I’ve had the privilege of making speaking presentations in the state of Oregon on three occasions. A few years back I presented a seminar for the Oregon State Police in Pendleton, which is a 200-mile drive from Portland.
The Columbia River sets the border between Oregon and Washington State from Astoria, Ore., all the way to a few miles west of Pendleton. Three rivers, the Columbia, the Snake and the Yakima, converge at Kennewick in southeastern Washington to form the mighty Columbia River, which surges through the Columbia River Gorge on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
For the purpose of clarity, a canyon is formed when a river, over thousands of years, cuts its way through layers of rock to create a divide. On the other hand, a gorge is formed by an earthquake and when a river finds its way through the divide. I learned those facts when I first saw and became interested in the Columbia River Gorge. In my estimation, the Columbia River Gorge is one of the best-kept secrets in America.
Interstate 84 follows the course of the Columbia River inside the gorge from Portland to just west of Hermiston, Ore., a drive of approximately 150 miles. It is one of the most scenic drives you could ever hope to take.
On another occasion, I provided the after dinner speech for an agricultural cooperative annual meeting in Moro, Ore. Moro is located south of the only major center of commerce between Portland and Pendleton. It is called The Dalles, or The Port of the Dalles (pronounced like “the pals.”) Because of the depth of the gorge The Dalles, located almost 200 miles inland, serves as a shipping port for overseas markets.
When I was in Oregon for that engagement, I took an extra half-day and drove to Pendleton again.
Lucky for me, I was back in Portland not too long ago to speak for the Northwestern Leadership Conference. It was the annual meeting of the Chiefs of Police and Fire Chiefs of the state of Oregon. While there, in my spare time, I drove as far into the gorge as time would allow.
In my trips to Oregon here are a few things I have learned and observed.
The weather is not all that great. On my first two trips I saw the Columbia River Gorge on grey, misty, rainy days. I’m told the weather doesn’t break much out there. But on the last trip the weather was nearly perfect. And so was the Columbia River Gorge. You could see for miles.
The roads in Oregon are paved differently. I don’t know if it is because they use larger stone in the asphalt or if the weather out there wears the roads down, but the road surface is rougher, making for much more road noise.
As Interstate 84 follows the Columbia River on the Oregon side, Washington State Highway 14 follows the river on the other. And both states have train tracks that follow the river. As you drive along, you meet and pass trains boasting a hundred cars or more. And looking a half-mile across the river you can see long trains coming and going. At such a distance they look like tiny, toy train sets speeding along the bank of the river.
At two different places along I-84 you can take scenic Highway 30 up out of the gorge to get a better vantage point. On a clear day, the scene that unfolds up and down the gorge is spectacular.
Multnomah Falls can be seen inside the Columbia River Gorge about 35 miles outside of Portland. It drops an eye-popping 611 feet into the gorge. On Highway 30 inside the gorge, another waterfall called Horse Tail Falls is worth the stop. I promise you, the water comes off the top of the cliffs like the hairs in a horse’s tail!
As I was returning from my drive in the gorge last time, I saw something I had never seen before. It was made possible by the beautifully clear day and the time of the year. In front of me the Columbia River took a sharp bend and I could see the high, shear wall of the gorge forcing the river to the right. And high above the rock wall, snow-covered Mount Hood rose boldly and majestically in the far distance. And I experienced anew what the word “breath-taking” means.
Oh, and one more thing. They pump your gas for you in Oregon. It’s a state law. Talk about a unique experience!