OUTDOORS - A wealth of waterfalls

The Columbia River Gorge boasts 115 waterfalls in its 1,700 square miles.


A camera buff's perfect sunrise dawned at Rowena Crest a few days ago, but I missed it.

Well, mostly.

I spent 20 minutes pestering a motel clerk in The Dalles about a bill that confused me.

Finally, I accepted the verdict, mumbled, "Well, all right," and we left.

So, by the time Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I reached the bluff, the morning's vivid orange ball filled my lens.

I blinked.

A few shots, including those of the Rowena highway loop road, turned out OK, however.

We missed a perfect sunrise, I guess, but we still had a promising start on the day's tour of Historic Columbia River Highway waterfalls.

A paperback tome titled, "A Waterfall Lovers' Guide, Pacific Northwest," lists falls in 14 regions.

It lists the Columbia Gorge as the smallest region of the 14, yet it tabs the Gorge as having the greatest "density of waterfalls" in the Northwest.

The Gorge proudly boasts 115 "recognized" waterfalls in its 1,700 square miles.

Alas, that's too many falls to explore in one day, even if you start at sunrise from The Dalles.

Nevertheless, we left Rowena Crest with a plan and joined Interstate 84's westward flow.

The original scenic Highway 30, a project completed over a nine-year period (1913-1922), opened in 1916.

Only two sections of that route, shaded by lush greenery and covering about 50 miles, may be driven today.

Going west, one section stretches from The Dalles, over Rowena Crest, to the town of Mosier. The other extends from near I-84's Exit 35 to Exits 18 or 17 near Troutdale.

Anyway, anxious to visit Multnomah Falls for the first time, we rolled onto I-84.

We expected to take Exit 35 and the historic route to the popular section of waterfalls and other historic sites on the way to Lewis & Clark State Park or Troutdale.

We originally planned stops at Ponytail Falls (also called Upper Horsetail Falls), Horsetail Falls, Oneonta Falls, Multnomah Falls, Wahkeenah Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Shepherds Dell Falls, Latourell Falls, Crown Point/Vista House and Portland Women's Forum State Park Viewpoint.

Looking wide-eyed for a restroom, however, we adjusted and scooted from the highway at Exit 37. We found one at Ainsworth State Park.

From there we passed the half-mile trail to Ponytail Falls and stopped at 176-foot-high Horsetail Falls.

Two empty cars sat in the parking area, but we saw no other people.

I looped a camera strap on each shoulder and snapped an eager Nora to her leash. We crossed the road and stood at the pool's rocky edge. The shiny falls plunged into a dark pool. Yellow and green leaves soaked in the dark water.

I sat among the dark, beach-ball-sized stones to snap photos of the falling water against the green lichen-mottled gray cliff. I watched silently for a long time.

When Nora's leash tangled around my right leg, I unsnapped her. She rushed into the water barely up to her belly and posed on a rock.

I called her back and toweled her somewhat before putting her in the wagon.

We drove two minutes to the scenic road over Oneonta Gorge and stopped again.

A sign called the gorge a "Secret Garden" that contains "shade-tolerant ferns, mosses and lichens showering in the rainbow droplets from springs and waterfalls."


The sign also illustrates Oregon bolandra with "spiky purple petals" that exists only in the Columbia Gorge and the Snake River Canyon.

We saw no Oregon bolandra, but we saw a handsome, shiny banana slug that Nora sniffed briefly.

From there we passed the half-mile trail to Lower Oneonta Falls, about 50-to-70 feet high, and the nearly two-mile hike to 75-foot Upper Oneonta Falls.

We had dilly-dallied too much after the slow start, and we planned to spend plenty of time at Multnomah Falls with its famous lodge and gift shop.

We definitely didn't want to miss what promised to be a camera buff's ideal sunset upon the Columbia River and the Vista House at Crown Point viewed from the Portland Women's Forum State Park Viewpoint.

gt;We could hardly wait.

Editor's note: Part 2 of this report about Oregon waterfalls along a section of the Historic Columbia River Highway will appear in this spot next Wednesday.


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