The adventure ends. This article will post automatically as I’m flying somewhere over the vast interior of the United States assuming my WordPress blogging software operates correctly. I will likely be home by the time many of you read this. It’s been a great two weeks of traveling through corners of Washington and Oregon I’d never experienced before. Now I need to finish this vacation and readjust to reality. I plan to take a couple of days off from blogging and I’ll see you all next week after I catch-up on job responsibilities and household chores. Hopefully this final article within the Pacific Northwest series will provide sufficient 12MC goodness to see you through.
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This map, unlike the previous ones actually describes our route accurately, albeit we didn’t complete everything in a single day.
We’ve been blessed by great weather. Our drive past Mount Hood — the tallest peak in Oregon at 11,249 feet (3,429 metres) — was no exception. We’d been spotting glimpses of it all day as we traveled north out of Bend on a route towards Hood River. I don’t generally backtrack although I made an exception here. I had to stop the car and turn around briefly after this view of Mt. Hood appeared in my rear-view mirror.
I’ve been to the Pacific Northwest enough times to understand that this wasn’t an everyday sight.
I broke another one of my ironclad cardinal travel rules a couple of hours later: avoid the tourist hordes at all costs. There wasn’t an option. My wife and I had been to Multnomah Falls on our 1998 trip and were suitably impressed. We felt the kids needed to experience them too. Perfect summer weather. On a weekend. Right off an Interstate highway. Directly outside of a major metropolitan area (Portland). This wasn’t going to be a pretty traffic situation.
We prepped the boys that this might by a drive-by visit only. We left Interstate 84 and nudged down a narrow roadway at the base of the cliffs, the Historic Columbia River Highway. Near gridlock, bumper-to-bumper traffic greeted us as we closed-in on the falls. We drove past slowly and told the kids to look up towards their left. This would be their only opportunity to view of the falls, or so we though. Unexpectedly, right as I was about to exit towards the Interstate, a parking spot opened directly in front of me. What’s that old expression? "It’s better to be lucky than to be good?"
Regular readers know that I can’t bypass a ferry. Only one ferry remains on the lower Columbia River, the Ferry Wahkiakum, running once an hour between Washington and Oregon. Wahkiakum County, Washington operates its eponymous ferry as it has since taking over operations in 1962. It’s the only direct automotive connection between Wahkiakum County and Oregon, which is why I suppose the ferry continues to exist even though bridges can be found to the east and the west.
Astoria is a quaint town near the mouth of the Columbia River on the Oregon side of the border. It has roots going all the way back to a fort established in 1811 by the American Fur Company, and named after the company owner, John Jacob Astor. Bear in mind that this occurred only about five years after Lewis and Clark first covered the expanse of North America to a spot very near this point.
Furs are long gone. Tourism seems to be the dominant industry in Astoria today with all of its art galleries, gingerbread Victorian architecture and Bed-and-Breakfast inns. It’s a great little weekend getaway for people living in Portland.
I took this photograph from the Astoria Column, a 125 ft. / 38m. tower atop the highest hill in town. Notice the bridge that spans the Columbia River with the state of Washington on the far side. It’s only about 20 minutes from Ferry Wahkiakum which is why the old ferry felt like such an anachronism, albeit a pleasant one.
We’d been chasing Lewis and Clark since the Tri-Cities almost two weeks earlier, and we arrived at the Pacific Ocean in a similar location. We toured Cape Disappointment on the Washington side of the border where the Corps of Discovery Expedition observed the ocean before crossing back to Oregon and settling-in for the winter of 1805-1806.
We went just slightly north of the Cape to present-day Long Beach, Washington.
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I couldn’t help one last bit of geo-geekiness on our final leg towards SeaTac airport. Mason County had long been a "doughnut hole" on my Washington State map of counties visited. I veered from Highway 8 a short distance to clip Mason County and finally capture it. That empty spot on my map had been taunting me for years and I felt this might be one of very few opportunities to resolve that discrepancy. Problem solved.
Now it’s time to return home.
Other articles in this travelogue:
Bill Williams’ Fingerprints appeared on the Twelve Mile Circle about a year ago. Mr. Williams was "one of the classic mountain men of the old west" whose name carried forward to various geographic features throughout Arizona, as I noted at the time. This inspired longtime reader Pfly to comment, "This post makes me think about the John Day River." I tucked that thought away to explore another day. Now that day has arrived. It’s John Day’s day.
