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.
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.
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.
I’m finally in the Pacific Northwest of the United States after several months of talking about it. Actually, I’ve been out here for awhile and auto-posting articles to the Twelve Mile Circle that I wrote in advance. Could you tell I wasn’t writing in real-time? The next few articles will relate to my travels through various portions of the states of Washington and Oregon. I know some members of the 12MC audience prefer geo-oddities rather the travelogues and that’s perfectly fine, so if that’s the case then please feel free to come back in about a week with no hard feelings.
This was the approximate route I drove during Phase I for those of you who’d like to follow along at home.
We landed at Sea-Tac airport near Seattle and quickly headed inland. I’ve explored the Pacific coastline and the Olympic Peninsula a couple of times before so I wanted to see something a little different this time. Plus I wanted to add some counties to my list. One should never lose sight of that as a motivator for my travels. It’s a way to force myself to break from a routine and discover new places.
Snoqualmie Falls was a natural stopping-point directly along Interstate 90 heading away from Seattle. The Snoqualmie River drops 268 ft (82 m) in pretty dramatic fashion. This was a drive-by opportunity and we didn’t stay for long, just long enough to take in the scenery for a few moments. My wife and I visited here in 1998 before we had kids and we wanted to show them something fascinating from our earlier trip.
The thermometer read 61° Fahrenheit (16° Celsius) at the falls. The boys complained about the cold.
Three hours later and nearly due southeast we arrived in the Tri-Cities area of Washington where the thermometer read 102°F. (39° C.). The boys changed their story and now said they preferred the cold. People from the east coast often roll their eyes when told, "it’s a dry heat" out west. Seriously though, give me triple-digits in scrubland over the same thing in the Mid-Atlantic’s humidor any day. A little shade, a light breeze, and it was all surprisingly present compared to the sweltering heatwave we’d just survived the previous week in the "other" Washington a continent away.
We wandered down to Kennewick’s Columbia Park which ran for many miles along the banks of the Columbia River. One portion is maintained by the Audubon Society as a Lower Columbia Basin Natural Area. This green oasis provided a sense of surprising remoteness even within a largely-populated area. It was near here that the remains of Kennewick Man were discovered in 1996. He was a Paleo-Indian who lived along the Columbia River probably 9,000 years ago, and his discovery is considered significant to the archeological record. It’s even more amazing considering that he was found in the middle of an urban area, and it happened by accident when his bones were spotted by spectators watching a hydroplane race.
There is abundant recent history in this area, too. It’s deep within Lewis and Clark country. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition stopped at the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers between October 16 and October 18, 1805, and would complete their renowned journey to the Pacific Ocean a month later.
Today the site is Sacajawea State Park in Pasco, Washington (Sacajawea being the Lemhi Shoshone woman who accompanied the expedition for much of the time as an interpreter and a guide). It’s right on the edge of the Tri-Cities area today.
Water is a precious resource out here. Miles of irrigated agricultural fields line river valleys in a narrow band of greenery. Stark lines separate green from brown where irrigation stops. Apples, grapes, onions, corn, wheat, and countless other crops grow in abundance. I enjoyed the hops trellises driving south out of Yakima in particular. Something like 70% of all hops grown in the United States come from the Yakima Valley. I also appreciated the sheer volume of wineries. It’s impossible to drive more than a couple of minutes without finding yet another opportunity for a quick wine tasting. They specialize in big, bold red wines, which also happen to by my favorite. These were happy days, indeed.
We visited the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Ice Harbor Lock and Dam visitor center on the Snake River, just upstream from the Tri-Cities. They don’t allow cameras inside the perimeter but the guard said it was fine to film all I liked from the parking lot. The slightly diagonal concrete structure on the left side of the video is a fish ladder. The visitor center has an underwater window where people can watch migrating fish swim upstream. It was an incredible spectacle. Shad were running at the time although we also spotted a few salmon.
Ice Harbor is used to generate hydroelectric power and creates Lake Sacajawea behind it.
Our final stop in Washington was Walla Walla, where we toured through Fort Walla Walla. This was a great little museum that featured local history of the surrounding region and included a row of pioneer buildings that have been rescued, rehabilitated and preserved for posterity. We also got a chance to meet longtime 12MC reader "Matthew" for lunch at a nearby brewpub. I was going to post a photo but apparently I was just about to blink as the picture was taken and I looked pretty goofy. Nonetheless it was great to finally meet Mathew in person after reading his comments on 12MC for the last three-or-so years.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.