2001: Oregon, Redux

Mount Hood, Columbia River



We've returned to Oregon, this time down the wide lanes of I-5 through Portland. Having spent enough city-time in Seattle, we skipped Portland itself and found our way to a beautiful forested campground 30 miles east in the Mount Hood National Forest.

I thought I was jaded to thick green forests, snow-frosted peaks, and mountain lakes -- until we came to Mount Hood. Something about this area is intensely appealing, perhaps because there is so much beauty concentrated in such a small area. We drove the "Mount Hood Loop", a circle around the mountain of only about 100 miles, and there was much to appreciate.

Unlike its shyer sisters of the Cascades, Mount Hood was a camera ham and posed proudly, showing a different craggy face around each bend of the road. While big enough to be a spectacular sight, Hood is smaller than Ranier and Shasta, and somehow more approachable.

Palmer Glacier on the south face is one of the few year-round ski areas in the U.S. We rode a chairlift halfway up (sans skis) and explored the lava-rock slope, gazing on fields of wildflowers blooming next to large patches of snow, and watching skiers navigate icy crevasses leading back to the lift.

We hiked to a local curiosity called Little Crater Lake, so named for the clarity and color of its water resembling its larger namesake. More like a pond, it was formed by an underground artesian spring. The water is a bracing 34 degrees and so clear you can see every log and rock down to its 50-foot bottom.

While in the Mount Hood area, we drove along part of the Columbia River gorge. What a river this is! I haven't seen that much of the Mississippi, but the Columbia deserves some press too. While the area surrounding the mouth of the Columbia is rolling and forested, inland the river flows alongside sheer cliffs, and the surrounding land is ironically dry and desolate.

We drove along the Oregon shore as far east as the city of The Dalles (rhymes with "pals"), where we saw one of several dams on the Columbia.

I had never seen a navigation lock before, so we investigated at one of the dams. Luckily we had arrived just as a small craft had entered the lock from the top. The 30-foot boat tied up to a floating buoy attached to the lock walll; a huge gate closed behind, and the water level immediately began to drop. The operators told us that only one of two outlets was in operation, so it would take about 25 minutes to drain the water; usually it can be done in 10-12 minutes. Fascinated, we waited and watched, and finally we saw (and heard) the huge lock gates groan open after the water level had sunk over 100 feet. The boat motored slowly out of the huge concrete shoebox and went its way downriver, while two luxury yachts entered the lock headed upriver. Shortly, they were imprisoned behind the huge lock gates and waiting patiently for the water to rise again.

On the Oregon side of the Columbia, you can visit a series of impressive waterfalls, one about every two miles. The largest at 620 feet high is Multnomah falls; it was also the busiest and most touristy.