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BRIDGE of the GODS Magazine

Highways and Byways of the Columbia River Gorge

Jul 13, 2020 09:05PM ● By Katie Cordrey
McCall Point Overlook showing access trail and the Columbia River

Tom McCall Overlook ©Alan - Flickr ‘adavey’

The Columbia River Gorge invites you to explore its abundance of roads, trails, waterways, flyways, and even the proverbial unbeaten path.

While I-84 speeds along the river’s south shore, Oregon’s Historic Columbia River Highway and Washington’s Lewis and Clark Trail Scenic Byway offer more leisurely travel routes. The roads connect and cross and yield opportunities for exploration and adventure. Take Oregon’s Highway 35 from Hood River and visit Mt. Hood. Go northwest from Biggs Junction on Highway 97 to find the unlikely spectacle of Maryhill Museum of Art - a mansion, perched high above the Columbia River is quite literally, in the middle of nowhere.

Old Gorge Highway Guardrail ©Eric Frommer - Flickr ‘armadilo60’

 The river itself is a transportation corridor, hosting boats and barges and linking towns to trade and fish to freshwater habitat as well as to the saline waters of the Pacific Ocean. Stop at one of the dams’ visitor centers for a glimpse beneath the river’s water.

Counting fish is a paid occupation here. The rumble of a passing train may greet you on exit.

Train spotting is a popular pastime for some, akin to cow-tipping for others. No matter, passengers and freight move steadily along the railways that have been part of the Gorge for nearly one-hundred and seventy years. The first trains provided portage around impassable rapids and falls. Their successors lured easterners west with promises of wealth and opportunity. Trains are a fascinating piece of the region’s history and of modern-day life.

I-84 along the Columbia River, Oregon ©Robert Ashworth - Flickr ‘theslowlane'

 In the surrounding landscape, paws and feet scurry duff-covered paths and rocky outcrops to access the many waterfalls, streams, and spectacular viewpoints that populate the Gorge. More substantial trails give entry to logging equipment and timber workers. Some trails are closed in winter. Some remain in recovery after fire. These paths are reminders that life is on the move. Nothing is truly still.

Overhead, birds journey north and south along the Pacific Flyway while airliners make their way to major airports, and small planes seek out rural runways. The view from above is encompassing -- connective.

These thoroughfares define the region and give meaning to place. They serve as a conduit for the living beings reliant upon them. They offer admittance to the assorted adventures, large and small, that make the Gorge an incredible place to live, work, and play.