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This is me at the summit of Larch Mountain.

This is me at the summit of Larch Mountain. Volcanoes are in the background, trust me. No really, they are.

I managed to get out with my hiking group again on Sunday. Saturdays are sooo busy (this one was my Mt. Hood Cherokees meeting), and the option for Sunday hikes is appreciated.

My hike the previous weekend to Poo Poo Point gave me a chance to prepare my body a little, because this hike was 6.8 miles to the summit from the trailhead. It was .2 miles from the car, totaling 14 miles hiked and over 4000 foot elevation gain in one day. Believe me, my legs are still having a conversation with me about what took place…

One fun thing about the trail is that it begins at Multnomah Falls. You will be amazed to hear that I did not take a single shot of the stunning falls while I was in the viewing area with all the tourists. I have hundreds of photos of Multnomah Falls and was trying to practice restraint, ha ha! But if you want a reminder of which falls I mean, check out one of my posts on it from winter 2013  or from winter 2012.

One mile of paved trail leads you to the viewing platform at the top of the falls: 611 feet above the pool at the bottom.

Looking over the edge of Multnomah Falls, down to the parking lot and I-5 below. Doesn't this perspective mess with your equilibrium?

Looking over the edge of Multnomah Falls, down to the parking lot and I-5 below. Doesn’t this perspective mess with your equilibrium?

The trail after that is not paved, but is in great shape and there are so many more remarkable waterfalls I lost track. I included several photos of my hiking companions on the trail, to help with perspective, and add a contrast to the extravagant opulence of all the green. The ground was wet from a lot of run off and creeks crossing the trails, but we found solid purchase for our feet for the first five miles. We crossed five bridges, if my memory is correct, and each one of those was an adventure in itself. The first over Multnomah Falls, then a Troll Bridge, one that warned us it was falling apart, and two very sturdy bridges built from a single log with the top flattened for us to walk on, and a railing attached to one side. So clever.

Let me explain one aspect of my photos before I get too far. A friend who looked at my photos pointed out – correctly – that if I was in front of the group and turned back, I could get photos of all the lovely faces of the ladies I hiked with. This is absolutely true and it’s a loss that you won’t see them here. However, I am sensitive to the fact that when they registered for this hike, none of them signed up to have their faces on the Internet via my blog. I got permission to post butts (ha ha), but I promised not to show faces or names.

Our trail followed Multnomah Creek for quite a while.

Our trail followed Multnomah Creek for quite a while.

So many waterfalls, it was hard to keep track of them.

So many waterfalls, it was hard to keep track of them.

Troll bridge in the sunshine.

Troll bridge in the sunshine.

Part of the trail ducked under cliffs that had been carved out for us. See the waterfall in the distance here?

Part of the trail ducked under cliffs and is called Dutchman tunnel. See the waterfall in the distance here?

This is me in front of the waterfall in the shot right above.

This is me in front of the waterfall in the shot right above.

To our surprise, about 1.5 miles from the top, we walked into snow. It started off so beautifully: a lovely layer of white to change our forest views. We were very excited, taking photos and giving some accessories to a tiny snowman that someone else built along the trail.

The snow never got very deep, but it did make for some terrible trail conditions. First, the several inches of snow on the dirt trail ensured that it was a mud trail, particularly in the afternoon return home, when many many boots had tromped the slush into a dreadful slippery mess. Second, the snow on the branches of the trees above us slowly melted throughout the day, causing “tree rain” sufficient to soak us through despite the sky teasing us with copious blue that we spotted up through the trees. Luckily we all had jackets for protection, but it was impossible to stay entirely dry at that point.

At 1:00 pm were tired and discouraged and still walking uphill through the mud and tree rain. But occasional bursts of sunshine and the persistent blue above the trees were a tease that we couldn’t resist. Besides, we had come too far to give up.

Walking past yet another waterfall.

Walking past Ecola Falls.

Switchbacks. We became rather familiar with them.

Switchbacks. We became rather familiar with them.

You go first!

You go first!

Snow! It was so exciting that we took photos of it at first.

Snow! It was so exciting that we took photos of it at first.

Someone else built this snowman, but we added the character.

Someone else built this snowman, but we added the character.

Isn't this just lovely?

Isn’t this just lovely?

The summit was worth it! A lovely little rest spot has been built right at the top of the mountain, with benches and a fence to keep us from tumbling over the side. We gathered with other tenacious hikers and ate lunch. The sun had melted the snow off the tops of the benches, where we were able to sit. There was very little wind to speak of, but it did get a bit chilly when we stopped moving.

Sadly, the clouds had been gathering all morning, so by the time we arrived, all the volcanoes were obscured. Remember my view from Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain? On a clear day, the same views can be seen from Larch Mountain. Though the volcanoes (St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood, and Jefferson) were hidden, we had a great view of the valleys around us, including the Columbia River.

The journey back down was somewhat lighter, since downhill is so much less of a struggle. Typically downhill is my challenge – not uphill – but my bad knee only hollered at me a couple of times, and I was able to get to the bottom without the help of any curse words!

