Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Tourist's Guide to the Natural Sights of Oregon


Nature, the predominant element around which life in Oregon revolves, results in the state's topographical diversity and rugged, natural beauty, and dictates the experiences the tourist is likely to have.
The 362 mile long coast, for instance, comprised of rain forests, sand dunes, black sand beaches, and unique rock formations, is splintered by some dozen rivers, which flow into the Pacific. The spine of the Coast Range and the Klamath Mountains provides a westerly skeleton, while the Columbia River defines the border between Washington and Oregon in the north. The Cascade Mountains, black basalt formations densely carpeted with thick, green forests and capped with snow covered volcanoes, cradle alpine lakes and a national park, and extend form Mt. Hood in the north to Hayden Mountain in the south, serving to separate the western half of the state with its central high desert plateau. In the northeast, the 10,000-foot Wallowa Mountains invert themselves into 6,600-foot-deep Hells Canyon, the world's deepest river carved gorge.
Abundant vineyards produce an array of excellent wines, while locally grown marrion berries figure in Oregon cooking, along with the bounty of the land's fruits and vegetables and the rivers' salmon.
Columbia River Gorge
Formed by volcanic activity and both basalt lava and glacial floods, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, spanning 80 miles from Troutdale in the west to the Dalles in the east, and encompassing 292,000 acres on both the Washington and Oregon sides, had been created by Congress in 1986. The Columbia River itself, at 1,243 miles in length, is the second largest such artery in the continental United States and the only nearly sea level passage through the mountain range stretching between Canada and Mexico. Originating in British Columbia, it flows through the mountains, before turning south and finally west where it releases 250,000 cubic feet of water per second into the Pacific. Topographically featuring Douglas fir, hemlock, and western red cedar in the west, the gorge transforms into drier pine forest and grassland in the east.
Its primary Native American residents, the "Watlala," who had been more commonly known as the "Cascades," had lived on both sides of the river between Cascade Locks and Sandy River, using it for sustenance and trade by fishing for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and eel. The land provided berries and roots and the nearby mountains facilitated hunting for deer and elk. Living in structures made of cedar planks, the Watlala seasonally traveled down the river to fish and gather plant foods, such as "wapato" and "camas," in cedar carved canoes, while wood and mountain sheep horns had provided the raw materials for tools, bowls, and pots. Wrap twined baskets sported intricate decorations of nature, people, and animals.
Controlling the portage round Cascade Falls, which had been too treacherous for canoe or boat passage, they collected tolls in the form of traded goods in exchange for access.
The Watlala signed Willamette Valley Treaty ceded their southern bank of the Columbia River to the US in 1855, and they had subsequently been relocated to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation two years later.
Of the gorge's numerous waterfalls, Multnomah Falls, plummeting almost 620 feet from its origin on Larch Mountain, constitutes the second-highest year-round waterfall in the US. "Multnomah," translating as "those closer to the water," with "water" referring to the Columbia River itself, cascades down a cliff in which five flows of Yakima basalt are visible, and its spray, freezing in early-winter and melting in late-spring, causes the rock over which it travels to crack and break away. The falls are accessed by several hiking trails.
The adjacent, Cascadian style, natural stone Multnomah Falls Lodge, designed by architect Albert E. Doyle in 1925 to serve travelers arriving by car, train, or steamboat, sits on land donated by the Oregon and Washington Railroad and Navigation Company to the city of Portland. The lodge's east end, which includes the later added Forest Service Visitor's Center in 1929, had preceded its post war remodeling and 1946 reopening. On April 22, 1981, the lodge, along with the first 1.1 miles of its Larch Mountain trail, had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the day facility sports two second floor, fireplace and stone dining rooms overlooking the falls and the Columbia River. An extensive gift shop is located on the main level.
The Columbia River Interpretive Center, located across the Columbia River spanned, erector set appearing Bridge of the Gods in Stevenson, Washington, provides snapshots of life in the area in a modern, two level museum, with exhibits such as a horse drawn buckboard from 1890, a wooden fish wheel, a 1921 log carrying Mack truck, an 1895 Corliss steam engine used to drive saw carriages and conveyors in a Cascade Locks lumber mill, hand crafted canoes, and a 1917 Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplane, which had facilitated local transportation.
Further east, and back on the Oregon side, the Columbia Gorge Hotel, built on a scenic cliff overlooking the Columbia River, is a stately, neo-Morish structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of Interior unofficially dubbed the "Waldorff of the West." Constructed in 1921 by timber tycoon Simon Benson as a tribute to America's post-war prosperity, it had hosted social and political dignitaries, presidents such as Coolidge and Roosevelt, movie stars like Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino, and musicians from the Big Bands, having played an integral role during the Roaring Twenties when Model T Fords had traveled the roads and steamers had plied the rivers. Voted one of the world's top 500 hotels by Conde Nast magazine, the hotel, sitting on meticulously manicured, tiny waterfall dotted grounds, features an elegant, chandelier and fireplace adorned lobby and restaurant.

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