Blog Archives

Trick-or-Treat? The Good Ghost of Vista House

Join us on for Trick-or-Treating at Vista House on Halloween from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm!  Details below.

 

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.

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Who resides at Vista House when all of the visitors go home?



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.

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Vista House architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.

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.)

 

 

 

Vista House will be open for trick-or-treating from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm on Halloween evening.  Park Rangers will be passing out candy.  The store, espresso bar, and balcony will be closed.  The event will be cancelled if the wind gusts exceed 50 mph:  Wind at Crown Point’s Vista House

 

 

Recollections from the Old Road

(Special thanks to Kristen Stallman of the Oregon Department of Transportation for this  feature.  ODOT encourages you to share your story:  kristen.stallman@odot.state.or.us

The 100th anniversary of the dedication of Historic Columbia River Highway this year provides an opportune time to remember what life was like along the Historic Highway back in the day (1916 – late 1950s) when this was the only road between Portland and points east.

It is certainly hard to imagine this bucolic life today as we speed 65 mph on I-84 and to imagine  only seventy or so years ago, all the car travel through the Gorge was forced to the narrow, two-lane, scenic highway.   It must have been an incredible 30 mile per hour drive punctuated with breathtaking views and dotted with roadside cafes, souvenir shops and service stations.  However, it wasn’t always stress-free.  Stories of getting car sick, terrible weather, and flat tires were quite common and add to the lore of this historic road.

 

Mike and George Johnson share stories of their grandfather’s highway businesses.

 

Mike Johnson (Vancouver, Washington) and his cousin George Johnson (Hood River, Oregon) surely remember what life was like along the Columbia River Highway.  Mike and George’s grandparents operated Johnson’s Café and service station located on what is now the parking lot at Vista House at Crown Point.  They spent their childhood at Crown Point.  Mike and George shared their stories with Kristen Stallman in Troutdale on July 25, 2016.

The Johnsons family’s black and white photos dated as early as 1926 fill albums made of black paper pages bound together with string.  These pages document a family history linked to the Columbia River Highway.  In fact, George lived in the basement apartment below the store with his mom for the first several years of his life while his dad fought in Pacific during World War II.  Mike’s baby album is so organized and thorough it was as if his mom was doing her best to capture every stage of her new-born baby’s life to share with his proud dad upon his return from the war.  These meticulous photo albums celebrated generations of Johnsons which included snapshots of their thriving businesses and a host of characters along the Historic Highway.

 

1916 View of the W. A. Johnson Cafe

1926 view of the W.A. Johnson Café with a view of Vista House in the distance.

These small black and white photos feature the Johnson family at holiday gatherings, neighbors such as the Hendersons (Crown Point Chalet) and Dimitts (Postcards), favorite customers (State Highway Patrolmen, truck drivers), locals and staff, not to mention the famous pets such as “Muggins” the famed café cat.  The pages of photos document the many epic weather events that were truly unique to living and operating a business at Crown Point during the winter months.  Photos of ice encrusted Vista House and piles of snow were common as were traffic accidents.  A long truck didn’t do so well as it tried to make the famous figure eight curves east of Vista House. Could 60 mph gale force wind be to blame?  The familiar rock walls and Vista House’s circling steps are featured in these historic family photos.   It is easy for one who is familiar to with the site to pick out the same locations todays and step back in time.

 

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“Muggins,” the famed cafe cat.

Bear

Do YOU know the story of this bear on the Columbia River Highway?

 

George Johnson and Mike Johnson have a love of the Columbia River Highway and the Gorge. Their stories and photos make the highway come alive for all of us who appreciate its history and beauty.  They did leave us with one mystery.  The albums portray the Columbia River Highway bear.  Stephen Kenney, a local historian, shared similar story to of a bear shackled at a gas station near the Stark Street Bridge, but the photos make it appear like it was someplace at higher elevation.  If anyone has information on the Columbia River Highway bear please share!

 

Crown Point Businesses

Vista House + Grand Piano = One Wild Evening

Last Friday night, Vista House and all the visitors within experienced a first:  A classical music concert on a full-sized Steinway grand piano in the center of the Gorge’s iconic rotunda.

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Pianist Hunter Noack in the Vista House rotunda on August 20th.