It was somewhat surreal to finish the hike at a popular tourist destination, and I felt distinctly out of place, with my coat and pack and mud splashed up my legs and bleached blonde hairs frizzing out in all directions. The lovely people around me had perfect hair and clean clothes and some wore sandals (and heels! good gracious). But I could still smile to myself because I had just seen things that they would not. 🙂

There it is! We made it!

There it is! We made it to Sherrard Point!

Islands in the Columbia

Islands in the Columbia

Icicles caught my eye

Icicles caught my eye

Lunch at the top in the snow.

Lunch at the top in the snow.

Snowy peaks in the distance.

Snowy peaks in the distance.

Mt. Jefferson not visible, but how lovely are the trees with natural flocking?

Mt. Jefferson not visible, but how lovely are the trees with natural flocking?

Our trail climbed steeply, and the payoff was incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge.

Our trail climbed steeply, and the payoff was incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge.

DSC_0035I joined a Meetup Portland group recently.  I actually just heard about Meetup on the radio, and it turns out there are groups all over the country – tons of them! For stamp collectors and entrepreneurs and knitters and singles over 60 and gamers and history buffs. If you’re looking for a group to join, check this out and see if you find anything you like: http://www.meetup.com. Ok, cheesy advertisement over. (They didn’t even pay me!)

Anyhow, the group that looked the best to me was PNW Women’s Outdoor Group, Hiking in the Pacific Northwest. I made a great choice! The leader is a person brimming with positive energy, the women were all enthusiastic about being on the trail. The group offers at least three events a week – so there is no possible way I could do all of it, but I love the idea that there is always something going on, and I can sign up for what works in my crazy busy schedule.

A lovely trailhead sign for the Cherry Orchard Trail.

A lovely trailhead sign for the Cherry Orchard Trail.

We hiked through trees at the beginning, but soon climbed up and out onto the exposed mountainside.

We hiked through trees at the beginning, but soon climbed up and out onto the exposed mountainside.

I went on my first hike on an incredible and unseasonably spectacular sunny day in the Gorge. We all gathered at a meeting place just 5 minutes from my house (it couldn’t get any more convenient) and piled into vehicles together. That was nice because I was able to get to know a few of the women before we hiked.

One great thing about this group is that I will be introduced to new trails in the Columbia River Gorge that I haven’t had a chance to hike yet. In this case, I had hiked the Coyote Wall trail near Lyle, Washington, so I knew the landscape. When the announcement came out that we would be hiking the Cherry Orchard Trail that also begins near Lyle, I knew ahead of time that I would like it.

One person in our group was very knowledgeable about the wildflowers and was able to name everything we spotted.

One person in our group was very knowledgeable about the wildflowers and was able to name everything we spotted.

I was surprised at how many wildflowers were bursting to life so early in the season.

I was surprised at how many wildflowers were bursting to life so early in the season.

Our winter sun doesn’t rise very high in the sky yet, and it was a chilly chilly morning. What a boon, then, to be hiking on the Washington side. The cliffs with all the waterfalls you’ve seen in my posts are on the Oregon side, and that side stays shady much of the day all year round. On this morning we hiked the other side of the river, and soaked up the sunshine till we were toasty warm and smiling.

It was a nice short trail – only two miles – and the views hit us right away and made the little discomforts all worth it. Getting up at 6am on a weekend, bundling up in freezing morning temps, going alone into a group of strangers for a day…an inexpensive price for being out in this beautiful world with beautiful women.

Even in the leafless brown winter, this landscape is compelling.

Even in the leafless brown winter, this landscape is compelling.

Looking down onto the Columbia River.

Looking down onto the Columbia River.

That's me, holding my Tilly hat to make sure it didn't blow into the next state!

That’s me, holding my Tilly hat to make sure it didn’t blow into the next state!

I was feeling a little artistic with this one.

I was feeling a little artistic with this one.

Looking east from where we picnicked at the top of the trail.

Looking east from where we picnicked at the top of the trail.

And looking west, back toward Portland, from our lunch stop.

And looking west, back toward Portland, from our lunch stop.

Something about this landscape is stunning to me. On the surface, it is desolate and dry and colourless. Still, I find it spectacular.

Something about this landscape is stunning to me. On the surface, it is desolate and dry and colourless. Still, I find it spectacular.

This is me, photographing one of the ancient Cherry trees for which the trail takes its name. Thanks to the group leader S for the photo!

This is me, photographing one of the ancient Cherry trees from which the trail takes its name. Thanks to the group leader S for the photo!

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

I need to be outside to feel completely right. Breathing fresh air brings me peace. I wish I could live outside – except for the dirt, ha! During the warm months I open up half the windows in the house, and they stay open -morning, noon and night- till November when I am forced to shut up the house again.

So it follows that in winter I tend to go a little stir crazy when the weather keeps me indoors too long.

Lucky for me, I do not live in New England right now, and going outside is pretty much a breeze. Wednesday the temps were in the 50s with fog and only a slight chance of drizzle. I picked a show-stopper of a trail to add some Zing! to my winter, and off I went. Well, I had a late start because first thing that morning I toured a home for sale in Estacada. I liked it so much I made an offer, and then heard it had sold 15 minutes earlier. Dang!

