The Columbia River Gorge

In the Pacific Northwest, September 2009

The Columbia River Gorge is a deep river canyon just east of Portland, Oregon. It was carved by the Columbia River through the uplifting Cascade mountain range during the last glacial period, between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago. Apparently, a huge ice dam burst and released a big glacial lake which cut through the volcanic basalt rock like a hot knife through butter, although it happened on a longer timescale than we are used to (it also happened more than once).

This last glacial period is sometimes called the Wisconsin Glaciation. It was doing a big number on Wisconsin (my home turf) at about the same time, carving the Upper Mississippi River Valley, as well as Devil's Lake in the Baraboo Hills, and leaving behind the glacial debris that formed the Kettle Morraine and gave the Ice Age Trail a reason to exist. In short, the last continental glacier shaped many of my favorite hang-outs ( local music bars excepted ).

Of course, I am not the only one who appreciates the magnificent views and many spectacular waterfalls that the Glacier and its melting left in its wake. Japanese and Chinese tourists certainly do ! The Columbia River Gorge provides many great photo-ops that could rival Mall-of-America or even Epcot Center for their ability to startle and amaze !

Number One in popularity is undoubtedly Multnomah Falls (above) where I witnessed several marriage parties having their Niagara moments.

But few tourists venture very far from the parking lot. And there are fabulous trails that wind their way up the numerous side gorges from the well-known lower falls to lesser-known cascades that appear around every bend as you climb higher and higher and farther away from the road. Most of the hikers I encountered here were locals from Portland and vicinity who knew where they were going and, for that matter, why they choose to live where they do...

One particular episode stands out in my memory. I had taken my last photo. My camera battery was dead. I hadn't bothered to recharge the night before, since I knew I had to drive back to Seattle and was flying out early the next morning. But what the heck, I still had a half day to do something, and there were plenty of waterfalls left to see ! So after viewing Horsetail and Oneonta Falls (above), I followed the winding trail onward and upward. I found myself looking down upon a narrow footbridge that crossed over rushing water, miles from the road. As I navigated the bridge, I noticed I was not alone.

Just below, beneath a 20-foot waterfall, three naked girls in their 20's were cavorting in a pool of clear water. It was a scene straight out of a French painting.

If my battery hadn't died, would I have taken a picture ? I'm not sure. Somehow, it seemed altogether appropriate that my camera wasn't functioning. Some things can't be captured. This was a non-digital moment.

I was not the only witness to this blessed event. A young family, Mommy and Daddy and two little girls, came upon the bridge while I was there. The two girls immediately started to strip. Mommy said, "No, no ! Not yet ! Wait until you're down there. Then we can get naked."

That's when I knew they were from Portland, and I was still in Oregon.

"90% of life is just showing up."
Woody Allen

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more Cascades adventures !