Beacon Rock (take two), fish and Indians

View east
View east from Beacon Rock September 2013
Beacon Rock
Beacon Rock February 2013
Scene of the ruined trail this winter. Photo credit: Washington Trails Association.
Scene of the ruined trail this winter. Photo credit: Washington Trails Association.

Sunday I was scheduled for some mandatory overtime, so Saturday Arno and I took the opportunity to try Beacon Rock again. And the trail is open!

We had tried to climb to the top of the rock during the Winter, but a rock fall on January 25, 2013 had blocked the trail. We had a nice day hike anyhow.

On our way out of town, as I waited at a stop sign, still in my Montavilla neighborhood, we spied a tamale vendor on a bike across the street. We pulled over and bought some on a whim. $5 for six small tamales.

I decided to cross the Columbia River into Washington state, and take highway 14 out to Beacon Rock, rather than head east on the Oregon side, then cross Bridge of the Gods like we did in February. Highway 14 is so pretty, and I actively try to avoid the mental boundary that tries to form because of the river. Washington may as well be another country for as often as I go there, and I live about two miles from the border.

frogs in the bathroom
frogs in the bathroom

Portland was blanketed with stratus and damp with mizzle. (Misty drizzle. And yes, that is an official meteorological term.) About 30 minutes east brought us into full sunshine and warmth.

We arrived at Beacon Rock in late morning, and parked near the restrooms because I needed to use them. When I turned to go, I spotted these two handsomes in the stall with me. I started snapping photos and I wonder what the woman in the stall next to me thought I was taking pictures of!

This sign is placed for all the rock climbers and wannbes that leave the trail.
This sign is placed for all the rock climbers and wannbes that leave the trail.

We walked the short length to the base of the rock, and spent a little time looking at the cliffs. Arno spent a bit of energy trying to get me to say that I thought it would be fun to try to scale the face of it…but he didn’t get anywhere with that. (he never does, but he keeps trying 🙂 ) Instead, he admitted that the key point was that HE was excited about climbing the rock.

my rock climbing man
rock climbing man

It’s about a mile to the top of this solitary rock standing in the valley. It is a basalt tower that formed inside the core of a volcano. As I wrote in my blog this winter, Henry Biddle built a trail to the top just because he wanted to, and I think that’s a wonderful reason. One climbs 850 feet, mainly on switchbacks. The trail is old, but in very good shape, paved and bounded with railings at all points. There are wooden bridges and steps and ramps. The views of the magnificent Columbia River Gorge never stop.

Biddle's trail
Biddle’s trail
An open door, where a locked door had been found on our first attempt.
An open door, where a locked door had been found on our first attempt.
Looking over the edge onto some of the switchbacks we traversed.
Looking over the edge onto some of the switchbacks we traversed.

From the top there is a reasonable 200 degree view of the river. I had been expecting 360 degrees, but to be disappointed would be ungrateful. Gorgeous day! Gorgeous gorge!


We read the information sign talking about how the gorge was carved by the famous Missoula floods, as they carried rocks and icebergs between the two states we now call Oregon and Washington.  Ice dams in Montana burst periodically, 15,000 years ago, and sent catastrophic, otherworldly floods all the way across Idaho and Washington and into the Pacific Ocean. That’s a flood practically beyond comprehension.

Like with the tamales, I was still feeling spontaneous when we reached the bottom, and I suggested we go find some fish to buy.

The Indians in this region have been fishing since the first humans lived here. They have legal rights to continue to fish, and when they have too much, they sell it at little stands along the highway. I’ve been meaning to buy some fresh salmon for years, but I never seem to have the cash on me, or the time to stop. Today was my chance!

Only a few miles down the road, we found a sign “FRESH FISH,” and I pulled off the highway onto a little frontage road toward a long row of camp trailers and rickety wooden stands. I didn’t know how to choose where to go. We walked to one stand with a few people who looked up and greeted us as we arrived. We watched as the man behind the wooden stand expertly filleted a salmon for the two men standing there.

