Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 4, Day 23, The Dalles, Mount Rainier

Published: July 13th 2018
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8/2 On our last morning in Hood River, Debbie made a breakfast of French toast accompanied by real maple syrup. Homemade blueberry and strawberry sauces were set on the table along with a bowl of scrambled eggs and a plate of chicken sausage. As we left, our host Don kindly gave us a large bag of fresh picked, not organic but delicious, Hood River cherries for our next journey.

Once again we were dissuaded on going somewhere, this time to The Dalles and again I am glad I didn’t listen. By 9:30am we were driving east on 84 to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center following the Columbia River all the way. The wide open desert like landscape was in contrast to the heavily treed region along route 30, but a welcoming sight to me since I love open desert landscapes. Proceeding east of Hood River toward The Dalles we encountered dense smog muddying our views of the bluffs lining the edge of the Columbia River. Thankfully the skies cleared when we reached the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum in The Dalles. This beautiful and thoughtfully designed museum is situated in a desert-like landscape that overlooks the Columbia River. An old once-covered wagon was sitting amidst the sage brush and tawny grasses just outside the museum as a reminder that pioneers used similar means to travel this rough terrain to get here. Once inside the museum you are met with an impressive long narrow tiled floor with a curving black marble inlay representing the winding Columbia River. At the end of the long corridor sits a long dug out canoe in front of a large plate glass window that overlooks the Columbia River Gorge. Very well thought out!

In the museum we traveled in time from the Ice Age with the first “immigrants” who traveled over the Bearing Straight to what is now the United States, to the lives of the first people to live here, the Native Americans, to the pioneers who came in search of gold, farmland, a better life or adventure. Museum signs spoke of the fisheries, logging and hunting, work of the people who settled the area. I read a sign on the wall talking about the salmon here back in the day, that said “Some said the fish were so bountiful in the Columbia River a person could walk across the river on their
Curving black marble inlay represents the Columbia RiverCurving black marble inlay represents the Columbia RiverCurving black marble inlay represents the Columbia River

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum
backs.” Over-fishing, turbines, agricultural run off and dams have had a terrible impact on the once great salmon runs. Walt Whitman writes appropriately in “Birds of Passage,” from the Leaves of Grass, “Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways, Pioneers! O pioneers!” I read A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher who describes through her family history the trials of traveling west to the great unknown. This book among others helped prepare me for a better understanding of this land and its human challenges. The docent at the museum recommended the Pulitzer Prize novelist book Honey in the Horn by Harold Davis about the Wasco County region. It’s now on my list.

We left the museum around noon, headed west on historic route 30 for 7 miles, then picked up 84 west. We had taken 84 east to The Dalles a few hours earlier when the views there were clear and lovely. By the time we headed back toward Portland we saw smoggy skies begin to cloud the photos I had planned to take on the way back. We stopped at the famous Bonnevile Dam and Fish Hatchery in Cascade Locks, Oregon. Signs for The Bradford Island Visitor Center pointed to the US Army Corp of Engineers. These impressive dams are well protected. There are four levels in the facility and we started our tour on the bottom level to peer in the fish ladder window inside the building. A number of lazy lamprey eels were hanging out, their not so attractive mouths stuck to the window. After a while a few Coho and Chinook salmon appeared out of the gloomy water as they headed upstream. From there we headed outside to look down on the fish ladder but the fish were less visible from this viewpoint and certainly were not “jumping” up the ladder. Docents were on hand to explain the fish life cycle, incubation, feeding and spawning cycles.

We left Oregon with a long drive ahead. We were pretty hungry half way to our destination with a long smoggy "drive to nowhere" ahead so we stopped off Highway 5 to find some lunch. There weren’t many restaurant options to choose from without getting far off the highway so we stopped for lunch in Kelso, WA at a chain called Shari’s Cafe and Pies. Pies are their featured item, lots of them. Sadly mass produced,
Salmon and lamprey eels swim the fish ladderSalmon and lamprey eels swim the fish ladderSalmon and lamprey eels swim the fish ladder

Bonnevile Dam and Fish Hatchery, Cascade Locks, Oregon
sugary and pretty tasteless. I had asparagus soup, and ham and a bland broccoli quiche. Pies were included in the lunch. We both had a slice of cherry pie hoping for local fresh cherries but I am sure they came heavily sugared out of a can. Dave had Caesar salad and a chicken salad 1/2 sandwich all for $9.99 each so it was pretty cheap. Our meals were fairly predictable for a chain restaurant and what you would expect to find off a major interstate (Route 5). As we left we were told it was 101 degrees and yet I wasn't uncomfortable. We confirmed the smoky haze was from the BC fires north of Kamloops. The visibility was ok driving but the mountains (what mountains?) in the distance were obscured.

We had a long 3 1/2 hours plus drive from The Dalles, Oregon to Ashford, Washington via 84 west to north on Route 5 WA, (including stopping in Kelso for lunch) to the slow Route 12 east through farm lands to Route 7 north to 706 east to Ashford (phew) and our next scheduled two night stay at Alexander’s Lodge. We had decided we did not have time to detour off Route 5 to see Mt. St. Helens which turns out to have been the right decision, because if we had we would never have had any time at Mount Rainier before the sun set.

We checked in at Alexander’s Lodge, in Ashford, climbed up the steep stairs to our tiny room and unpacked. Because we were losing light, we quickly left the lodge around 6pm. One of the reasons I chose this inn was because it was not far from the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park giving us less driving time and more time to explore.

We drove the long steep drive up to Paradise stopping for photo ops only to find mountain views in smoke filled haze. It was still quite warm when we reached the parking lot in Paradise on the south slope of Mount Rainier, the often glacier-shrouded but this time smoke haze engulfed volcano. We stepped inside the large Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center lodge to read the temperature predictions for tomorrow, spoke with some rangers, picked up some maps and advice, then hiked up to the historic 1917 Paradise Inn to sit, relax, and listen to the piano player in the grand lobby. Old black and white photographs lined the lobby wall depicting a time of elegance in the park during 1920s. It was these early visitors who named this breathtaking place “Paradise”. I grabbed a cookie for Dave and a coconut water for me at the Tatoosh Cafe and we sat on the patio to watch for the Mountain alpenglow. Dave was tired so I drove us back to the lodge around 8pm (about 1/2 hour down, but with traffic it was much longer coming up).

When we drove down the mountain and got back to the inn the temperature was over 80 degrees inside our room. We struggled with the air conditioner that didn’t seem to work making the room very hot at first, then a little cooler but ultimately less than adequate. We collapsed into bed for a very restless night in a very hot room. We later learned that in addition to the uncomfortable heat, if you and your partner are not equally weighted you will likely struggle to stay on your side of the bed. I kept sliding into Dave during the night so the mattress was not the best and neither was our rest. At least it was quiet.


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