Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Oregon Trail


Roll On, Columbia

Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through

Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew

Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue

Roll on Columbia, roll on.---Woody Guthrie

Folk singers are often the bane of the federal government, but in 1941 Woody Guthrie spent one month working for it.  The feds, in the process of constructing huge hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, faced powerful opposition from private utilities and decided they needed a little PR help.  Woody Guthrie responded to the Batsignal and showed up at the Bonneville Power Administration one day to visit government rep Dr. Paul Raver.  His driver-to-be and guide for the month was a fellow named Elmer Buehler, who would be 106 years old today if he was still erect.  For all we know, he still is.  I noted an angler who looked suspiciously like Elmer on the south riverbank near Bridalveil Falls.  He doffed his fedora as we passed.

“Woody sat there on the administrator’s desk,” Elmer recalled, “and strummed his gee-tar.  I don’t think he was there over half an hour when Dr. Raver said, ‘Well, you’re hired.’”  Woody got paid $266.66 for his trouble, which goes to show you musicians have been getting the short end of the stick for almost 75 years and you can’t always blame bad management.  When the month was over, Guthrie had penned 26 songs, including Roll On Columbia, Grand Coulee Dam and Pastures of Plenty, recording some of them in the basement of the agency’s headquarters.  Roll on Columbia was written after Woody had seen the Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland.  Seventy years later, white water still rushes through the hydroelectric generators in the dam, creating enough power for entire towns.  Who says the government never does anything right?

There may not be a single person over fifty in this country who has not heard this song at least once.  Bob Dylan recorded it, as did Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and even Country Joe McDonald.  I heard Janis Joplin sing it several times in Austin, Texas in 1962 and I listened to Woody’s son, Arlo, deliver it in White Springs, Florida decades later, but until July of this year I had never caught sight of the mighty roller.  Now, I have.  It was well worth the wait.


The Columbia River Gorge at Crown Point





Vista House at Crown Point.  Primo location for viewing The Gorge.

The Interstate 84 Bonanza

Now, Washington state is extremely proprietary about the Columbia River, even knighting Woody’s ditty as the official state folk song.  The Emerald City Supporters, a fan group of the Seattle Sounders soccer team sings the chorus of Roll on Columbia at the 12th minute of each home match.  But the truth of the matter is, the Columbia separates the abutting states of Washington and Oregon, giving the lower state equal claim to the river.  And the treasure trove of tourist sites along Interstate 84 in Oregon, beginning with the Columbia River Gorge and extending eastward, more than matches anything on the north side, with stops often located only minutes apart.

To quote The Bard, they’ve got a lov-a-ly bunch of waterfalls.  See them all a-standing in a row.  Big ones, small ones, some as big as your ‘ed.  But none of them as magnificent as astounding Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon and most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s a corker, and only a short hop from the main road.  Fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain, the flow over the falls varies but is usually highest during Winter and Spring.  It’s nothing to sneeze at in Summer, either.

The more adventuresome visitors can follow a steep trail from the information center to Benson Bridge, which spans the upper and lower falls and offers spectacular photo opportunities if you can fight your way through the mobs of cell phone amateurs (like us).  From there, Larch Mountain Trail climbs a series of switchbacks, rising 600 feet to the top of Multnomah Falls.  The hike from the lodge to the upper overlook is 1.2 miles of serious climbing, so bring water and a shot of adrenaline.  If you’re still in a good mood, you can continue up Larch Mountain, the highest peak within the Scenic Area boundaries.  If you wish to retreat from the madding crowd, there are smaller (and less crowded) waterfalls scattered all around the Multnomah area.  An advisory: if you fall into the water, make sure you’re wearing your parachute.




Views from below and the bridge: Awe-inspiring Multnomah Falls.

Mount Hood Reverie

Heading east from Multnomah, you will soon reach the county seat and largest city in beautiful Wasco County.  It’s called The Dalles, so named by olden fur trappers who used the French word for gutter to describe a narrow passageway confined between the walls of a canyon.  At The Dalles, we turned south to follow Route 197 toward Bend, our stopping place for the night.  The highway runs right by and very close to the awesome Mount Hood, visible for miles around.  The mountain’s perpetually snowy peak is crowned by eleven glaciers, one for every thousand feet it rises above sea level.  We pulled into one of the six semi-closed ski areas at the base to get a better look.  Up close or far away, Mount Hood looks more like a painting than a real, live mountain.  Is it really there or is it just a massive fabrication, a trick played on trusting eyes?  We walked as close as we could get without stirring the consternation of an uncomfortable work crew which thought we might somehow damage their mountain.  The photos we got reinforce the notion that some clever artist threw up a gigantic canvas and created the whole thing.  Next year’s skiers, alas, will be irritated to discover they are merely participating in someone else’s fantasy.


It looks like a painting, doesn’t it, this Mount Hood?  Or maybe an artistic postcard photoshopped in a lab.  You approach and you wonder if it’s really there, this lovely monster, this apparition, this treat for the eyes.

Mood Indigo

“You ain’t seen blue…no…no…no.

You ain’t seen blue ‘til you’ve seen that mood indigo.”