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular in the Columbia River Gorge because the trailhead is an easy 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, and also because it packs a lot of scenic beauty into a few short miles on a super easy trail. For these reasons, in warmer months the parking spaces at the trailhead are typically jammed, and cars line the sides of the road all the way out to the Interstate. I thought perhaps the middle of the day Wednesday, in February, would mean an empty trail but I was wrong. There were about 25 vehicles parked when we arrived.

Guidebooks caution that it’s not a good trail for children and dogs, and that everyone should use care. Much of the trail was actually blasted out of the side of a cliff above sheer drops into the creek. In 2009, two people died on this trail, one due to a 100-foot fall.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff. The cable is there to hold on to.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

My philosophy is that there is potential danger all around us at all times, and that a trail is actually safer than a sidewalk. As long as I dress right, bring extra gear, water, food, etc., and in this particular case if I stay on the trail, I am confident that it will be a safe hike. Using our smarts will keep many of us alive. You’d think that would mean after 7 million years of natural selection our human population would be filled with only brilliant individuals, but somehow…that is not the case. 🙂

From the trailhead, it’s a 12-mile hike to Tunnel Falls, which I have never seen because I have never hiked that far. There are spectacular sights along the entire trail, but so far I have only hiked in 2 miles to Punchbowl Falls and then returned. There is so much to see in such a short distance that I use the trail for day hikes when I don’t have much time to invest.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

In the winter, there are waterfalls. And waterfalls, and waterfalls! They are astonishingly high, crashing down on both sides of the creek every few hundred feet or so. In some places you have no choice but to get wet because the trail hugs the cliff, and the falls spill down the cliffs. At one point near the beginning of the trail, a waterfall arcs over the top of the trail and you walk beneath it. (By the way, this is why Tunnel Falls has it’s name) The falls are so common that despite many of them being remarkable enough to warrant a postcard if they were solitary waterfalls in some other place…HERE most of them are not even named.

Lower Punchbowl Falls is a fun place to play in the water in the summer, and one can walk out into the creek and get a great view of the big falls. On this trip, it was too chilly to even consider going into the water for a view. It was lovely, and we watched others play around with each other and with their dogs. Despite the dog and child warnings, many people brought their dogs and children – and I’m glad. This is a place that really should be experienced by all.

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there's just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there’s just a guy taking pictures of his girl. 🙂

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail...

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail…

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I'm standing is the one at the top of this post - jaw-droppingly gorgeous.)

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I’m standing is the one at the top of this post –  the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Punchbowl Falls.)

Heading back to the trailhead along these truly remarkable and beautiful cliffs.

The rocks, trees, and cliffs are adorned with luscious moss.

An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

The Hood River Valley is famous for its fruit. The valley is in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side. The dominant fruits are apples, pears, and cherries, and orchards have been producing fabulous bounty for over 100 years.

Apple orchards flourished in this rich valley from 1890 to 1920, and Hood River became famous for its apples. In 1919 many apple trees were struck by a killing freeze. Farmers replaced the apple trees with pear trees, and now Hood River county leads the world in Anjou Pear production. {source: The City of Hood River}

Many Hood River Valley orchards are relatively small and operated by families, but together they account for about two-thirds of the state’s pears. Since 1992, the Hood River Valley has branded itself as the Fruit Loop, the brainchild of growers Kaye White and Thom Nelson, who proposed an excursion map of U-pick-it orchards and country stores. {source: The Oregon Encyclopedia}

 

Blossoms draped across the hills

Blossoms draped across the hills

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

Apple trees grown at an angle. I've never seen this before!

Apple trees grown at an angle. I’ve never seen this before!

The Fruit Loop is popular with tourists here, especially among the day-tourists coming from Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA, both about an hour downstream of the Columbia. The route begins at the river and makes a loop to the south, passing through Parkdale (the terminus of the Mt. Hood Railroad) and back. Along the way you can visit wineries for a little tasting, stop at fruit stands (that sell much more than pears, apples, and cherries), and if the season is right you can enjoy all the best of U-pick opportunities. You can bring home armloads of blueberries, strawberries, lavender, raspberries, pumpkins, and more.

The Mt. Hood Railroad is another attraction of the area, offering sightseeing trips through the valley, as well as murder mystery excursions, a train robbery brunch, romantic dinner excursion, and when the season is right: polar express! I’ll definitely have to do that some time.

Another view from Panorama Point. It's like a sea of white blossoms.

Another view from Panorama Point. It’s like a sea of white blossoms.

I couldn't stop admiring the orchards draped over hills.

I couldn’t stop admiring the orchards climbing over hills.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

All of these attractions are bound between the volcanoes Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, in lush valleys filled with rivers and streams and the mighty Columbia with its famous kite surfing and wind surfing. What a place!

Click the images below to see how much honey bees love this time of year.

Yummy flowers

Yummy flowers

Happy Bees

Happy Bees

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

Our famous Multnomah Falls, as I've never seen it before

Our famous Multnomah Falls, as I’ve never seen it before

I get to rave about one of my favourite places for scenery in the country: The Columbia River Gorge. I keep finding new reasons to talk about this place because it’s JUST SO AMAZING.

