A voyage to Columbia

Travel tale

The earth’s facial beauty lies in its landscape and the enchanting shades of green further enhances it. I had a close interaction with the nature in all its glory when I visited the Columbia River Gorge.

We reached Portland from Bengaluru via San Franscisco to stay with my daughter who resides there. The visit to the gorge was a part of one of our weekend picnics from Portland. With breathtaking vistas, waterfalls and a laidback surf town, the Columbia River Gorge is another world altogether, just an hour away from Portland. In the morning, we drove to the east of Portland onto the Historic Columbia River Highway and Vista House at Crown Point. As one drives eastwards, waterfalls and trailheads beckon one to pull over.

The Columbia River originates at Columbia Lake in the Rocky Mountain Trench in British Columbia, Canada, before entering the northwestern part of America and it flows over a length of 2,000 km. The gorge, as it stands today, is the result of rapid uplift of the region over the last two million years which was preceded by a dynamic geological history of flood volcanism and cascade arc volcanism.

Down the rocky canyons, the Columbia River pours prodigious volumes of water. The Columbia Gorge is about 130 km long and about 4,000 feet deep. Columnar basalt makes up the gorge. The Historic Columbia River Highway that passes through is truly a marvel – for its visionary engineering and incredible scenery as it winds its way through the spectacular waterfalls, architectural gems and magnificent overlooks of the Columbia River Gorge. The highway-in-charge engineer, Samuel C Lancaster, aptly said that he did not want to mar what God had put there.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area starts from the stately Vista House built as a memorial to Oregon pioneers; the gorge spans northern Oregon and southern Washington states in the USA. Just a short drive from Portland, you will find an amazing view from Crown Point, where you can see the mighty Columbia nestled in the gorge unfurl before your eyes. The waterfalls and the river are fed by glaciers and prodigious winter rains, plunge through sheer cliffs, hidden slot canyons and rock grottos rimmed by massive trees and moss in a thousand hues of emerald and jade. About 90 major cascades flow alongside countless smaller falls and they are all within an approximately 24 km distance from each other!

The shapes and sizes of the waterfalls can be classified as plunge, horsetail, fan, cascade, punchbowl, block, tier and segmented. Some of the major easily accessible ones beside the scenic highway are ‘Horsetail’ (176 feet), ‘Multnomah’ (620 feet), ‘Wahkeena’ (242 feet), ‘Bridal veil’ (100 feet), ‘Shepperds Dell’ (60 feet) and ‘Latourell’ (249 feet) among others.

Many water cascades and upper reaches are approachable through hiking trails which are travails of history when roads did not exist. These hiking trails are very well preserved. This region is also known as the 'American great summer playground', as it is surrounded by perpetual snow peaks, glaciers, evergreen forests, many glorious streams, eye-catching natural blue lakes and manmade lakes (14 dams) on the main river and 450 dams across the entire basin. One can drive 40 miles Hood River where one can spend the day. The Columbia River Gorge is one of Oregon's seven wonders and I am glad to have visited it.

(The writer can be contacted at dsrikantam@gmail.com)

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