A simple travel tip: Oregon is about as close to heaven as you can get.
by Paul Gerald
The first thing
I remember hearing about Oregon came from a friend there. She said she could
drive an hour east and go snow-skiing or mountain-climbing and drive an
hour west and be on the beach. I filed that piece of information away, and
in all the time I've spent since then exploring this wonderful place, the
revelations and excitations have never ceased.
let's go on a little driving tour of Oregon. Just beyond the eastern 'burbs
of Portland is the Columbia River Gorge, an area so beautiful that the government
had to create a new designation for it, the National Scenic Area. The Columbia
is the great river of the Northwest, as wide as the Mississippi at Memphis,
and right before it reaches Portland it flows through about 80 miles walled
in by 4,000-foot mountains.
Take an exit for the Historic Columbia River Highway,
a winding two-laner with intricate stone work, arched bridges, viaducts,
and tunnels. There are dozens of waterfalls in the Gorge, including Multnomah
Falls, right on Interstate 84 about 35 miles from downtown Portland. Multnomah
is a 620-foot free-fall; two years ago a boulder the size of a VW bus plunged
into the pool and sent water a couple hundred feet in every direction. A
steep 1-mile hike gets you to the top, where there are some "smaller"
falls in the 100-foot-or-so range and also an observation deck at the top
of Multnomah that will make your head spin.
On your way out of the Gorge you'll soon come into
the town of Hood River, where the winds whip through the Gorge and create
a windsurfing mecca, with hundreds of colorful sails decorating the river
on summer afternoons. From Hood River you can also take a train ride into
the hills or a riverboat cruise on the Columbia. Follow the Hood River past
wineries, golf courses, and B&Bs up to Mt. Hood itself, an 11,235-foot
volcano that is as much a part of the area's skyline as any office building.
Timberline Lodge is one of three ski areas, but it should be seen because
it was built as a WPA project in the 1930s, bringing in artisans and architects
from across the west to create a magnificent building at the top of the
forest. All the original furniture and woodworking is intact.
The east side of the Cascade Range is high desert,
as beautiful for its harsh dryness as the western slope is for its lush
forests and waterfalls. You would think you're in northern New Mexico as
you drive through sagebrush, past volcanoes, and onto powder-covered ski
Southern Oregon offers Crater Lake, 11,500 acres
of the bluest water your eyes can deal with, sitting on the top of a collapsed
volcano. You can take a boat tour or just sit and stare, or choose from
about 90 miles of backcountry hiking trails. The Pacific Crest Trail, which
traverses the entire Cascades on its route from Mexico to Canada, passes
through Crater Lake's backcountry. The nearby town of Ashland is famous
for its summertime Shakespeare festival.
The Oregon coast is the state's best-kept secret.
It has been kept relatively pristine by what must be one of the greatest
state laws ever passed: that no human habitation or construction may impede
the progress of people walking along the beach. That makes for close to
300 miles of sand, surf, cliffs, and rainforest, with fishing villages,
tourist towns, lighthouses, artist colonies, just a couple of resorts, and
all kinds of peace and quiet.
The northern end of all this splendor, at the 5-mile-wide
mouth of the Columbia, is the town of Astoria, the oldest American settlement
west of the Rockies. Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06 near here,
getting rained on all but five days between early December and mid-March
and securing the area's reputation forever. A replica of their home, Fort
Clatsop, is open daily.
Astoria was founded in 1811 as a fishing and port
town, and it's still crawling with Icelanders, Finns, Danes, Norwegians,
and Swedes. There are dozens of historic Victorian homes sprawled along
Astoria's hillside, but Astoria is all about the water. Canneries still
line the docks, the Columbia River Maritime Museum is a Smithsonian for
boat-lovers, and charters are abundant to go catch your own salmon, sturgeon,
On the way back to Portland, take a swing into
Washington State and visit Mount St. Helens, which blew its top in 1980.
A 10,000-acre forest still lies on its side, the bleached trunks pointing
directly away from the explosion, and a new visitor center sits less than
five miles from the crater. You can't go in the crater there, but you can
climb the other side of St. Helens for a $25 permit and a long day's walk.
Oregon is all about variety. Rivers, mountains,
forests, the ocean, waterfalls, wineries, hot springs, deserts, towns, and
a great city. Just go to Oregon, in the summer when it's not raining, and
you'll think you're in heaven.
For more information on visiting Oregon, call 800-547-7842.