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Like Williams, Day was an early trapper and explorer in the American West, although he concentrated much further north, all the way into Oregon. He also has several geographic features named for him including the town of John Day in Oregon along the John Day Highway.
Day traveled through the west even earlier than Williams. He was already an accomplished mountain man when he joined the Astor Expedition in late 1810, the first American effort to establish a fur trading post in the distant west. Their goal was to establish a presence at the mouth of the Columbia River while preventing the British from doing the same. The overland portion of this expedition discovered vital paths over the mountains that would later become key links in the Oregon Trail. This was all happening just a few years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, so John Day was earning a living in the far western wilderness very early.
The expedition ran into serious problems along the way:
The party became divided and widely separated. Experiencing hardships, John Day’s group dwindled to two people. He and Ramsey Crooks eventually reached the mouth of the Mah-hah River along the Columbia. There, a band of American Indians took everything they had, including their clothes. They were rescued and reached Astoria (Oregon) in 1812, where he settled nearby. Due to this incident, people traveling along the Columbia River would point out the mouth of the river where John Day was robbed. By the 1850′s, the Mah-hah River was referred to and renamed the John Day River.
John Day spent the rest of his life hunting and trapping in the Pacific Northwest. It is believed that he was born around 1770 in Culpepper County, Virginia and passed away sometime around 1819-1820 along the south bank of the Columbia River. Little is known of Day other than his memorable adventures with the Astor Expedition.
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Getting to the mouth of the John Day River is considerably easier today than it was during the Astor Expedition. Interstate 84 passes directly above the John Day as it follows the Columbia River along the northern extremes of Oregon. It’s difficult to imagine the hardships John Day endured at this spot during that fateful expedition.
Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license
Events occurring at the mouth of the river lent a name to its entire length and four branches. The river, then, lent a name to the town. It also provided a logical name for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument:
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a U.S. National Monument in Wheeler and Grant counties in east-central Oregon. Located within the John Day River basin and managed by the National Park Service, the park is known for its well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals that lived in the region between the late Eocene, about 44 million years ago, and the late Miocene, about 7 million years ago.
This national monument is within a reasonable proximity to where I’ll be staying in Oregon this summer. I’ll add this to my list of possible places to visit.
Other places named for John Day include Dayville, OR (map), the John Day Dam on the Columbia River, and various smaller geographic points of interest throughout Oregon. That’s quite a legacy to commemorate a single event in the wilderness taking place two hundred years ago.
Every once in awhile I’m honored to share content or even an entire guest post written by a loyal Twelve Mile Circle reader. We are very lucky today. Marc Alifanz contributes his expert knowledge of Geo-oddities in Portland, Oregon. Marc is an experienced blogger both in his professional and personal life and as he demonstrates below, has a keen interest in geographic features both magnificent and unusual. He invites the 12MC community to add any other Portland oddities that you may know about. Thank you Marc for this incredible post.
Take it away, Marc…
I’ve been living in Portland, Oregon for about five years, and since I’ve been reading Twelve Mile Circle I’ve occasionally had the thought that a post on my new home town would be an appropriate and interesting post for the site. Here’s a list of some of the geo-oddity or geo-historically interesting features of Portland that I’ve come up with.
View Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon in a larger map
Portland is reputed to have the largest wilderness park inside a city limits in the United States. Forest Park is a lot of old growth or second (but still very old) growth that covers 5,100 acres in the West Hills of Portland, with a vast array of hiking and biking trails.
Smallest Municipal Park
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Portland also has the smallest municipal park in the world. Mill Ends Park has a diameter of 2 feet and is an officially recognized city park downtown along Naito Parkway, which runs along the Willamette River. I drive by it every day on my way home from work, and the shrubbery frequently changes, sometimes in very amusing ways.
Portland is one of only three cities in the United States with an extinct volcano within its city limits. Most people here say it’s the only one, but Wikipedia knows better. Mt. Tabor on Portland’s east side is an extinct volcano and city park. Hiking through the park you can walk in and around the long extinct caldera, which is pretty awesome. Mt. Tabor Park also houses a good portion of Portland’s reservoir system, which is one of the only open air systems of its size remaining in the US. The history and drama of the reservoirs alone could fill a book.
