It’s Thursday February 5, 2009 – a good day for a hike. We’re getting started late.
My field trip partner Brendan has an early dental appointment, so I won’t be meeting
her until 11:00, but it gives me time to get prepared. I was out late last night.
Wednesday is becoming a music-night-out in Portland for me and I’m still a bit groggy.
I still need to get my stuff ready, but this will be a short day and I don’t need
much. But I do need food (Wheat Thins, cheese, avocado, trail mix (with big fat
milk chocolate chips thrown in for good luck), water, field books, binoculars, map,
plastic bags, pruners, trowel, and I need to check my backpack to make sure it is
in order. I seldom use field books on these short trips, especially in winter when
most plants are dormant, but invariably I will wish I had them if I forget them.
So they go in the box. I usually bring, at least, Plants of the Pacific NW Coast,
by Pojar and MacKinnon and any one of my field guides to birds. Plants of the PNW
Coast is a handy quick reference. It’s not totally complete, but it does include
mosses and lichen, and if I need to know something really obscure, I bring specimens
home to ID under the dissecting microscope, with the help of the somewhat outdated,
but invaluable, ultimate NW reference, Plants of the Pacific NW by Hitchcock and
Cronquist. But what I do love about the Pojar and McKinnan book are the many tidbits
and facts in the plant descriptions – the native uses, legends, meanings of the names,
the history. It’s just all so interesting.
10:15 - A red tail hawk soars low over the greenhouses as I get into my car. I take
it as a good omen. The sky is white with thin high clouds. Mt. Hood stands out in
relief, white on white, against the eastern sky. It’s not raining - that’s a good
thing. It’s about 40 degrees. I get to the McDonald’s parking lot in Troutdale, our
meeting place, before Brendan does, and it gives me time to load my little digital
camera with fresh batteries, and to try, once again, to give myself a lesson in how
to use the thing properly. I still haven’t decided if the problem with most of my
pictures is limitations of the equipment, or operator inadequacy. I’d like to think
it’s the former, as I think of myself as a decent photographer. It’s a bumpy road
to technologyville for most of us who grew up way too many years ago. Even so, my
house is full of technology, an embarrassing amount actually, so I am trying to embrace
it, rather than resist it and continue to fight the futile battle.
Brendan’s here now, seemingly none the worse for her trip to the dentist, and we
are primed and pumped, ready to get on the road!
We are headed for the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway, through the little town
of Troutdale. Unfortunately this charming little town now seems to be best known
for the excess of outlet stores at the Outlet Store Mall. I steer clear of it. Once
through Troutdale, we cross over the Sandy River on an old steel bridge, and we drive
along with the river down below on the right and a steep cliff rising on the left,
covered with typical Pacific Northwest evergreen flora, along with, unfortunately,
too much English Ivy, an invasive noxious weed in these parts. Occasionally a winter
rivulet flows down the cliffside, creating a mini-waterfall, complete with moss and
ferns and other moisture loving vegetation.
There are 2 ‘must stop’ viewpoints ahead before we get to the famous waterfall area
of the Scenic Highway. The first is the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint,
originally the site of the historic Chanticleer Inn, long gone now, but with an interesting
history. In the earliest years of its operation, from 1912 – 1915, it was accessible
only by boat and a steep hike. When the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway opened in 1915
it became a popular destination for those who had access to that new-fangled sensation,
the automobile. (click here to read about the history of Chanticleer and see old
photos). The inn burned to the ground in 1930, but the site is currently maintained
as a park and viewpoint with a sweeping vista looking east up the Columbia River
Gorge. So we stop, of course, get out to take the obligatory photo, and the blasting
wind takes me by surprise, though I don’t know why it should. The Columbia River
Gorge winds are legendary (just ask the world class windsurfers who migrate here
every summer), especially on these exposed sites. But it doesn’t always blow, and
I had not expected it today. It makes it feel very cold, so it is a short stop. The
second must-stop viewpoint is at Crown Point and the Vista house, just a bit down
the road. Crown Point is a promontory, 733 feet in elevation, that juts out along
the Columbia River, with magnificent views in 3 directions. The Vista House, built
on this cliff in 1918, is a one-of-a-kind octagonal building, and has become a symbol
of the Columbia Gorge, as the final achievement to the massive undertaking of the
Columbia River Scenic Highway. It is now a way station, a gift shop, a little bit
of a museum, a place to get a cup of coffee or to get out of the wind. (click here
to read more about it)
The wind does gets the better of us here, even the car is rockin’, so we enjoy the
view from inside the car, take a few pictures through the windshield, and away we
go again, spiraling our way down and around the Vista House and back onto the forest
enclosed scenic highway. Spring brings an abundance of showy, shade loving wild flowers
along this road. It is still too early for them, but it won’t be long. Within a month
we will be starting to see plants coming back to life, in a big way.
We make a quick stop at the picture perfect Waukeena Falls for a photo-op, but we
bypass the numerous other falls (they’re so ho-hum - just kidding) and continue on
to spectacular Multnomah Falls, at 620’ the 2nd highest year-round waterfall in the
country. Even on a chilly overcast Thursday in early February, though the parking
lot is not full, it is full enough to illustrate what a justly popular destination
this is. I venture to say that most of the people wandering around here today are
native Pacific Northwesterners out for the day, but as soon as the weather warms
and tourists emerge from their holes, it is a bit of a zoo, in my humble opinion.
I made the mistake of driving the scenic highway one warm day last June. Trying to
keep up with car after car zooming along as I tried to observe the plant life was
not my idea of a good time. I will confine my trips from now on to the off season,
or evening hours.
After a quick break at Multnomah Falls, a couple more photos, and some coffee to
go, we are on our way again.
Hiking the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge February 5, 2009