The free event was part of Oregon pianist, Hunter Noack’s efforts to bring classical music into the kinds places that inspire it.  Hunter’s series, “In a Landscape:  Music in the Wild” is taking place from August 20 to September 1 in some of Oregon’s special places:  Crown Point, Timberline Lodge, Tryon Creek, Hoyt Arboretum, Hagg Lake, and more – the only venue with tickets still available is Portland’s Director Park.  http://www.hunternoack.com/

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Pink Martini’s China Forbes singing with Noack.

And the concerts are just what you might imagine – a grand piano sitting unexpectedly in a magnificent landscape with a young musician at the keys sharing his passion while a hundred or so visitors listen on and, in the case of Vista House, admire the timeless view of the Gorge at sunset.

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Pink Martini’s China Forbes and Tom Lauderdale.

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The charismatic and humble Hunter Noack who dreamed up the “In a Landscape: Music in the Wild” series.

As if the music of the talented, gracious Noack wasn’t enough for the evening, Hunter invited two special guests to join him.  Vocalist China Forbes of Pink Martini joined Noack for a few songs, and then pianist Tom Lauderdale of the same joined China for a couple.  Looking around the building that night, it was clear that everyone –  musicians and visitors alike – was mesmerized by the pull of music reverberating between the rotunda’s limestone walls, marble floors, and opalescent glass windows.

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Looking east as the sun sets over Crown Point.

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The sun setting over the Columbia River.

It was a night like no other, and a reminder like no other of what Oregon’s special places sound like.

Celebrate 100 years of the Historic Columbia River Highway

Your Parks "Go Guide"

Events this summer

VistaHouse More than 700,000 visitors each year stop at the iconic Vista House at Crown Point along the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Hailed “King of Roads,” Historic Route 30 was officially dedicated on June 7, 1916, with a dazzling affair that drew the attention of the nation and the world. This summer, we invite you to explore and rediscover the historic highway and the beautiful Columbia River Gorge it traverses. Take a drive, hike or bike ride. View magnificent waterfalls and vistas and stop by the communities along the way–many are hosting  events to celebrate the centennial. Here’s our guide to four new experiences you can have in the Gorge this summer.

1.Music in the Gorge. This summer brings opportunity to attend some not-so-traditional concerts in some unexpected venues.

  • Sing-along, play along, or just sit back and enjoy the Song Circles at Vista House at Crown…

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Holiday Cheer is Here!

‘Tis the season, and rangers and volunteers in the Gorge are feeling holiday spirit!

Last week, rangers changed the light bulbs on “Thor’s Crown” from all white to red and green.  And over the past week, rangers and Vista House volunteers have been working on decorating Vista House’s first ever tree!  As always, it’s been a team effort to make the holidays happen.

Special Thanks

  • To the Olcott Christmas Tree farm in Corbett, Oregon for donating the perfect tree.
  • To the Friends of Vista House Volunteer Development Committee for donating ornaments and helping to decorate.
  • To the Friends of Vista House Volunteer Coordinator for donating a train for under the tree.
  • To the Park Rangers and Vista House Volunteers for keeping the lights on and the tree watered.
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We found the perfect tree! Mr. Olcott graciously cut it down for us.

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. . . and then generously loaded it into our park truck!

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Many thanks to Olcott’s Christmas Trees in Corbett, Oregon for donating our first tree!

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Rangers were dedicated to getting the tree just right!

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Thanks to Vista House volunteers for their time and donations!

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Join us at Vista House this weekend or next to catch the holiday spirit!  We’re open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm, weather depending.

Don’t have your own tree yet?  Check out this guide to local tree farms from the Pamplin Media Group:

http://pamplinmedia.com/sp/68-news/283724-160016-over-the-river-and-though-the-woods

 

 

Ice Castle on Thor’s Heights

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:

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Angel’s Rest Trailhead’s new ice skating rink.

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Ice-coated trees at Rooster Rock State Park.

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Ice covered vehicles in the town of Corbett, Oregon.

Tree Over Power Lines at Latourell

Wind and ice have taken out many trees — and sometimes the power with it.

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A passenger’s view of the Historic Columbia River Highway outside of Corbett, Oregon.

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The road to Vista House on Thursday morning.

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The view to Vista House from an icy Portland Women’s Forum.

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A melting ice castle. Vista House on Crown Point.

Wondering what the winds and temps are like at Vista House?  You can click here to check our weather station:

http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mesowest/getobext.php?wfo=pqr&sid=D6193&num=60&raw=0&banner=off

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 . . .

Happy Birthday, Vista House

Join us for Vista House’s Birthday celebration on Sunday, May 4th from 11 AM to 3 PM.  

