Ineffable. Definition: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.
Most days. when it comes to capturing the beauty of this area—the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia Gorge—words fail me. Enjoy the photos instead.
With few exceptions, since moving to The Dalles a year and a half ago, I’ve not traveled further than 100 miles from it. Even then, at most my travel wasn’t more than a state or two away, or just barely into the neighboring Canadian province.
While I do expect to travel more widely again, the place I call home fills me with joy whenever I take the time to revisit old haunts or explore new areas.
With a new, full-time job starting this Monday (tomorrow), time was running out to revisit a few of my favorite waterfalls while they’re still aglow with fall color.
Last year, fall 2022, there was no transition between blistering summer heat and winter cold. The leaves seemingly went from green to brown overnight, then down and gone. The two falls before that I was either heading to the U.S. east coast or there. Fall 2019, though, was epic.
This fall more than made up for fall 2022; rivaling 2019. This fall’s brief tear-up-your-garden-tomatoes hard freeze around Halloween quickly relinquished its grip. Sunshine and gentle rains greened up the hillsides and intensified cottonwood and aspens’ buttery yellows. Big leaf maples shone in glowing gold. Vine maples shimmered in orange and red…
We headed into Portland Oregon for an errand, leaving time for stops on the way home.
The first stop on our return tour: Crown Point’s panoramic gorge view with a wander through Vista House.
This stretch of Highway 30, also known as The Historic Columbia Gorge Highway, the Scenic Bypass or the Waterfall Loop can once again be traveled without any advanced planning. Between May and Labor Day, due to its popularity, a pre-purchase permit or travel by tourbus is required nowadays.
By design, the highway meanders from waterfall to waterfall; its bridges and roadways flow with the forest and waterways. Driving its curves is an unabashedly sensual experience. You can’t help but wonder what delight awaits you around the next curve.
Conversely, along highway I-84 the vehicles—cars, flatbeds carrying massive wind turbine parts, triple-tow semis—thunder past along the mighty Columbia River. The drive is still stunning, but there are few opportunities pause to take in the scenery. Staying focused on the road is vital.
Back in the late 80s, when the Portland Metro area was far less populous, and mainstream telecommuting decades away. I commuted i-84 from Hood River to Vancouver Washington daily, Monday-Friday. On wet days—and there are many—the triples blanketed the highway with an opaque mist, making them challenging to pass. My car interior was dry, but my steering wheel was wet from my clenching the wheel while I gritted my teeth waiting for a section where I could pass them and regain my peripheral driving vision. I also learned about “black ice” when conditions make the ice virtually invisible, particularly one near-death experience when I spun out, directly facing oncoming traffic.
This drive, however, was for pleasure, with time built in for gawking. We stopped at most of my favorites falls:
Multnomah, unquestionably the most photographed of Oregon’s photogenic falls, was too crowded. We’ve stopped there many a time; this time we gave it a miss. However, it’s crowded for a reason. if you’ve never seen it, it’s worth enduring the crowds.
If you make only one other stop, stop at Bridal Veil and take the easy,1-mile hike down to it. This trip, I chose to savor my memory of its 2019 perfection.
My camphone quick-stop photos don’t even come close to doing this area justice. If you can spare 8 minutes, watch John Pederson’s How-To on taking fall photos in the Columbia Gorge.
Better yet, come see them yourself.
The only time I don’t recommend is when it’s too rainy to enjoy being outside and too muddy on the trails. Otherwise, every season offers its own allure:
- spring is full flow and wildflowers
- summer is the best hiking, as long as you don’t mind the crowds
- fall the crowds abate and autumn colors glow
- winter the crowds are nearly gone and you may see ice falls