We’ve had a cold snap like everybody else. It makes ice like everywhere else. In the land of waterfalls, it makes our own backyard look like a foreign land.

Portland Public Schools kept schools closed Wednesday.  It’s typically the day I work overtime, but I was scheduled to work only 4 hours of OT, so I had lots of hours to play first. The morning was warming up and a toasty 29 degrees by the time I checked, with a forecast high above freezing, so I knew that if I was going to see the waterfalls with ice, it was now or never.

Sadly, I was too late to find the winter wonderland at its peak. Much of the ice was melting and breaking away already. It was worth it anyhow. The ice was still remarkable and the day was beautifully sunny, though our canyon is steep and forested, and no sunbeam ever reaches the falls in the wintertime.

The picturesque bridge is always a place to experience the roar and spray from the water. This time: icy spray.

The picturesque bridge is always a place to experience the roar and spray from the water. This time: icy spray.

Multnomah Falls Lodge

Multnomah Falls Lodge

Walking up to the lodge

Walking up to the lodge, we could see the top of Multnomah Falls behind it

The Columbia River Gorge

Hard for any Gorge view to compete with this one of the Vista House.

A closer view of the Vista House

A closer view of the Vista House

Miss Tara walking ahead of me on a trail

Miss Tara walking ahead of me under a rocky overhang

Once a weeping cliff; now still

Once a weeping cliff; now still

There is a falls here, but so much water spills that the entire hillside has frozen

There is a falls here, but so much water spills that the entire hillside has frozen

I hiked up to the waterfall in the photo above, and found an ice cave behind it!

I hiked up to the waterfall in the photo above, and found an ice cave behind it!

That's me doing my best to find a good shot

That’s me doing my best to find a good shot

portrait by Miss T

portrait by Miss T

View east

View east from Beacon Rock September 2013

Beacon Rock

Beacon Rock February 2013

Scene of the ruined trail this winter. Photo credit: Washington Trails Association.

Scene of the ruined trail this winter. Photo credit: Washington Trails Association.

Sunday I was scheduled for some mandatory overtime, so Saturday Arno and I took the opportunity to try Beacon Rock again. And the trail is open!

We had tried to climb to the top of the rock during the Winter, but a rock fall on January 25, 2013 had blocked the trail. We had a nice day hike anyhow.

On our way out of town, as I waited at a stop sign, still in my Montavilla neighborhood, we spied a tamale vendor on a bike across the street. We pulled over and bought some on a whim. $5 for six small tamales.

I decided to cross the Columbia River into Washington state, and take highway 14 out to Beacon Rock, rather than head east on the Oregon side, then cross Bridge of the Gods like we did in February. Highway 14 is so pretty, and I actively try to avoid the mental boundary that tries to form because of the river. Washington may as well be another country for as often as I go there, and I live about two miles from the border.

frogs in the bathroom

frogs in the bathroom

Portland was blanketed with stratus and damp with mizzle. (Misty drizzle. And yes, that is an official meteorological term.) About 30 minutes east brought us into full sunshine and warmth.

We arrived at Beacon Rock in late morning, and parked near the restrooms because I needed to use them. When I turned to go, I spotted these two handsomes in the stall with me. I started snapping photos and I wonder what the woman in the stall next to me thought I was taking pictures of!

This sign is placed for all the rock climbers and wannbes that leave the trail.

This sign is placed for all the rock climbers and wannbes that leave the trail.

We walked the short length to the base of the rock, and spent a little time looking at the cliffs. Arno spent a bit of energy trying to get me to say that I thought it would be fun to try to scale the face of it…but he didn’t get anywhere with that. (he never does, but he keeps trying 🙂 ) Instead, he admitted that the key point was that HE was excited about climbing the rock.

my rock climbing man

my rock climbing man

It’s about a mile to the top of this solitary rock standing in the valley. It is a basalt tower that formed inside the core of a volcano. As I wrote in my blog this winter, Henry Biddle built a trail to the top just because he wanted to, and I think that’s a wonderful reason. One climbs 850 feet, mainly on switchbacks. The trail is old, but in very good shape, paved and bounded with railings at all points. There are wooden bridges and steps and ramps. The views of the magnificent Columbia River Gorge never stop.

Biddle's trail

Biddle’s trail

An open door, where a locked door had been found on our first attempt.

An open door, where a locked door had been found on our first attempt.

Looking over the edge onto some of the switchbacks we traversed.

Looking over the edge onto some of the switchbacks we traversed.

From the top there is a reasonable 200 degree view of the river. I had been expecting 360 degrees, but to be disappointed would be ungrateful. Gorgeous day! Gorgeous gorge!

We read the information sign talking about how the gorge was carved by the famous Missoula floods, as they carried rocks and icebergs between the two states we now call Oregon and Washington.  Ice dams in Montana burst periodically, 15,000 years ago, and sent catastrophic, otherworldly floods all the way across Idaho and Washington and into the Pacific Ocean. That’s a flood practically beyond comprehension.DSC_0131

Like with the tamales, I was still feeling spontaneous when we reached the bottom, and I suggested we go find some fish to buy.