A second, smaller celebration will take place on Monday, May 5th – the day of Vista House’s dedication.


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Dedicated on May 5, 1918 – Vista House is nearing 100 years old!

Recently, I visited the Pittock Mansion in Portland for the first time. A fascinating building, one of the things I was struck by was the similarity between Pittock Mansion and Vista House. Marble interior, sandstone exterior, mahogany woodwork . . . the buildings have the same sort of geometric lines and ornate flair. Undoubtedly, the same movers and shakers that were behind the Historic Columbia River Highway and Vista House were in the same circles as those in Portland. It’s a microcosmic era of architecture in a sense. And now, at both Pittock and Vista House, nearly 100 years later, the doors are open to all and visitors are traveling from afar, piling into these grand buildings, and standing for a moment in awe.

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People have been driving up to Vista House for 96 years – the cars have changed, but for the most part, the building has not!

The other morning, as I was putting on my park uniform, I was thinking about Pittock Mansion and Vista House. And instead of wondering what everyone must see and think as they enter the doors, I started to think about the Vista House building, itself. What has Vista House seen since its opening? How have things changed since 1918? As we all know, if you spend enough time with an inanimate object (today, typically, a vehicle, computer, or phone) eventually, you gain a “sense” of that object—it begins to take on a personality of its own. Buildings, especially those with a rich history, are no different. Spend enough time with Vista House—wash her floors, scrub her toilets, patch her leaks, paint her walls, and set her clock—hang out with her through howling winds, torrential downpours, and stunningly silent sunrises and sets—and you start to get a sense of Vista House.

So, as we prepare to celebrate her birthday on May 5, imagine with me. What has Vista House seen over the past 96 years? What was life like in 1918?

Our U.S. history course remind us that in 1918, WWI came to a close on the 11th hour of the 11th  day of the 11th  month—taking 16 million lives in four years.  The Flu Pandemic of 1918 took three times as many (50 million) in less than a year.  As for every-day life, we Vista House fans know that in 1918, cars were becoming increasingly common as were the roads they traveled upon—although trains remained the primary mode of transportation.

In 1918, people relied on telegraphs and letters for their main communication.  Telephones existed, but were expensive and unreliable.  Radio existed, but commercial broadcasts did not.  Americans spent their free time at roller rinks, pool and dance halls, movie theaters, and saloons.  Films were silent and about 20 minutes in length.

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How does Vista House and the area around it look different today?

In 1918, life expectancy was 53 years for men, 54 for women.  Women began stepping outside of the home, working as teachers and secretaries; some, for the war effort, took traditionally male jobs in factories.  Soon, women would be given the right to vote.  Sports fans could tell us that the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1918 and wouldn’t do so again until 2004.  In July of 1918, revolutionary Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was born.  Mandela passed just last year.

Nearly 100 years.  I can only begin to imagine all that Vista House has seen since her doors first opened.  And all of the work that has been done to keep them open.

Here’s to Vista House—Happy Birthday; to you—“Thank you”; and to another 96-plus years of service for all of us.

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Happy 96th Birthday, Vista House!

The Secret Season

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!”

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A “preseason” rainbow – from January 2014!

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.

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One of the benefits of cleaning Vista House – a double-rainbow from Crown Point.

Rainbow Over I-84

If you look carefully, this double-rainbow over I-84 E is reflected in on the roadway. (Have your passenger snap this!)

Rainbow Over the Sandy

Slice of heaven.  Double-rainbow over the Sandy River between Lewis and Clark and Dabney State Recreation Areas.

Signs of Spring

I know, the frigid blast from the east just passed, and it’s a little soon to be talking spring.

But, one of our rangers just spotted the first wildflower of the season at Rowena Crest, and the view was singing “spring!” from Vista House today.

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Looks like a grass widow a.k.a. satin flower (Olsynium douglasii) to me! Rowena Crest, January 25, 2014.

Need a hand identifying Pacific Northwest Wildflowers? 

Here’s a cheat sheet for beginners:  Mountain Wildflowers: 57 Common Species

And a great website for reference:  http://www.pnwflowers.com/

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With the sun in the south and east this morning, a rainbow appeared in the mist to the north and west.

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Vista House. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Crown over the Crown.

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. . . And no one else around to see it all!

