Columbia River Gorge

The new normal: fire everywhere in the Northwest

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

This week, the majestic Columbia River Gorge experienced an unprecedented fire that spread to more than 40,000 acres in less than five days. Residents and experts in this region were stunned by the still-unfolding disaster in what should be a fire resistant and lush region.

The blaze was reportedly intentionally ignited by some teens on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, when temperatures were in the upper 90s. The group reportedly threw fireworks into the Eagle River Trail area, setting off a blaze that literally exploded in 48 hours, moving more than 13 miles and shutting down Interstate 84, a major transportation corridor, and threatening the primary drinking water source (Bull Run Reservoir) for more than 1 million people in the Portland area.

The blaze is one of many in the region. Nearly 170,000 acres are ablaze at the Chetco Bar Fire, near Brookings, Oregon. Fires have scorched more than a million acres in Montana. Many experts are pointing to climate change and drying conditions as the main driver for the now frightening new normal.

I have not had a chance to observe the wrath of the fire near my Portland home, because it is still an active conflagration, and the firefighters need to keep gawkers out. I will go in once it is safe.

In light of what has happened this summer, I decide to dig up some pictures I took of the devastating Carlton Complex Firs in the Methow Valley area, in Washington state, in 2014. Seeing what fire can do to communities and landscapes is a sobering experience. I expect the worse is still yet to come, if that is even possible.

 

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Rediscovering the Columbia River Gorge

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the most beautiful river canyons in the United States, if not the world. It runs along the mighty Columbia River, with steep, forested basalt rock walls, forests, and peaks on either side in Washington and Oregon.

I never tire of visiting the place. I first came here in 1983, when I started college in Portland. I fell in love with the historic Vista House. It was built in 1916 on a rocky perch for that new breed of traveler called a road tourist. It commands has a magnificent, sweeping view up the river.

Nearby you can find multiple waterfalls that spill down canyons, including one of the most photographed waterfalls in the country, Multnomah Falls. Those two falls plunge 620 feet by the historic lodge that was completed in 1925.

Further upriver, you can spot the Bonneville Dam, created during the Great Depression as a works project to control flooding and generate cheap hydro power that supplies the Northwest region. Unfortunately, the dams on the Columbia like Bonneville Dam also decimated the salmon runs. Still the Bonneville Dam, at mile post 42 on the Gorge, is well worth a stop.

When I visited today with an out-of-town cousin, we saw one of the massive turbines on display in front of the visitors center. We also spotted some of the many now-resident sea lions swimming in the water just outside the spillway.

I came away refreshed and feeling blessed I have such an amazing piece of geology and natural beauty in my backyard. Be sure to give yourself half a day if you visit.

Dalles Mountain Ranch

This is the final in my series of photos taken at Columbia Hills State Park, on the Columbia River Gorge, near The Dalles. This historic working ranch was deeded to the state as a vital piece of a park that stretches from the river’s edges to the ridge of the hills overlooking one of the nation’s most dramatic landscapes. Visitors can see historic petroglyphs and pictographs down below, and also drive up the hillside to the ranch, where a trailhead has been created for some outstanding open country hiking. Wildflowers are blooming now. Definitely worth a visit.

Scenes from the Columbia Hills, high on the Gorge

 

During my visit to Columbia Hills State Park last weekend, I took a hike to the crest of the hills that stand a couple thousand feet above the Columbia River Gorge, from the Washington side. There are miles of open space. Windmill farms lie to the east. To the south, one sees farmland and cattle country in Oregon. Beneath my feet were a dizzying array of blooming flowers, theĀ balsamroot and lupine. I now rate this as one of my favorite perches in the Pacific Northwest.

Home of the woodpecker

High on the Columbia River Gorge, in the Mt. Hood National Forest, I found a number of standing dead trees that have been thoroughly scavenged by woodpeckers. Lovely place up here. Seven species of woodpeckers live in the forest, so I cannot say which ones may have hammered away here.

View of Vista House, Columbia River Gorge

 

I used my consumer-grade Canon digital for this shot. Sure, I am a tourist, but this is one of the premier views of the Pacific Northwest, from the scenic highway along the Columbia River Gorge, about 30 miles west of Portland, Ore. Sometimes, having fun and having a good memory is what matters. (Click on the image for a larger picture on a separate page.)

The mighty and beautiful Columbia River, from Vista House

Vista House has one of the best views in the United States, at least for those who want to drive to their viewpoints. I love this perch, and I have been coming here now for more than 30 years. (The fun part was singing happy birthday to Vista House with other visitors and the Oregon State Parks crew, who were giving out free birthday cake. Vista House is 96 years old as of today.)