bradford Visitor Center.
In 2012, I took a leave of absence from Oregon State Parks to hike the Pacific Crest Trail . . . this coming Thanksgiving weekend, I am going to share my story . . .