With apologies to Duke Ellington, we demur.  You ain’t seen blue ‘til you’ve seen Oregon’s Crater Lake.  At least those of you heretofore deprived of cataract surgery and inexperienced in the unequalled skies of Dilation Blue.  I had heard about these sapphirine waters all my life and approached the overlook with great anticipation.  Then, disappointment.  Why, these waters looked positively….well….navy blue.  “Try it without your sunglasses,” said Siobhan, ever the sly one.  Ooooh, much  better!

Crater Lake National Park is in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon, its centerpiece gem formed by the collapsed volcano, Mount Mazama.  The dot in the water is Wizard island, a cinder cone near the western edge of the lake.  A violent eruption 7700 years ago triggered the demise of Mazama and the birth of its royal blue offspring.  At 1949 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the most pristine on Earth.  There are no rivers flowing into or out of the lake.  Evaporation is compensated for by rain and snowfall at such a rate that the total amount of water is completely replaced every 250 years.  The lake is 5 by 6 miles across, with a caldera rim ranging in elevation from 7000 to 8000 feet.

Crater Lake is a long way from anywhere.  You won’t run into the place on your way to the market.  And being in the middle of nowhere always contributes to hairy fodder about such icons.  Tales of strange disappearances abide, rumors of ghostly encounters proliferate, legendary beasts are said to traverse the area.  Bigfoot, himself, drops in from time to time, and if you don’t believe us, ask the crew of park rangers who reported following a dark, putrid-smelling creature through the woods until the thing started throwing pine cones at them (and no, there are no biker bars in the area).

UFOs are no strangers to the terrain, either.  In February of 1997, a jet pilot reported military aircraft pursuing discs above the lake.  Later that night, a loud sonic boom was heard all across western Oregon.  Strange lights make periodic appearances in the area.  The Klamath Indians fear and respect the lake but feel that gazing for long on its splendid blue surface brings death or lasting sorrow.  The Modoc tribe, which lived on its borders for millenia and knew the mountain before the eruption, retain a strict taboo against the place.  It is evil, they say, the home of dark spirits.  People disappear there….an abnormal number have just vanished in and around the lake.  In October of 1991, searchers spent three weeks slogging through four feet of snow looking for Glenn Mackie, 33, of Brea, California after discovering his abandoned car in a parking lot.  His driver’s license, keys, passport were still in the vehicle but no trace of Mackie was ever found. 

In March of 1971, Nick Carlino of Grant’s Pass, Oregon disappeared while snowshoeing along the rim just west of Rim village.  When Nick’s German Shepherd returned to the cafeteria building alone, Nick’s wife quickly put together a search, eventually tracing Carlino’s snowshoe tracks to the crater’s edge, where they promptly disappeared.  If he’s down there someplace, Nick has plenty of company.  From 1926 to 1997, at least thirteen people, many of them photographers, have fallen to their deaths from the steep slopes of the crater.  Could be Crater Lake is camera-shy.  Could be the Sasquatch got ‘em.  My trusty partner Siobhan, the scientist, listened to all these tales with great interest.  “Bill,” she said, smiling, “Let’s go hiking in Klamath Falls instead.”


lake 5

lake 2

lake 1

lake 3

Got the Blues?  Crater Lake has you beat.

Around The Bend 

Why Bend?  The name was derived from “Farewell Bend,” the designation used by early pioneers to refer to the location along the Deschetes river were the town was eventually platted, one of the few fordable points along the river.  Not so long ago, Bend was almost out of business, bent, stapled and mutilated, the victim of a crashed timber industry, the only industry Bend had.  Population fell to 20,000, but Bend still had a few things going for it.  It was a beautiful place of rolling hills and mountain vistas with sunny days and crisp nights, the kind of place people visited because they felt good there.

Now the place is buzzing, filled with expat Californians, population nudging 80,000, calling itself the most entrepreneurial city in America.  Scot Bayless of the Irvine, Calfornia-based gaming company Fireforge tells visitors “You can smell it in the air.  The diversity of people bringing businesses here is astounding.  A community of big brains, here because they want to be.” 

Bend is cool now, reminding some of old-time Austin or maybe long-ago Boulder, but without the current-day traffic snarls of each.  There is money in Bend, plenty of it, as evidenced by the well-dressed clientele of the town’s restaurant row and the variety of unique retail shops in the downtown area.  We ate in a charming restaurant called The Brickhouse, staffed by bright, intelligent personnel, filled with a spiffy middle-aged clientele with no shortage of bling on their persons.  But danger lurks in Bend, as elsewhere in the Big O.  The streets outside were bustling and cheery but also riddled with The Oregon Presence, a considerable number of scroungy derelicts, all under 35, testing the limits of Beaver State permissiveness with their intrusive lifestyles, kept at bay for the present by a visible contingent of police and security personnel.  The locals didn’t seem to mind but tourists gave them a wide berth.  It will be interesting to see which way the chips fall in Bend and elsewhere in lovely Oregon, as the downtrodden numbers skyrocket in this effervescent would-be Paradise.

That’s all, folks….