 

2014 Gorge Resolutions: Choose Your Own Adventure

Well, it is a new year.  2014 has arrived.  And it is time (nearly past time) for the year’s resolutions.  Typically, resolve means to “settle or find a solution to (a problem or contentious matter).”  If you’re like me, your resolutions tend to be the same . . . and tend not to work.  So, a few years back, I went for the other definition of resolve, to “decide firmly on a course of action.” I switched from problem-solving to goal-setting.  And this year, it is all about the Columbia River Gorge. 

Want to join me?  Below is the result of my brainstorm.  Choose 10!  Or 20.  Or 30.  Feeling like a “Big Year”?  Go for all 50.  It’s time to choose your own 2014 adventure.

50 Things to Do In the Columbia River Gorge in 2014

  1. Hike 100 miles of different trails in the CRG.
  2. Visit all State Parks in the CRG.
  3. Visit 25 waterfalls in the CRG (there are over 90), at least one of each type (plunge, horsetail, fan, cascade, punchbowl, block, tier, and segmented).

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    Have you been to this waterfall?   Or talked to this ranger?  #3 and #39.

  4. Visit one Washington and one Oregon museum in the Gorge.
  5. Tour the Lewis and Clark sites along the CRG.

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    Did you know?  Rooster Rock is a Lewis & Clark site.  #5.  Check.

  6. Visit a fish hatchery.
  7. Conduct your own naturalist study—visit and document changes at one spot 20 times throughout the year.
  8. Have a “three-pronged” adventure day (bike, hike, camp, windsurf, kiteboard, standup paddleboard, bird watch, fish, swim, paddle, disc golf, rock climb . . .just pick three!)
  9. Drive (and/or bike!) all existing portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway.
  10. View the Gorge from the water.
  11. Hike to the highest point in the Gorge.
  12. Read the journals of Lewis and Clark.
  13. Watch a documentary on the Gorge OR a movie filmed in the Gorge.

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    If you’re up early enough for #18, you might see this flying saucer!

  14. Learn 10 new Gorge plants.  Photograph and sketch them.  Note their habitat.
  15. Learn 10 new Gorge birds.  Sketch them and learn their songs and calls.  Note their habitat.
  16. Go on a search for the rare Larch Mountain Salamander.
  17. Go on a search for the rare wildflower, Columbia Kittentails (Synthyris stellata)—only found in the Gorge.
  18. Hike to a viewpoint for a Gorge sunrise.
  19. Give back by volunteering for a day trail work, invasive weed removal, or litter cleanup in the Gorge.
  20. Stay a night in the Gorge.
  21. Attend a guided hike or educational program about the Gorge.
  22. Visit one Oregon Trail historical site.
  23. Visit one Native American petroglyph or pictograph.
  24. Find the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Gorge.
  25. Study the Missoula Floods, who was Bretz?
  26. Walk through an oak grove in the Gorge.
  27. Stand in a waterfall “mist zone.”
  28. Hear the distinctive warning call or “whistle” of a pika.
  29. Sketch a plant using the “macro” point of view.
  30. Sketch the Gorge landscape from a viewpoint.
  31. Track wildlife prints on the beach.
  32. Write a letter and drop it off at the Bridal Veil Post Office.

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    This tunnel on the Historic Columbia River Highway is only accessible by foot or by bike. Go for #40 and #9!

  33. Hug an old-growth tree.
  34. Visit the site of a sawmill or fish cannery.
  35. Step foot on the Pacific Crest Trail.
  36. Learn the legend and geological story behind the Bridge of the Gods.
  37. Research historic photos of Celilo Falls, visit the site and imagine the power of the falls.
  38. Hike to a viewpoint where you can take in both Mount Hood and Mount Adams.
  39. Talk to a park ranger.
  40. Ride your bike on a section of the Historic Columbia River Hwy.
  41. Photograph the basalt columnar joints common in the Gorge—dark, six-sided, regular columns.
  42. Watch the Tundra Swans at Rooster Rock’s Mirror Lake in the winter.
  43. Look for petrified wood near Eagle Creek.
  44. Dip your fingers in either end of the Gorge—at the Sandy and Deschutes Rivers.
  45. Spot an Amtrak train passing through on the Washington side.
  46. Watch the salmon run.
  47. Watch the dam locks give a boat passage.
  48. Watch the moon rise over the Gorge.
  49. Stargaze in the Gorge.
  50. Share the Gorge with a friend

Phew!  It is going to be a busy year.  Best get started.  Worried about finishing?  #51 is “Find Bigfoot.”

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Finish them all? Time for #51. Track Bigfoot!