This is a continuation of my Favorite Roads Series… see first Favorite Road post here.
This post and others to follow – I will share thoughts and pictures on my favorite road in Oregon – the historic Columbia River highway.A 75 mile scenic two lane road following the Columbia River from Troutdale to The Dalles in Oregon.
Photographing the historic highway provides a bounty of creative opportunity – from waterfalls to tree lined roads to historic structures (Vista House, Multnomah Falls Lodge), bridges, wildflowers, hiking trails, basalt columns, and views – in the posts ahead I will share some of my favorite spots. Today’s post is about one of the most famous sections of the highway – the Rowena loops and crest.
As with many great rivers across the world, the Columbia River has a tremendous history – from native Americans to the explorers Lewis and Clark – the Oregon Trail, and in the 20th century the burst of dam building and the building of the new freeway which parallels the historic Columbia River highway.
Pictured at the top of this post are the famous Rowena Crest curves – one of the most photographed spots in Oregon. When the highway was built vehicles could not manage anything more than a 10% grade – so engineers created a series of curves and loops to make the gradual 500 foot ascent to the top of Rowena Crest – not knowing they were creating a photographer’s dream.
Before dams flooded this area – Rowena was where the river narrowed as it passed basalt cliffs – Rowena Crest on the south side and Klickitat River watershed on the north.Pirates and others tried to seize boats passing through the “narrows”.There was a small army post at the base of Rowena Crest to protect the boats and others in this area.A young Army lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant was commissioned here for a short time before he went on to become a famous Civil War general and then president of the United States.
That sweet little snow storm I was alluding to in the last post – turned into the ice storm I was dreading and hit Portland hard. We started with enough snow to cancel school on Thursday. And forecasters stated the cold air was going to move out early Friday. But it didn’t do that… and more precipitation and cold winds created a thick icy coat over everything. Every tree sagged from the additional weight with devastating results.
And the city just wouldn’t warm up and two days of carrying that weight is too long for many trees to bear.
But in my neighborhood just a few miles south – and a few degrees warmer – it was a much different story.Just good old fashioned Oregon rain.
Its sad to see so many trees go down but that is nature taking its course.We have had ice storms in this area since the Columbia Basalt Field rose up above the river to create that beautiful gorge.
Ice storms can be devastating but they sure are beautiful.
Portland is expecting a snow event in the next 24-48 hours.
Those two words don’t go together very well.Its like Pepe LePeu and the Paris cat getting together – not pretty.It doesn’t happen very often but when it does – the city shuts down.
Even though half of our city is now immigrants from places that regularly get snow – we still manage to fuck it up.These are people who know how to drive in snow.I am not saying we Oregonians don’t add an appropriate amount of chaos to the situation – we definitely do.But somehow all sanity leaves perfectly good drivers when cold weather comes to Portland.
Here is why… Portland is uniquely located at the confluence of two things: 1) the Columbia Gorge which is a perfect conduit for frigid cold air from the inland and 2) the Pacific Ocean.Moisture meets frigid air doesn’t create fluffy, pretty snow.It creates ICE!
Snow in Portland is like the brother in law no one likes and who annoys everyone at holiday gatherings.Thankfully – just like your annoying brother-in-law – snow doesn’t visit us very often.
With no destination in mind – but with a firm desire to road trip – I left my last meeting on Friday with only the open road before me. I had to get home from Dash Point, Washington to Portland. This is a quarterly trip so I was used to the routine of getting on I-5 south. Part of me wanted to get home and be a responsible leaf-raking home owner.
For no reason that I can explain, just north of Centralia I veered off the freeway and headed to the coast. Ironically – the retreat I had been just attending was all about decision making. My head was full of ethical discernments. This was spontaneous – absolutely no discerning other than seeing a road sign saying “Aberdeen/Raymond” next exit.
Taking all the anticipation out of this road trip tale – I ended up in Astoria, Oregon for 2 days. Best decision I have made in quite some time – I must have learned something at that retreat.
Some of the highlights:
Early morning photo shooting in Astoria and exploring this wonderful and historic town – founded in 1811!
Wave watching at Cape Disappointment (not disappointing!!)
Buoy Beer for dinner
And finally, there is this little church about 2 miles west of the Astoria Megler bridge on the way to Ilwaco, Washington that I have passed a hundred times. It’s in the middle of nowhere but is beautiful in its simplicity and isolation. I have regretted never stopping and learning the story of this church by the sea. I stopped.
History fans (I am one!) should read Peter Stark’s Astoria – recently released in paperback – for a closer look at the early years of Astoria.
Astoria has transformed from river city with an economy and industry (most significantly fish canneries) reliant on the Columbia River – to an artistic corner of Oregon – focused on tourism and the two mainstays of Oregon – beer and coffee.
The Columbia River is still a strong force. Cargo ships provide entertainment as their huge hulks pass by the waterfront. And the nautical history is never far away – including the Flavel House Museum (George Flavel was the Columbia’s first river pilot back in 1850). But you are more likely to see Willapa Bay Oysters featured on area menu’s than Columbia River salmon.
It’s winter in Oregon now. Not officially – the calendar has its own rules and the official start of winter is still 21 days away. But storms are rolling into the Pacific Northwest. Last week we had 3-4 inches of rain. The mountain passes require traction devices. Our local outdoor store, REI, is sending me emails reminding me to buy snowshoes and winter parka’s.
Instead I nourish my winter soul with a walk down this lane in Obidos, Portugal. This is what morning looks like in Obidos. In a few hours this quiet lane will be filled with hundreds of tourists. Obidos is a beautiful walled town – wonderfully preserved with gorgeous light and color. A photographer’s dream.
I love early mornings when I travel. I love to see foreign places wake up… delivery trucks and street cleaners are so much more romantic away from home. On a rainy Portland day – dark and dreary – I am going to pause and step into this picture. Remember the hours I wandered the blissfully quiet streets of Obidos.
What is the essence of a place? What makes your town, your state, your country unique to you and those who live or visit? This sense of place fascinates me and I find myself exploring this idea in the way I look at the world. You could say capturing place is my creative muse.
As I write this I sit in a Stumptown Coffee House in Portland, Oregon, USA, in the early morning hour before the work day. Perhaps this time and place is routine for some, but I cherish this moment to explore the sense of place right here.
At this hour it is delivery trucks, runners, and the early shift change at the hospital two blocks away. Overalls and scrubs, running tights and the occasional dog, all line up for their morning coffee. The baristas all have a story that speaks to this place – most hold two jobs – one that pays the bills, the other that feeds their passion.
Like many of us who love travel, I love the idea of exploring a new place and discovering and learning something new and exciting. But we don’t need to travel far or even travel at all to explore sense of place.
This is the first post of what I hope is a long exploration of sense of place – here in Portland – my home town, in the great state of Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, the western United States and if I am lucky – farther afield.
I invite you to explore your home town with the same curiosity. I would love to hear what makes your town unique and what is the “sense of place” where you are right now.
Thank you for reading and for joining me on this journey.