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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.

Beacon Rock near Stevenson, Washington

Beacon Rock near Stevenson, Washington

Arno and I tried to hike up Beacon Rock today but our plans were foiled by a locked gate.

The trail held such promise

The trail (built in 1918 by Henry Biddle) held such promise

Columbia River Gorge from a height

There is no equal to the majestic view of the great Columbia River Gorge from a height. …but what is that? A door?

A locked door

A locked door, preventing would-be trespassers, wishing to pretend ignorance of the “closed trail” signs.

We parked and bought a season pass anticipating future hikes. A public service announcement to anyone heading this way: buy a pass at the trailhead! The Internet says there is no fee, but you must have a parking pass. A car next to us had been ticketed. Signs were clearly posted that the trail was off limits due to a rock fall in the winter. There were also notices that not all of the climbing faces were open. We walked round the barrier, and, finding the trail nothing but inviting – and noting the official Park vehicle parked across the road – remarked aloud that we would only be investigating the accessibility of the climbing wall.

I had hoped to find the rock slide and pick my careful way through it, and beg forgiveness should the Park official come after us. It was my first trip to Beacon Rock, and I eagerly anticipated ascent.

We checked the climbing wall, noticed some hardware fixed and waiting for one of Arno’s future attempts. Then, with no one about, we continued up the beautifully maintained trail. Around a couple turns we were able to see that there was no danger of us choosing to break the rules. The steel gate was chained and locked and there would be no passing it.

My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly so that I might build a trail to the summit  –Henry Biddle

Don’t you love that quote? Mr. Biddle has my complete understanding! I suppose I’ll climb his trail another day. At the bottom of the trail again, we saw from the map that we were at the trailhead of another short hike to tiny Ridell Lake, and we went there instead. The day had begun grey, cold, and windy, but along the trail we were sheltered from the wind and the sun broke free. Soon we were warmed and delighted by the views of Beacon Rock, which we never would have found otherwise. I took the photo above.030

We heard a crash in the trees nearby that sounded as if it had been made by an animal as large as a deer, and both of us stopped in our tracks and listened. We caught no sight of the source of the noise until I looked at the sharp impressions in the mud at our feet, which confirmed that it had been a deer. We spotted wild daffodils as well – just 020about to bloom! And the sun lit up a gorgeous fungus on the cut end of a log along the trail. Click the photos to enlarge the images.

Beacon Rock was known as an important landmark to Native Americans, who called it Che-che-op-tin, and it was first described in English by William Clark (half of Lewis & Clark) in 1805 and again in 1806. It was formed in the core of a volcano when molten basalt erupted. The Columbia River, and perhaps the famous Lake Missoula floods, wore away the outside of the small volcano, and left this striking wedge of rock for us to enjoy a thousand years later.

Looking toward Oregon. See the PCT sign in shadow on the right.

Looking toward Oregon, the PCT sign on the right.

We stopped before returning home along the Bridge of the Gods because we wanted to see how pedestrians would cross the great Columbia. There was no footpath, but it was clear the Pacific Crest Trail came out at this place. Further, the sign across the entrance to the bridge also declared it to be part of the PCT. Arno pulled out his magic phone and soon had the answer from the Internet: hikers walk across the bridge and pay a 50 cent toll like everyone else. The speed limit is 15 miles an hour, so that makes up for the apparent danger of having no safe place to walk other than in traffic.

a flocking of shocking pink

a flocking of shocking pink

Hungry by this time, we went into Stevenson for lunch and had a lucky find at Big River Grill, approved by the Sturgeon General, where we had scrumptious salmon cakes for an appetizer and could hardly settle on what to eat since nearly everything on the menu sounded perfect.  Across the street, the Class of 2012 had flocked the Skamania County Courthouse.

Just to be sure that we had the information correct, Arno asked at the tollbooth as we left the bridge, and it was confirmed that people were allowed to walk across the bridge.

We stopped at Cascade Locks on the Oregon side for photos of the bridge, with picturesque snowy peaks of southern Washington in the background.

Arno at the Bridge of the Gods

Arno at the Bridge of the Gods

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