The man with the fish was named Frank, we found out later. Frank introduced his grandson, Benny, as a guy who was a lot of help around the place. So I asked 10 year old Benny, “What’s the difference between all these places selling fish?” I thought I was going to get an answer along the lines of different kinds of fish being sold, or different prices.

Benny deferred back to Frank, who went on for awhile about the trustworthiness of the sellers, the cleanliness of operations, and the reliability of the fish freshness. While he admitted that he was pretty sure he was related to every single seller out there, he couldn’t recommend any of them except one guy who wasn’t there that day. I suspected he was just trying to make a sale, till at one point in his animated stories, one of the guys buying the fish caught my eye and nodded his head at Frank and mouthed, “Buy your fish here.”

Frank with my $40 salmon
Frank with my $40 salmon. It looks small, but there was a lot of meat on it.

Choosing the fish, getting it gutted and filleted and packed with ice, all while Frank told his many stories, took some time. Arno said later that it reminded him of what Sherman Alexie had said when we went to see him in Portland. Alexie explained that you can’t hurry an Indian. Be patient and you’ll get what you want.

Chanterelles a few days old. What is left after I ate a bunch for supper.

While we waited, the guy buying the fish asked me, “Hey, you want some Chanterelles?” Heck yeah! I followed him to his truck and in the back he had baskets filled with mushrooms he and the other guy had just picked. He scooped as many as I could carry into my hands, and scooped another huge handful for Frank, and we carried them back to the fish stand as the fillets were finally presented to the buyer.

Instead of focusing on me, Frank turned to watch a family that had just showed up. They all looked like they were of western Asian descent. Frank showed them the fish in the coolers while I went to grab a paper towel from the stand to wrap up my mushrooms. Arno told me that while I was gone, Frank had instructed Benny, “Remember, for brown skin, it’s $5 a pound.” I love that he heard that! What a delicious glimpse into the intricacies of commerce.

The brown family decided not to buy, and left. It was my turn to buy a fish. I was still a little suspicious about whether we were at the right place until Frank said, “There goes Green Toes,” as his earlier customers left. “That was his boyfriend with him. He was wearing shoes today, but when he’s in sandals, you can see his green toenail polish.” Frank went on talking about gay men and how uncomfortable he was to have them there, but glad for the business and the mushrooms. That sealed the deal for me. If this gay man was a regular customer despite the obvious problem Frank had with him, then it must be the best fish!

Benny with the dog
Benny with the dog

While Frank cut up my salmon, Benny’s mom Betty came out of the trailer and began talking with us. The dog came out from beneath another trailer. Frank explained that his son was gone fishing and that he was with a friend who had rights to net fishing. “The rest of us platform fish,” he explained. “Our family came in after the dam covered Celilo Falls, so we don’t get the net rights.” (Anyone who lives here soon learns that the sacred falls and fishing grounds were destroyed when The Dalles Dam was built.) I was learning so much standing there in the sun with the buzzing flies. Another Indian at a different stand turned on drum music from his truck stereo and Benny began dancing. They were a fun family.

Frank hadn’t weighed my fish, but suggested $35 and I agreed since Green Toes’ fish was about the same size and he had paid $40. When I pulled out my purse to pay for it, I found that I didn’t have change, and happily handed over $40. If we ate huge portions this was about five salmon dinners for Tara and me, the fish was probably less than 24 hours out of the water, and I had just had an hour of entertainment. It was totally worth the price!

Arno and I found a park by the water in Stevenson, and we ate our tamales and drank some Kokanee beer for lunch. Then we made our way back home and I began barbecuing salmon and zuchinni for supper, and fried up half the mushrooms in garlic and butter.

4 thoughts on “Beacon Rock (take two), fish and Indians

  1. I love the story behind Biddle’s trail … and the geologic history of the gorge. Gorgeous!! I’d love to see that!
    Salmon and zucchini sounds like a perfect ending to a great day.

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