The Indians in this region have been fishing since the first humans lived here. They have legal rights to continue to fish, and when they have too much, they sell it at little stands along the highway. I’ve been meaning to buy some fresh salmon for years, but I never seem to have the cash on me, or the time to stop. Today was my chance!

Only a few miles down the road, we found a sign “FRESH FISH,” and I pulled off the highway onto a little frontage road toward a long row of camp trailers and rickety wooden stands. I didn’t know how to choose where to go. We walked to one stand with a few people who looked up and greeted us as we arrived. We watched as the man behind the wooden stand expertly filleted a salmon for the two men standing there.

The man with the fish was named Frank, we found out later. Frank introduced his grandson, Benny, as a guy who was a lot of help around the place. So I asked 10 year old Benny, “What’s the difference between all these places selling fish?” I thought I was going to get an answer along the lines of different kinds of fish being sold, or different prices.

Benny deferred back to Frank, who went on for awhile about the trustworthiness of the sellers, the cleanliness of operations, and the reliability of the fish freshness. While he admitted that he was pretty sure he was related to every single seller out there, he couldn’t recommend any of them except one guy who wasn’t there that day. I suspected he was just trying to make a sale, till at one point in his animated stories, one of the guys buying the fish caught my eye and nodded his head at Frank and mouthed, “Buy your fish here.”

Frank with my $40 salmon

Frank with my $40 salmon. It looks small, but there was a lot of meat on it.

Choosing the fish, getting it gutted and filleted and packed with ice, all while Frank told his many stories, took some time. Arno said later that it reminded him of what Sherman Alexie had said when we went to see him in Portland. Alexie explained that you can’t hurry an Indian. Be patient and you’ll get what you want.

Chanterelles a few days old. What is left after I ate a bunch for supper.

Chanterelles

While we waited, the guy buying the fish asked me, “Hey, you want some Chanterelles?” Heck yeah! I followed him to his truck and in the back he had baskets filled with mushrooms he and the other guy had just picked. He scooped as many as I could carry into my hands, and scooped another huge handful for Frank, and we carried them back to the fish stand as the fillets were finally presented to the buyer.

Instead of focusing on me, Frank turned to watch a family that had just showed up. They all looked like they were of western Asian descent. Frank showed them the fish in the coolers while I went to grab a paper towel from the stand to wrap up my mushrooms. Arno told me that while I was gone, Frank had instructed Benny, “Remember, for brown skin, it’s $5 a pound.” I love that he heard that! What a delicious glimpse into the intricacies of commerce.

The brown family decided not to buy, and left. It was my turn to buy a fish. I was still a little suspicious about whether we were at the right place until Frank said, “There goes Green Toes,” as his earlier customers left. “That was his boyfriend with him. He was wearing shoes today, but when he’s in sandals, you can see his green toenail polish.” Frank went on talking about gay men and how uncomfortable he was to have them there, but glad for the business and the mushrooms. That sealed the deal for me. If this gay man was a regular customer despite the obvious problem Frank had with him, then it must be the best fish!

Benny with the dog

Benny with the dog

While Frank cut up my salmon, Benny’s mom Betty came out of the trailer and began talking with us. The dog came out from beneath another trailer. Frank explained that his son was gone fishing and that he was with a friend who had rights to net fishing. “The rest of us platform fish,” he explained. “Our family came in after the dam covered Celilo Falls, so we don’t get the net rights.” (Anyone who lives here soon learns that the sacred falls and fishing grounds were destroyed when The Dalles Dam was built.) I was learning so much standing there in the sun with the buzzing flies. Another Indian at a different stand turned on drum music from his truck stereo and Benny began dancing. They were a fun family.

Frank hadn’t weighed my fish, but suggested $35 and I agreed since Green Toes’ fish was about the same size and he had paid $40. When I pulled out my purse to pay for it, I found that I didn’t have change, and happily handed over $40. If we ate huge portions this was about five salmon dinners for Tara and me, the fish was probably less than 24 hours out of the water, and I had just had an hour of entertainment. It was totally worth the price!

Arno and I found a park by the water in Stevenson, and we ate our tamales and drank some Kokanee beer for lunch. Then we made our way back home and I began barbecuing salmon and zuchinni for supper, and fried up half the mushrooms in garlic and butter.

wildflowers on a ridge above the Klickitat River

wildflowers on a ridge above the Klickitat River

Last year before I left for Japan, I took Tara camping with me on our last weekend together. I knew that camping would provide quiet, no electronics, and lots of uninterrupted, healthy mom-daughter time. By coincidence, that weekend was also Mother’s Day. It was such a good idea that I did it again this year.

Only, this Mother’s Day weekend we were swamped because it was also Big Ballet Performance weekend. So Tara and I made plans to go camping last weekend.

I almost canceled. It had been raining and was forecast to continue raining. Our favourite camp site had the same forecast. Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun mandatory overtime, and I had worked all day long Saturday, and was feeling fatigued. (every other federal agency is at home because of sequester but VA adds extra hours. go figure)

Dusting off my meteorologist skills, I pulled up a NOAA forecast map with a precipitation loop. It was easy to see that the rain was pretty much squeezed out of the airmass over the Cascade Range, and if we could just find a spot east of the mountains, we’d be in much better shape.

