When my wife and I decided to go to Portland to try snowshoeing, we also decided to take a couple of tours of the area. We thought that, because of Portland’s proximity to whitewater kayaking sites, it might be a good place to stay a while in the future. We even looked at homes for sale. The only one we could afford, however, is the one shown below. It is a “fixer upper.”
My wife arranged for us to take two tours, the first of which was the Columbia River Gorge Tour with the Oregon Tour Company. A couple of great things about this tour company is that it is not ridiculously expensive and they pick you up at your hotel! That saved us getting a car. Parking in Portland is absurdly expensive.
The Columbia River Gorge marks the state line between Oregon and Washington. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area protects the spectacular canyon where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade mountains – with cliffs and overlooks of Washington to the north and Oregon’s mountains and waterfalls to the south.
The Gorge transitions between temperate rainforest to dry grasslands in only 80 miles, hosting a dramatic change in scenery while driving down Interstate 84. In the western, temperate rainforest areas, forests are marked by bigleaf maples, Douglas fir, and Western hemlock, all covered in epiphytes (a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic). This is the area we toured and what follows are some of the sites we saw.
We stopped at a number of waterfalls and hiked up as close as we could to three of them. Unfortunately, the mist from the falls iced up on the paths, so we could not get as close as we would have liked. On the other hand, if we had gone in the summer, we probably could not have hiked very far anyway because of the crowds.
These are some of the falls that we visited.
Latourell Falls – The first major waterfall driving east into the Gorge, Latourell Falls cascades 224 feet and can be accessed easily from a short trail that leads to a viewpoint, as well as slightly longer treks to the base and top of the waterfall.
Multnomah Falls – The tallest waterfall and most popular natural destination in Oregon, Multnomah Falls is truly a magnificent sight. Water from Multnomah Creek drops a whopping 635 feet in two tiers, crossing beneath the iconic Benson Bridge on its way. It’s absolutely an Oregon treasure but, no, it’s not the second tallest waterfall in the U.S.
Horsetail Falls – Considered to be “the epitome of the horsetail form” by the World Waterfall Database, Oregon’s own Horsetail Falls is a must-see on any Columbia River Gorge trip, found along the Historic Columbia River Highway just east of the Oneonta Tunnel.
Below is a video of those waterfalls.
Timberline Lodge is a mountain lodge on the south side of Mount Hood about 60 miles east of Portland. Constructed from 1936 to 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, it was built and furnished by local artisans during the Great Depression. The National Historic Landmark sits at an elevation of 5,960 feet within the Mount Hood National Forest and is accessible through the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. It is notable in film for serving as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in the movie The Shining.
If you remember that movie, you will remember the bar scene. Below is the bar used in the movie.
The interior of the lodge is just incredible. The amount of craftsmanship that went into creating the space is mind boggling. Below are some examples.
Also, if you ask, you can see the axe Jack Nicholson use when he said, “Heeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”
Bonneville Fish Hatchery
The Bonneville Fish Hatchery is managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and raises salmon and steelhead for sport, commercial and tribal fisheries in the lower Columbia River and along the northern Oregon Coast. The Hatchery is one of the oldest fish hatcheries in Oregon and the largest in terms of fish production.
You might think, “How exciting can a fish hatchery be?” It is not very exciting, but it can be fascinating. Since we were there in late Autumn, and because the weather was not so great, there were very few visitors. That gave us a chance to take our time in the Sturgeon Viewing Center.
The most famous occupant of the Sturgeon Viewing Center is Herman the Sturgeon. Herman is approximately 10’ long, 500 pounds and about 80 years old. Herman has had a strange history. In 1983, when Herman was 45 years old, someone tried to kidnap him from his viewing pond, and injured him badly in the process. Fishery workers spent months helping him heal. On another occasion, a person jumped into the pond and stabbed Herman with a knife. He bounced back from that, too. Here is a photo of Herman.
More recently, he survived the 2017 Eagle Creek wildfire. The fire was started on September 2, 2017, by a 15-year-old boy igniting fireworks during a burn ban, and burned 50,000 acres.
Watching the sturgeons is like watching dinosaurs. After all, sturgeons predate many fish species, appearing in the fossil record approximately 200 million years ago. What I did not know until we took the tour is that sturgeon are harvested for their roe, which is then processed into caviar. Sturgeon roe now represents more than 90% of the commercial caviar market.
If you are in the Portland area, a visit to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery is a must.
Portland is a great place to visit and, if you want to look around, contact the Oregon Tour Company. Here is a link to their website. Oregon Tour Company