Columbia River Gorge
Today began like every other day in Portland: coffee & chill time at the cafe. However, we actually had somewhere to be by noonish, so my time there was cut slightly short. We had to catch the light rail to the airport and then the shuttle to the car rental counter. Lauren gave me the play-by-play of her escapades from last night and we listened to a discouraging voicemail left by her mother regarding Lauren’s intent to move to Portland. That sort of shattered our future plans, so we brushed it aside so we could attempt to enjoy our final day in/around Portland.
I don’t really understand how car rentals work. Why is it less money if there is only one driver noted per car, when clearly a party can swap drivers while on the road? Why do rates fluctuate every day? Why must two responsible, experienced, ivy league educated 24.5-year-olds be subject to the under-25 daily surcharge? It’s all a bunch of bull crap, but what can ya do aside from let National Car Rental give you the obligatory arse-raping on the bill?
Because my name was the one that the car was under, I kicked off the drive to the Gorge Highway. We were to spend the day at the Columbia River Gorge, checking out the waterfalls and doing some hiking. We weren’t really sure when to get off the main highway and onto the scenic highway, so we got off fairly early on the drive. Naturally we stopped at Vista Point to take in that sweeping view of the gorge, which also made for a convenient spot to relinquish the car keys and resume my usual place in the passenger seat. Being Memorial Day, the tiny parking lot was jammed with cars and it took longer than it should have to get out of there.
And of course the congestion cropped up again once we approached Multnomah Falls, the biggest and most famous falls in the gorge. It was bumper-to-bumper traffic all along the road, both before and after the falls pull-off. Plus, since the waterfall was just off the road and easily accessible for lazy-ass tourists, I’m sure that only added to the draw. So we sat in the car for what seemed like ages, gradually crawling up the road, cursing the horrible traffic and trying to entertain ourselves by making fun of the tacky tourists walking by. So frustrating, since we didn’t even want to stop here!
Of course we finally escaped the masses. I had my Pacific Northwest Waterfalls book with a few falls bookmarked for our excursion, and next on our route was the Oneonta Trail, which was home to a couple of alluring waterfalls. It didn’t appear to be that long of a hike, but most of it was uphill, climbing higher and higher above the main road. I had to pee really badly, but there were people constantly on the trail and nowhere to pull off and out of sight since it was basically a path winding around a cliff. I’d have been peeing at a rather extreme angle, which I didn’t quite trust myself doing. So I waited as long as possible, then said screw it and went literally just off the trail when it seemed to be clear of hikers. I had Lauren stand guard. No sooner had I dropped my pants when a guy came hiking down the trail towards us. I hadn’t even gone yet! As soon as I realized it, I pretty much fell on my bare butt laughing. I guess I had a bout of stage fright afterwards because it took me awhile to actually go. The guy was a gentleman about it though and stopped and looked the other way while I went. Haha oh man… and honestly, I wasn’t even that embarrassed about it!
Once relieved, we continued on the trail at a steady pace uphill. Lauren was enthralled with the various forms of greenery along the trail, but I was way too excited to get to the falls. We reached the main overlook above the falls/river and admittedly I was a bit underwhelmed by the view. True enough, I could see the three falls converging and crashing into the water below, but there were tree branches obstructing the view and it all seemed too far away to truly enjoy.
But oh, Lauren and I aren’t lame-o tourists! We go Off The Beaten Path! Well, in this case there was an actual path leading down toward the falls, but most hikers didn’t even bother following it. The path led to the top of the falls, where you could cross over a big log above the river and to the exposed rock portion at the top. It also went a short ways along the river before the drop. I took pictures all along the path, of the river and the falls, at various settings. Once I was satisfied, I decided it was time to venture out onto the log and to the middle of the top of the falls. This was by far the best part of the excursion. It is a million times more gratifying and exciting to be up close and in the middle of the waterfall than looking at it from afar. All your senses are utilized as you experience the sound and fresh smell of rushing water, and the feel of the cool mist. You feel like you’re a part of it all, rather than just a bystander. I could have stayed there all day, but that’s the downside of travelling: there’s just never enough time to do everything you want to do.
The second part of the day’s trek was the Hood River Fruit Loop, a rural road that winds around Mt. Hood and is heavily dotted with farms and wineries, many of which sell fresh fruit. It was after 5pm and only mid-May, so we didn’t expect many to be open when we were driving through. But the Mt. Hood Winery was! They were just about to close, but we managed to buy some fresh cheese and crackers, as well as some pears (including dried and chocolate-covered). We sat outside at a picnic table in the vineyard, nestled between Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, thinking that life was pretty freaking grand, but oh wouldn’t it be even better with a bottle of wine?
And then, funnily enough, the owner came out to chat with us and happened to be holding a glass of wine for himself. He was more than willing to let us back inside for a brief wine tasting. We tried a few different white wines, but our favorite was by far the Rose. Unfortunately it would be another week before it was available by the bottle, so we settled on another bottle to buy.
We left the winery utterly contented and continued our drive toward the mountain. Every turn along the road yielded another awe-inspiring view of Mt. Hood. We complemented the view with some high quality tuneage via our ipod playlists. Ahh, life is good ?
We were looking to turn south on Rt. 26 and scout out Trillium Lake, where I had my mind set on getting the perfect reflection shot of Mt. Hood around sunset. Now, I’m all for planning, but it’s not my style to plan out every minute detail. I don’t print out detailed directions to every destination, which I think adds an element of adventure and spontaneity to any excursion. I rely a lot on road signs and my sense of direction, which more often than not I will trust over a GPS or mapquest. So I didn’t have precise directions to this lake. I knew it was somewhere off 26, before the turnoff to another road. I figured we’d see a sign, or a lake would show up on the GPS and we’d know where to turn. And if not, then who cares? At least it’ll be an adventure!
Turns out, we didn’t see a sign (though there was one facing the opposite direction, as we saw once we turned around). It didn’t matter much anyway because I found out from a gas station worker that the lake was still closed off with snow. Bummer! But!… we were dangerously close to the Timberline Lodge, which I had on my list of possible places to stop at. It’s extremely close to Mt. Hood and apparently was used to film the exterior of the hotel in ‘The Shining’. The uphill drive to the lodge was long, winding, and fraught with ear poppage. We got to the top and immediately jumped out of the car in flip flops and trodded through snow to get some photos of the mountain. I can’t believe how close we were to it! The peak of Mt. Hood was sticking out of the snow right in front of us, with chairlifts leading up to it for resort skiers. In the opposite direction we could see another mountain (St. Helens?) and the valley below all aglow from the pending sunset.
Unfortunately the cold got the best of us, and we bolted to our car and drove over to the lodge to get some dinner. We felt a wee bit out of place amongst all the families vacationing at the lodge, but that didn’t stop us from ordering dinner. It’s worth noting that my BBQ pulled pork sandwich was absolutely delicious and worth the exorbitant price. We watched the sun go down and observed families downstairs playing board games by the fireplace. It was funny to look at the full-length glass windows below and see snow piled up several feet high right against it. It was like we were snowed in!
We left the lodge perhaps around 9/9:30pm and had about an hour’s drive back to Portland. For some unknown reason our ears were popping the entire way back, even once we were on level ground. Not very comfortable, mind you!