With my non-dusty web browser skills, I pulled up a map, then searched “camping” and chose a spot that was in the drier areas and as close to home as possible. I chose a spot labeled Soda Springs Campground. When we arrived, we saw that it had no identifiable springs and no identifiable campground, but turned out to be wonderful.

Highway 142, leading north from the Klickitat River, is something blogger LB would like to take her bike on.

Highway 142, leading north from the Klickitat River, is a place blogger LB would like to ride her bike.

Most of the camp gear had been gathered Friday night after work, so Saturday after work I only had to load it into the Saturn Dragon Wagon and get my child motivated to gather her own gear (she’s a teenager; it’s not always easy to motivate her). By the time we climbed into the car, the rain was really coming down and I was glad I had packed the giant tarp that we could spread over the top of the tent.

Zooming along the fabulous Columbia Gorge highway, Tara fell asleep and I gaped at the buckets of rain coming down. Pouring, pouring rain. By Multnomah Falls, it had dropped to a light rain. By Hood River, an almost imperceptible drizzle under grey skies. I stopped to give fat kisses to my Arno in exchange for hot dog roasting sticks. I hugged hello to Diego, and hopped into the car again with still-sleeping Tara.

Gravel road to the camping area led past several folks getting the winter cobwebs out of their rifles.

Gravel road along the ridge to the camping area led past several folks getting the winter cobwebs out of their rifles.

We crossed the Columbia River into Washington, then took highway 142 north from the town of Lyle, and followed the stunningly beautiful Klickitat River. We found the headwaters, and then climbed up, up, up onto the awe-inspiring bluffs of southern Washington. Along the Klickitat we reached pure blue skies and sunshine! We turned off 142 and in no time were at our campsite. If anyone wants to camp here, it’s free, but don’t forget your Discover Pass!

The gravel road to the camping areas were populated with target shooters, and we heard rifle shots pretty steadily until it got dark. That was the only down side. Not that I mind people doing target practice, but that I was in a totally unfamiliar area, and unsure of whether we might be in the path of a poorly-aimed bullet. I shrugged it off. They were pretty far away, and the men had seen us two girls drive past and knew we were out there, and knew it was a camping area, so I had to trust that they were shooting responsibly.

While gazing at the lupine, look out for caterpillars in your hair!

While gazing at the lupine, look out for caterpillars in your hair!

Awwww...

Awwww…

We pitched the tent in a stunning grassy forest, populated with blooming lupine. I neglected to bring my camera on the trip, so you’ll be forced to view the scene via the less-than-stellar phone camera images. Interestingly, there was a caterpillar exodus in progress, and they were literally dropping out of trees onto us. Thankfully, they were absolutely gorgeous fuzzy blue caterpillars, and so hundreds of tiny soft cute things dropping on us was a phenomena we could easily endure.

The forest canopy shaded thick stands of lupine

The forest canopy shaded thick stands of lupine

I forgot to pack my french press, and used the emergency percolator!

I forgot to pack my french press, and used the emergency percolator!

The sun shone till it was completely beyond the curve of the earth, and still we savored the clear skies. We enjoyed our evening, but were ready to turn in early. It had been a long week for both us girls. After Tara read aloud one story from the Brothers Grimm, we were out cold.

In the azure blue, cloudless morning, while Miss T slept, I brewed a pot of Peets and walked out to the edge of the bluff to look down into the canyon, and out across the gorge, and watch the day begin. I sat with my cup and drank in the environment as well as the coffee. It was incredibly beautiful. Warm. I could see a thick grey cloud bank packed tightly over the Portland skies.

As I sat there, I heard first a bawl, like a cow. Then, the unmistakable bugle call of an elk. I humbly admit, in all my wild excursions in my whole life of scrambling the mountains of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and northern California, it was the first time I had heard an elk bugle in real life. Highly recommend you experience that one yourself.

This is where I sat when I heard the elk bugle. If you zoom in, you can see the peak of Mt. Hood in the clouds. And Portland, in the rain, is beneath them. (ha ha!)

This is where I sat when I heard the elk bugle. If you zoom in, you can see the peak of Mt. Hood in the clouds. And Portland, in the rain, is beneath them. (ha ha!)

Finally I went back for the girlie, who was awake, and watching caterpillars. I took her back out to the place where I had heard the elk. We didn’t hear it again, but she did get to see the amazing view.

Miss T high above the Klickitat, which you can see in the valley

Miss T high above the Klickitat, which you can see in the valley

This gives a better sense of how steep the hills are

This gives a better sense of how steep the hills are

When we packed up the tent, she counted 36 caterpillars that we had to flick off before it got rolled up. There were more, but she said that some of the original 36 had probably come back, so she didn’t want to double-count them. We were both much better rested, much happier, and much stinkier by Sunday afternoon. I’m so glad my girlie and I get so much pleasure out of camping together.

The aptly named Vista House, overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, with snowy peaks of southern Washington in the distance

Locally, we have been breaking the kinds of records that are no fun to break. Climatology has been kept at the Portland airport since 1940 and the Spring of 2011 is trying to be the coolest spring since records have been kept. It was the 5th coolest April, with an average temp of 47.9 degrees. The March/April rainfall total is 11.47 inches (normal 6.35), making it the wettest spring on record (and wettest April on record). I got all this handy info from the National Weather Service’s latest Record Report, dated May 1, 2011.

