Watching water on a cruise down the Columbia River Gorge


Editor's note: Part 1 of this report from a section of the Historic Columbia River Highway appeared here last week.

We reached Multnomah Falls for the very first time at about 11:30 a.m. on a recent sunny day, after years of passing it by.

I parked directly in front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge.

Nora bounced in my lap when a woman approached the car. Half out of the window, she wriggled and wagged her stubby tail.

The woman, headed for the lodge, ignored her.

Nora leaned from the window and watched. Her breathing slowed and her wriggle stopped.

"That's OK," Darlene said, touching Nora's head.

"Jump in the back," I said, and Nora did.

I buzzed the window up and stepped out. Darlene stepped out on the other side and looped her purse over her shoulder.

"I'll meet you back here," she said and crossed the road to the gift shop that's visited by a million people a year.

"OK," I said.

I hooked a camera strap on each shoulder and fastened Nora's leash to my belt. We meandered off among the gathering throng.

Nora sucked scents up her nose like a miniature Hoover. I focused on composing images of the most photographed waterfall in Oregon, if not in the Great Northwest or the galaxy.

We walked downstream along Multnomah Creek toward the parking area, accessible from I-84.

"Impressive," I said as Nora pulled me toward a group of tourists on a bridge. She aimed to get her belly rubbed. And she did.

Then we headed upstream.

The bridges, buildings, landings, lamps, railings, some with a mossy patina, reflected highly skilled workmanship that blended with the verdant, yet basalt-rough, setting.

We ambled 2/10s of a mile along a paved trail of switchbacks, beneath thick foliage, to another picturesque bridge .

I admired views of the dramatic cliffs and falls. Nora peered into the trail-side greenery for rodents. I took photos from the bridge. Finally, we hurried back to find no Darlene at the car.

I peered through the gift-shop window. She strolled down an aisle, evaluating the goods for potential gifts.

Nora and I again walked to the bridge, built in 1914, and back. I took more pictures. She met more people.

We then waited at the car for awhile and started back to the bridge one more time.

It's the tallest waterfall in the country that can be reached easily all year, after all.

It has two sections. The top one tumbles 542 feet. The bottom one tumbles 69 feet. The 620-ft. total must include the nine-ft. slant of Multnomah Creek from the first plunge pool to the second falls.

Go figure.

In 1995, a 400-ton slab of rock fell 225 feet from the wall into the upper pool. A 100-ft.-high splash, with gravel-sized rocks, slightly injured 20 people on the bridge and beyond.

We met Darlene leaving the lodge and moved on down the Columbia River Gorge.

We stopped at 242-ft.-high Wahkeena(h) Falls where a woman swung on a log above the falls to impress her friend. And me.

At Bridal Veil Falls, Nora and I hiked almost a mile down to the stream and 100 yards up to a view of the wide, dramatic falls.

Then we hiked a half-mile loop to an overlook of the Columbia River before heading west again.

At Latourell Falls, a dramatic 249-ft. cataract squeezed by bright green, lichen-covered basalt walls, a man dropped his heavy, expensive camera on the rock trail while changing lenses. Ouch!

Alas, as we drove from the parking area, I hit a rock with the right front tire. Ouch, by golly!

The low-inflation light lit up on the dashboard. I pulled over at the first opportunity.

A black tennis ball bulged on the tire's sidewall.

Mumble, mumble!

Grimacing, I rejected changing the tire, crept along to Crown Point and paused at Vista House.

The tire looked bad, but it held some air.

Looking for a Les Schwab store, we ignored the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint (also called Chanticleer Point, a name to crow about) and made it to one in Gresham.

In 35 minutes, and armed with a free-desert coupon for a nearby Red Robin, we again had the wind at our backs (and the air in our tires).

At 4:12 p.m., after dinner we headed home. Nora zonked quickly, and I wondered how the historic highway, especially Multnomah Falls and Chanticleer Point, would look in the spring.

Something to ponder.


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