Mount St. Helens Smoke; © All rights reserved by Marc Alifanz
Four active or potentially active volcanoes can be seen from inside the Portland city limits, which has to be a record of some sort. This is fairly incredible when you think about it. On a clear day, from various points within the city limits, one can see Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and a very distant but still visible Mount Rainier. We are lucky enough to be able to see all four from our house on a clear day. My wife and I often rate the weather by the number of volcanoes we can see at a time. (“Good morning hon, looks like a 3 mountain day today.”)
More Than Four "Quadrants"
Portland is split into quadrants, but that apparently wasn’t enough. All streets in Portland have a quadrant designation. The north-south boundary line is Burnside Street. The east-west boundary is the Willamette River. All addresses carry a NW, NE, SW, or SE designation…except…just north of downtown, the River turns toward the northwest. To keep the numbering system consistent on a north-south basis east of the river, the city planners carved out a “fifth quadrant,” which carries a plain old “North” designation. Also, there is arguably a sixth/seventh quadrant because addresses along Burnside Street, the north/south border are considered neither north nor south, and carry just an E or W designation. Also, unknown to me until writing this, there is a “hidden” quadrant in SW [see map].
On the west side south of downtown, the RiverPlace, John’s Landing and South Waterfront Districts, which are all relatively new construction, lie in an area where addresses go higher from west to east toward the river. East-West addresses start with a leading zero. For example, this means 0246 SW California St. is different from 246 SW California St. While not technically a new quadrant (it still carries a SW designation), it is a unique deviation from the established numbering system.
Inspiring The Simpsons
The Simpsons: maybe not a geo-oddity per se, but a fun game for Simpsons nerds. On the west side of the river, starting with Burnside Street and moving north, all the streets start with subsequent alphabet letter…i.e. Burnside, NW Couch, Davis, Everett and so on up to NW Wilson Street. What everyone in town knows is that these streets serve as the names for various Simpsons characters, including, Burns (Burnside), Flanders, Lovejoy, and Quimby.
What many locals don’t realize is that there are several other hidden streets/cities around Portland that serve as Simpsons’ names. One of those is SW Terwilliger Blvd, which is the basis for Sideshow Bob’s last name, and also, the Montgomery Park building in NW Portland serves as Mr. Burns’ first name. The one I think very few people know about is N Van Houten Street, which inspires the last name of Bart’s friend, Millhouse. I’m guessing there may be others hidden around town I have yet to discover.
Also not a geo-oddity, but of possible interest is that Portland has the highest number of micro-breweries per capita of any city in the country. [editor's note: 12MC heartily approves]
Portland was originally founded by Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts and Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. Each wanted to name the new town after their place of origin. They flipped a coin, and Portland won. It’s probably a good thing it worked out that way, because two Bostons of very large size would have created more confusion than big Portland, OR and littler Portland, ME do now.
Nearby Geo-oddity: Sauvie Island
Morning fog over Sauvie Island; © All rights reserved by Marc Alifanz
This is one that is close to my heart, because I live just next to the only bridge providing access to Sauvie Island, which is unique in and of itself. The southern end of the island sits about a mile north of the Portland city limits. The south end sits in the Willamette River, and the part of the river that routes to the west of the island forms the Multnomah Channel. The Willamette River continues along the east side of the island where it empties into the Columbia River. The Multnomah Channel then empties into the Columbia some 15 miles further north by St. Helens, Oregon.
It’s a big island. Bigger than Manhattan. So big, in fact, that it constitutes the largest river island in North America, and the second largest freshwater island in the United States after Isle Royale in Lake Superior. The island is also steeped in history, dating back to 1792. Now it serves as an agricultural area (we buy all our produce there), a wildlife preserve, and has great sandy beaches along the Columbia on its northeastern shores. Although apparently safe enough for swimming, I don’t plan to go in given that it’s just downstream from about 50 Superfund sites (possibly the inspiration for Blinky on the Simpsons?).
Nearby Geo-oddity: Columbia River Gorge
Nuff said about this unbelievable and unique geographical formation, formed by the incredible Missoula Floods (which are also responsible for the extremely rich Willamette Valley soils), which houses some of the most amazing waterfalls and quasi-rain forests in the northwest including Multnomah Falls, the third tallest year round waterfall in the United States. Also, the Gorge is responsible for a large amount of Portland’s occasional snowfall, as it essentially acts as a wind funnel, shunting cold high desert air from the east in a westerly direction toward the Willamette Valley, and dropping the temperature just enough in Portland’s always rainy winter to make snow or ice. When I want to impress out of town visitors to Portland, this is where I take them.