This coming Saturday, September 24, is national “Bike Your Park Day.” But before you start flipping through your mental files of favorite parks for one last fall ride, we’d like to suggest something different.
How about a ride through the awe-inspiring Columbia River Gorge on the newest section of State Trail in Oregon?
We cordially invite you and your family and friends to join us on Saturday, September 24 from 10 AM to 12:30 PM as we dedicate the newest segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail: a 1.2 mile, car-free stretch from Starvation Creek to Lindsey Creek.
Be among the first to experience the graceful design of this new paved trail, with its stone walls, overlooks, picnic nooks, and new bridge that all mirror the elegant Historic Columbia River Highway.
The official ceremony begins at Viento State Park (I-84 exit 56) at 10 AM. Following the dedication, you can pick up a “passport” and tour from Viento to Starvation Creek to Lindsey Creek, visiting information stations and collecting stickers along the way. At the turn-around, be sure to grab a selfie as we ceremonially break ground for our next project—three more miles of trail.
Bike Your Park Day: Gorge Style
BEGIN: Take I-84, exit 56 for Viento State Park. Arrive by 9:30 AM for good parking.
CELEBRATE: State Trail dedication begins at 10 AM.
RIDE: Approximately 2 miles one way, paved and car-free from Viento State Park to Lindsey Creek.
ALONG THE WAY: Meet with key players and collect stickers for your Passport. Take photos of the Gorge’s newest trail!
TURNAROUND: At Lindsey Creek, take part in ground-breaking for the next 3 miles of trail, then head back 2 miles to your vehicle!
WANT TO SEE MORE? Head west to exit 44 for 6.5 miles of paved, car-free riding from Cascade Locks to John B. Yeon Trailhead OR head east to exit 64 for 4.5 miles of paved, car-free riding from Mark O. Hatfield West Visitor Center to the East Trailhead.
BONUS: This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Historic Columbia River Highway. You will literally be traveling through time!
LEARN MORE: About the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail
(Special thanks to Kristen Stallman of the Oregon Department of Transportation for this feature. ODOT encourages you to share your story: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 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.
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.
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!
Events this summer
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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On June 7, 2016 (and during the months that follow) the Columbia River Gorge will be celebrating. Our favorite traveling companion is turning 100! And what a long, winding road it has been.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH). Begun in 1913 and fully completed in 1922, the scenic byway was dedicated on June 7, 1916 with celebrations at both Vista House on Crown Point and Multnomah Falls. And in recognition, this year the entire Gorge is hosting a series of events throughout the summer months. And you’re invited.
Want to learn about the Highway? Visit the Troutdale Historical Society or Maryhill Museum to delve into the “King of Roads'” historical past. Want to revel in the Highway? Attend one of the summer’s many HCRH-themed festivals. Want to experience the Highway? Take a leisurely drive or, better yet, bike or hike one of the reconnected HCRH State Trail segments. Want to breathe the Highway? Sign up for one of the many Gorge runs and rides. Want to see the Highway through the eyes of yesteryear? Come out to watch antique autos parade by as they caravan from Troutdale to The Dalles on the July 23, 2016.
For a list of tours, rides, runs, festivals, and events visit the Oregon Department of Transportations’s website: HCRH Centennial Events
For a sneak peek into the July’s antique auto tour, take a look below at some photos from our January test-drive!
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.
Most of us, when we go to Latourell Falls, pull off the Historic Columbia River Highway into the parking lot, walk the 25 yards or so to the viewing point, snap a few photos, and then jump back in our vehicles to zoom off to the next waterfall. I’ll admit, I’ve done this very thing numerous times.
A few of us walk down to the base of the falls and then wind around under the Highway to find ourselves in some weird park we’ve never seen before and then scurry back to where our vehicles are parked. I’ve done this, too.
Even fewer of us do what I (after rangering for nearly 7 years in the waterfall wonderland of Silver Falls) now highly recommend. Which is this: Park at Guy W. Talbot State Park on the north side of the Historic Columbia River Highway just west of Latourell Falls (follow a state park shield with a picnic table) – technically, Latourell Falls is IN Guy W. Talbot, but few know this or park here. Use the very nice restroom if needed. Follow the braided, paved path uphill, keeping right.
What you’re about to do is hike the Latourell Falls loop backwards.
Backwards, you ask? Yes. Here’s why. If you’re willing to hike 2+ miles, it is worth it to see the upper and lower falls at Latourell – most of us, as I mentioned, only see the lower falls and miss out the upper. Waterfalls, as we all know, are quite a treat. So, for this (and I’d argue, all) waterfall hikes, do the work first – hike uphill in the forest first, and then, as you wind downhill, you’ll be rewarded with first the upper falls, and, finally, the lower falls. A couple more hundred yards, and you’ll be back at your vehicle. And a nice restroom.
I just hiked the loop backwards (having already completed frontwards) and confirmed, at least for myself, that it is the best direction. And don’t worry, your forested hike up has a few things in store for you, too. Take a look . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.