|We could not leave Oregon without a visit to the Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge areas. After a careful look at the weather, we picked Friday as the most likely day for sunshine, a much needed factor for maximum enjoyment of these areas. And the weather did not disappoint. Despite the fact that we left Portland behind enshrouded in clouds (I seriously do not know how people live in a place where the sun shines so few days – I think the weather has impacted my mood lately), we were treated to clear, blue skies once we hit the core of the Mount Hood scenic loop which took us from Boring, OR (could you imagine living in that town?!) through Sandy – the gateway to Mount Hood, to the Timberline Lodge at the base of Mount Hood. The Timberline Lodge was built in the 1930s as one of the many the New Deal projects funded by the U.S. government (2008 is the 75th anniversary of the New Deal). It sits at 6,000 feet with an average snow depth of 21 feet (the snow line seemed to start at about 3,000 feet in elevation in the Cascades – for those of us from Denver that seems incredibly low. Our house in Golden sits at 7,500 feet and we are certainly not getting close to 21 feet of snow).
The Timberline Lodge provides ski lifts to year round skiing on Mount Hood, which looms above the lodge at 11,235 feet. The lodge itself remains incased in snow, even in May. It really is amazing how much snow the Cascade Mountain range receives each year. As we drove up to the Timberline Lodge all of the campgrounds and hiking areas, which during the winter months are called Sno Parks, were still covered with snow. So, hiking around the area was quite limited (and I guess would remain so until the end of June). The lodge was selling ski passes that were valid from March through May 2008 for $99 - so the skiing must be THAT good, even through May. Most of the cars in the parking lot had Washington license plates with a spattering of Oregon ones as well.
We continued driving the scenic loop, passing through a section known as the “fruit loop” where pear trees, apple trees, and berry bushes were in full bloom – it was like we had stumbled upon spring again since most of the trees were still flowering on this side of Mount Hood. In the late summer to early fall these farms provide a wonderful cornucopia of “u-pick-em” sites for local Oregonians to enjoy. The amount of agriculture in Oregon is truly astounding and absolutely wonderful (I really enjoy driving through agricultural areas in our country). Perhaps I am just so amazed by it because in Colorado we have such a limited growing season and we grow so little (with most of the agriculture situated on the plains, which is an area that we rarely, if ever, drive through). But it is really cool to see so much land still preserved for farming – and not for farming by big, giant corporations like ADM.
The descent down from the Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood leads to the impressive Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River provides a natural boundary between Washington and Oregon, with land built up from ancient lava flows creating natural plateaus for wonderful overlooks and housing developments. As you travel east along the river the amount of precipitation drops one inch per mile over a forty mile area – making for a stark contrast of the desert-like scenery east of the city of Hood River compared to the dense, lush fir and pine forests nearer to Portland.
The Columbia River is the largest river by volume to empty into the Pacific and it flows at such an intense rate as to make it a fantastic producer of hydroelectric power. In fact, the Columbia River is the largest hydroelectric power producing river in North America.
We drove up river first to The Dalles Dam, enjoying some beautiful scenery from high above the river gorge (where BMW was preparing to shoot a commercial). The Dalles Dam was completed in 1957 by the Army Corp of Engineers. The dam includes 22 power turbines (enough to power 800,000 homes), a lock to permit barges and boats to pass through, and fish ladders to assist the salmon during their migration up river. Before the dam was built Celilo Falls, which was upriver from the dam, made commercial traffic up and down the river extremely hazardous. Initially, commercial traffic traversing the river would have to unload their goods at the Falls and port them over land (first by horse, then by train, and finally by a canal) thirteen miles beyond the falls where they would be reloaded on a waiting boat to finish their voyage by water. The building of the locks, along with the creation of Celilo Lake by flooding the falls, made commercial traffic easier and more affordable – allowing for wheat, timber and other commodities to move to market quicker. Of course, at the same time, it deprived the Native Americans of the prime fishing habitat that Celilo Falls provided.
Even today, the controversy over the dams along the Columbia River gorge continues to be debated. Although the benefits of cheap electricity and flood control are hard to ignore, the building of the dams caused further erosion of Native American land rights, it has negatively impacted the salmon fishing industry by providing barriers to migrations up and down the river, and, although it has promoted farming through the irrigation of lands which were previously dust bowls, the leaching of chemicals from the agriculture industry has degraded the water quality of the river. The dams are very aware of the different viewpoints regarding their existence and The Dalles Dam exhibits took care to provide all sides to the issues. The dams up and down the Columbia River Gorge also take an enormous amount of care to preserve the salmon fishing industry. All of the dams have fish ladders which assist in providing a safe passage for the salmon (and other fish species, but primarily salmon) to leave fish hatcheries (both natural and farms run by the state) and move to the Pacific and back again to spawn. Human fish counters sit in rooms all day long watching the fish swim by a window and counting each species in order to monitor the impact of the dams and to control sport fishing in the lakes created by the dams (naturally spawned salmon that are caught must be thrown back – salmon that are farm raised have their fin clipped, which indicates to the fisherman that it can be kept).
As we drove down river on our way back to the campsite, we stopped at Bonneville Lock and Dam. This dam was constructed between 1933 and 1937 as one of the many public works projects funded through the New Deal. Over 3,000 people were employed in building this dam, many from outside the state of Oregon who came for the gainful employment provided by the project. Skilled workers earned $0.90 per hour and unskilled workers earned $0.50 per hour. The Bonneville Dam provides hydroelectric power for 500,000 homes, locks for commercial barges to traverse the waterway, and fish ladders for migrating salmon. During WWII, the hydroelectric power generated by the Dam was critical to powering ship building and aircraft plants needed for war production.