The gorgeous gorge, and the Vista House on a cliff

Inside the lovingly restored Vista House with stained glass windows

When the seasonal affective disorder symptoms were about to make us want to gouge out our eyes with forks, Mother Nature blessed us with ONE gorgeous day before the rain and cool temps rolled back in. On the phone that morning, my mom told me to forget the laundry, let the shower remain unscrubbed, and go outside, I realized she was probably right. I gathered my kid and we hit the Gorge.

The last time we were at the Vista House, the winds were fierce and frightening. I know you won’t believe me, so I’ll just say this for my own entertainment: as we watched, a man took hold of the railing at the steps with both hands. He carefully lifted his legs out behind him, one at a time, and the wind HELD him in the air! Tara and I climbed out of the car, and crawled along the pavement, but were too chicken to cross, unprotected, the two lanes of the road to reach the other side where there was another short wall to hide behind. So we crawled back to the car and inched down the cliff again.

Miss Tara on the balcony

So Vista House was our destination on May Day. The winds were practically gentle, compared to the last visit!

We went to Shepperds Dell Falls, a falls we had not seen yet. There are so many along the Historic Columbia River Highway that parallels Interstate 84 that we usually only stop at two or three each time. This means that there are still falls we have not seen. We will undertake a couple of longer hikes this year, so that we can get to more of the falls off the highway. Each one is a worthy destination on its own, so we are sure to never be disappointed in the trail we choose.

The wide Columbia River and the southern Washington border

stone wall beside trail to Shepperds Dell Falls

Despite the record-breaking slow start to spring, Persephone has still returned to us. The Gorge was filled with pale green and splashes of white and pink blossoms in the trees. Rivers are running high, making the falls crash dramatically for our entertainment. Shepperds Dell Falls is at the end of a short paved path, bound by the inevitable moss-covered stone wall. These stone walls are everywhere along the Old Highway, adding an unmistakable Oregonian charm to every yard of highway and park in these parts.

bridge over Shepperds Dell

typical gorge bridge

Then it was time for lunch, and we found a lovely (only slightly damp) meadow to spread out our picnic. We lounged in the beating sunshine in lush grass amidst zillions of dandelions and tiny daisies, which looked perfectly landscaped here, though in my back yard they would be a catastrophe of weeds. Tummies full, it was time to walk to Bridal Veil Falls.

The trail is in excellent shape for this time of year, when often small landslides can make the path treacherous before Park employees come and sweep up and rebuild retaining walls. I wandered well off the path, snapping close-ups of flowers. That was self-indulgence, and mainly because my camera is still new and it’s a thrill to be able to photograph close-ups in focus! Notices warn to STAY on the trail because of poison ivy, but I’m a plant girl and I could easily identify them. I did not see any poison ivy. I did see plenty of nettles, however. I hopped deftly about but still managed to catch a leaf across my knee on my way back to the trail. (The burning went away by evening…)

the creek below Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls met and exceeded expectations. The only down-side being that the lovely warm dry day had brought many of us out to the trails. This popular falls was packed with people. I play games with the camera to see how cleverly I can crop the image to make it look like no one is there, but I can’t always keep the brightly coloured tourists out of the shots.

In true Crystal form, I moseyed and dawdled and all those other lovely means of travel on a sunny day in the forest. Finally we climbed back into the Dragon-Wagon and moved on once more.

We had originally intended to stop at Multnomah Falls – easily among the most tourist-mobbed stops in all of Oregon. But the masses of parked cars along the sides of the road – miles before we got to the parking lot – were too much. We live here; we can go another day. Instead we made our way back home. My girl ran off to play frisbee with the neighbor kids, and I had time for a couple of loads of laundry.

Bridal Veil Falls

Shepperds Dell Falls

Snowy northern Utah before the roads got bad

My goal this morning was to get as far as La Grande, Oregon. Then, I could leave as late as 8:00 am Saturday and still get to the airport on time to meet T’s flight.

I started off strong, despite thick low clouds and rain showers. Outside of the jammed population centers of Provo-Salt Lake-Ogden and the multitudinous communities serving them, I had only minutes to enjoy the view until the weather got bad. I climbed north out of Utah and into some higher elevations, and the dragon wagon was skittering all over the highway in a blinding blizzard and rapidly deepening snow on the road.

The signs still taunted me with Speed Limit: 75 mph, but me and the triple-trailer trucks were crawling at about 45 mph.  My windshield wipers were working only sporadically, and the muddy slush kicked onto my windshield from the semi trucks was putting me into a mild state of panic, so I decided to pass them, one by one, as I came to them. Yyyiiiiiikes a-mundo white-knuckling it through the snow on the highway and blizzard visibility, car fishtailing beside the huge trucks… This went on for miles and miles, up and down over the mountains of the border country. Those conditions did not stop as I crossed into southern Idaho, but I did give a silent cheer to myself for being in my homeland for the moment.

