We’re going to zoom back in time a little bit this week. I lived near Portland, Oregon between 2004-2006 and the sobering news of the fires in the Columbia River Gorge has put me in mind of our family’s adventures driving around that area.
We didn’t spend much time in Portland itself because the surrounding area is actually so much more interesting! You have the Pacific Ocean just an hour and a half to the west, and the Columbia River Gorge and Cascade mountain range just an hour or so east. As you can see from this map, everything is within such easy reach!
Not to knock Portland, though. You could definitely spend a day drinking hipster coffee, walking around Powell’s–the largest bookstore in the world, and touring the International Rose Garden to fill up on Portland’s vibe. One thing I loved about this area was flowers. Due to the mild, wet winters, we still had roses blooming in our yard in December! Definitely consider visiting in April or May when everything is blooming and beautiful.
West of Portland, Oregon
When you’re ready to get out of town, you can’t go wrong by hitting up the Pacific coastline. Between Rockaway Beach and a little north of Cannon Beach, you will find some of the most iconic rocky coastal formations in the world. Ecola State Park is a great place to stop and take it all in.
East of Portland, Oregon
But my fondest memories of the Pacific Northwest are of driving up and down the Columbia River Gorge. The rock walls of the gorge loom up on either side of you, and the river runs below. Sometimes we drove through it on misty days when fog made a nebulous ceiling overhead and the scenery looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. Prehistoric looking boulders like Beacon Rock sit perched on the water’s edge. It is sad to think that a place so timeless is being ravaged by fire and won’t look the same for many, many years.
At various points along the river gorge, waterfalls spring out of the rocks. Multnomah Falls is the most iconic one in the area. If you go, make sure you catch breakfast at Multnomah Falls Lodge — we talked about their bacon for years! Not to mention, the building itself is truly beautiful. It was built in 1925, so is teeming with architectural ambiance from that era. Please note, the photos of Beacon Rock and Multnomah Falls are public domain shots I found on Flickr from the U.S. Forest Service. I always strongly prefer to use my own photos, but it’s been about a decade now since I was in Oregon, so I didn’t have the best materials to work with. 🙂
The Cascade Range
A final highlight from the Portland, OR area is the Cascade Mountain Range — I would really like to go back and do some hiking around Mt. Ranier in particular. But what I remember most from our last trip is Mt. St Helens. We visited the Johnston Ridge Observatory which is perched on a cliff overlooking the infamous 1980 explosion. Even 30 — now, 40 — years later, the devastation is overwhelming. A wealth of information is available in the observatory in the form of videos and displays, and it’s well worth the price of admission. In the photo below, you can see the riverbed like furrows leading away from the crater, and in the foreground a tree that was flattened and entombed by the flow of volcanic debris.
I guess Mt. St. Helens might be a somber note to end upon, particularly in light of the headlines this week about the fires destroying the Columbia River Gorge. But in another sense, maybe it’s a little hopeful, too, because here we see the endurance and the resilience of nature. The lay of the land may change, may be scarred for decades to come, but its rugged beauty will endure.
What do you love about the Pacific Northwest?
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