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Will and me partway up Beacon Rock, on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

Will came to visit from Rhode Island for two weeks. Prior to this visit he had never stepped foot into Washington or Oregon. I was delighted to be able to show his virgin eyes my favourite part of the world. On our first day back home after Seattle, the day dawned sunny once more, and that meant we had to get outside and explore!

Beacon Rock beside the Columbia River. Photo by Jen Thomas.

This time we went out into the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side because Will was interested in climbing Beacon Rock. The rock is not only remarkable to see, standing alone like a sentinel as it does, but it also has interesting stories behind its formation and its use as a viewpoint.

The rock is a remnant of a volcano that erupted 57,000 years ago – recently, in geologic time. When the eruption was finished, lava that had filled the core cooled and hardened. Between 15 and 13 thousand years ago, a massive event known as the Missoula Floods sent wave after wave of incredibly high floodwaters crashing to the sea, carving and shaping the gorge that I love today. The water eventually eroded the mountain, leaving only the hard lava core.

In 1805, William Clark described and drew the rock in his journals, and in 1806 his traveling companion Meriwether Lewis gave it the name it still holds today.

They were obviously not the first people to note the rock. American Indians used it as a landmark to identify the last dangerous rapids to negotiate – if traveling by boat – before reaching the sea. The Bonneville Dam is visible from the trail as one climbs the rock.

View from the top, looking east toward Bonneville Dam. For a larger image so you can see the dam, just click!

In 1814, Nicholas Biddle edited the journals of Lewis and Clark for publication. Almost exactly 100 years later, his descendent Henry J. Biddle purchased the rock for $1 and began building a trail. He finished it in 1918. Biddle’s children gave the rock to the state of Washington in 1935 so that it could be made into a state park.

My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly that I might build a trail to the summit.   ~H. Biddle

The trail remains today and is one mile long with 53 switchbacks. There is a small viewing place at the top, 848 feet up. There are great views all the way up, so you don’t have to reach the top for a reward. However, if you do press on (and if you skate over the icy patches we found on the shady west side), you have a 360-degree view from the top.

It looks scarier than it is. But yes, it’s basically a path on the side of a rock.

The view west toward Portland/Vancouver.

There are many many switchbacks that make you gasp for breath.

The solution for gasping is to take photos along the way.

Will climbs a rock staircase onto the viewing platform at the top.

At the bottom of the hill, we next crossed the Bridge of the Gods, which gets its name from an American Indian legend that talks about another Bridge of the Gods found in this same place in the river. If you read the book, or saw the movie “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon, the character chooses the bridge as her final destination before quitting the Pacific Crest Trail.

On the other side of the river is the state of Oregon. We hit Interstate 84 and turned west toward Portland again. But we had to make another stop. Will’s virgin eyes needed to see the astonishing waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. I pulled off the highway exit to Multnomah Falls, one of the most visited tourist attractions in the state of Oregon. It is named after one of the gods in the bridge story I mentioned above.

Multnomah Falls is a familiar sight, but I never tire of it.

Looking from the bridge out to the tourists below and the Columbia Gorge out there in the sunshine.

Sometimes the best view of the falls is from the parking lot, where you can see the whole thing. On this day, the snow and ice confused the view. The Blue Star Highway sign honors US Armed Forces.

We walked up to the base of the falls and Will was duly impressed with the 620 foot falls. “Just like in Rhode Island!” he joked. We hiked up the trail to the bridge you can see in the photo.

By then we were starving, and it was time to indulge in the fare at the Multnomah Falls Lodge. The lodge is gorgeous outside and inside, featuring walls of glass panes so that we could look at the falls while we ate. The lodge theme is maintained inside the restaurant, with rustic and historic decor, and a massive fireplace. The food is always high quality.

Adventuring spirits and bellies sated, we made the long drive back home to Rainier.

Only Multnomah Lodge can make a burger and a gyro sandwich look so good.

One of my many guises

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