View in southern Idaho

The snow didn’t let up till I dropped into the valley on the way into Twin Falls. I got through the Treasure Valley ok, waved to my Pa in Melba, Gramilda in Nampa and my brother Eli in Boise, and moved on through. Tossed some more virtual hellos to LaDale in Ontario and Sandi in Vale. Too, too many people to visit, you know? If you visit some but not all, you’ll be in big trouble when the neglected relatives find out. Best to visit everybody, or nobody.

My stepfather Jim said that due to incoming inclement weather, I should get to at least Pendleton today. Oregon tried to thwart me by dropping the speed limit to a painful 65 mph, but I pressed on. I came through many heavy rainshowers, but only a rare light snow shower, so the weather was not a real problem for the remainder of the trip (only my windshield wipers!) Because of crossing a timezone backward, I gained an hour, and it was only 1:30pm when I got to Pendleton. Sooo… I decided to buckle down and go all the way home. I did 738 miles in 10 hours.

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

The eastern end of the Columbia River Valley is dramatic in a sense, but I find it boring: giant wide river in a shallow desert valley. But keep heading west and there are sights that make me gasp in wonderment. After all I’ve seen this week; after the astonishing, incredible mountains and cliffs and valleys and rivers… nothing is more incredible to me than the western Columbia River Gorge. Portland, Oregon is located in a place of indescribable dramatic beauty. Of course my photos here were shot over my shoulder through the car windows as I drove through, so the quality is poor and they do little to support my argument that this is a place of unequaled beauty. Still, you have to believe me. I am a very lucky girl to be able to come home to this!

Update! I had a chance to grab some photos of the Gorge with my new camera. See my post with some of the awesome photos.

Oneonta Creek

my pretty girl

Oh yes! Two whole days in a row of sunshine, and my soul is returning to peace.

This morning we decided to go on a short hike in the Columbia River Gorge. Since it is a rare burst of sun and warmth, we opted to avoid Multnomah Falls completely, and explore trails of the less famous falls nearby. We parked near Oneonta Creek and walked down the Historic Columbia River Highway (updated but not replaced by I-84) until we came to the Horsetail Falls trailhead.

Restored tunnel in Oneonta Gorge

Our consistent girl whined with the predictable nature of an almost-13-year-old that she does not like to go on hikes, and we didn’t bring enough food or drink, and—about that time she was off like a forest-dwelling gazelle. She unbound her braid to take in the delicious warm breeze (how sweet is that?) and was off to a strong start on the trail that went up, up, up onto the awesome cliffs that border the great Columbia River.

Oh, Oregon is beautiful. It is SO beautiful here. How lucky I feel when we leave our neighborhood and wander outside city limits.

We first walked through the Oneonta tunnel, restored a year ago to its present beautiful condition. It was built in 1914 for the highway, in order to provide views of the Oneonta Gorge and Horsetail Falls to travelers along the historic highway. Now only foot traffic moves through.

at the base of Horsetail Falls

Next Horsetail Falls marked the beginning of the trailhead we intended to take. Stones providing low safety walls and lining paths and stairs were taken from an old jail. It’s a common sight in public areas around here to find stunning stonework framing the gorgeous displays of nature. (get it? Gorge-ous)

We hiked about a mile up the cliffs on a trail in great shape from years of use, but not yet cleared of winter rock falls. At the top we were treated to stunning views of our beautiful Columbia River. When the river was the highway to the Pacific Ocean all those years ago, I wonder if the travelers stopped at these falls. They must have known they were here: some cascade hundreds of feet down onto the shores of the river. Multnomah itself is 620 feet high! (We had passed it on our way, and it was JAMMED with people, as we had suspected) I wonder if pioneers had the luxury of admiring waterfalls in their difficult journeys.

Though entirely shaded, we were warmed by our exercise and we girls especially, because of all the jumping about from here to there, spotting tiger lilies and columbine and new views at every turn in the trail. We wandered away onto paths off the trail and lost Mark a couple of times, but then we would ruuuuuun down the trail and reconnect.

Looking west toward Portland from the trail

Ponytail Falls was a delight! It’s frothy tumult leaps from the cliff top and out into the air before it crashes below. Our path led beneath the falls, through a deep and dry cave that we imagined could be a good shelter for any of the aforementioned pioneers, if they didn’t mind the roar. Tara and I played behind the falls, getting as close as the trail allowed, and continuously sprayed with water. The misting was refreshing and we dashed up, up, up the cliffs again.

Tara and me beneath Ponytail Falls

...enjoying the great outdoors in the 21st century

Finally the angle turned down toward the highway again, and the going was easier on our legs. In no time we wrapped up our little hike and were ready to head back home and start our day. Mark caught up on some job applications (though he’s employed, he’s always on the lookout for something more directly in his field), and some AA administrative business. Tara must pack for her summer with her dad. I was determined to work hard in my yard in the sun because it’s the closest thing to meditative bliss I can find in my daily life.

While I work outside, I listen to the news from around the world on my iPod. Yesterday I worked so long I used up all my news, so today I returned to Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper. (P.S. loving my new audible.com addiction)   I clipped the grass, cut down the spent irises, and mowed. Ahh, my grounds are again in order after weeks of relentless rain.

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