Exploring a new city is exciting, but now and again we need a serious nature fix. Not a problem, because big, open spaces are a short drive from Portland in just about any direction. The bigger challenge was the weather – scenic views require good visibility, which was in short supply during our three weeks in Portland. We did the best we could and hope you enjoy this short synopsis of our various day trips.
Columbia River Gorge
The mighty Columbia River originates along the border between Alberta and British Columbia in the neighborhood of the Columbia Icefield, which was a stopping point for us this past summer on our incredible drive from Lake Louise to Jasper. (See https://followbillandcarol.com/2019/09/02/jasper-national-park-getting-there-is-half-the-fun/).
From the headwaters at the Continental Divide in Canada, the Columbia begins its 1,243 mile journey to the Pacific Ocean, becoming the largest river in the Pacific Northwest along the way. The final 300 miles delineate the border between Washington and Oregon.
Our day trip objective was sight-seeing along the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, an 85-mile section between Portland and The Dalles where the river cuts through the Cascade Mountains, and canyon walls are up to 4,000 feet high. Luckily, the weather was spectacular!
The gorge transitions from temperate rain forest and lush vegetation in the west . . .
. . . to dry grasslands in the east.
We meandered between Portland and The Dalles along the historic Columbia River highway, which features numerous scenic overlooks and points of interest, including at least five waterfalls easily accessible via a short hike from the parking lot.
A couple more photos from scenic overlooks:
At The Dalles, we toured the Columbia Center Discovery Center & Museum, which recounts the Gorge’s natural and human history in colorful and engaging exhibits.
After a full day of savoring the views and the experience, we returned to Portland well after sunset.
Tips for visiting the Columbia River Gorge:
- Do it! It’s truly a national treasure.
- Go on a weekday, ideally when the skies are sunny and winds are calm.
- Stop at the Visitor Center in Troutdale for detailed maps, brochures, and friendly advice.
- Drive the scenic route on U.S. Highway 30 on the way out, and I-84 on the way back.
- Allow (at least) one full day. Even then, you’ll feel like you missed some of the good stuff.
Mount St. Helens National Volcano Monument
Do you remember where you were on May 18, 1980? That’s when an earthquake at Mount St. Helens in southern Washington caused the largest landslide in recorded history, followed by a major volcanic eruption that triggered an enormous ash plume as well as flooding and a massive mudflow from melted snow and glaciers. When the ash settled, the lateral blast had removed 1,300 feet from the top of the mountain, totally annihilated 200+ square miles of forest, and forever changed the landscape in this part of the Pacific Northwest.
Here’s how Mount St. Helens looked before and after the 1980 eruption (photo source: U.S. Geological Survey).
In my 20’s at the time, I recall hearing and reading about it but didn’t grasp the significance, including the fact that 57 people lost their lives. My excuse is that I had a newborn and had just returned to my full time job . . . .
Our visit to the Mount St. Helens National Volcano Monument was gripping. Totally worth a trip to learn about this amazing force of nature, including the series of events that preceded the violent eruption, the immediate and medium term aftermath, firsthand stories of those who survived, and scientific lessons learned that have since been incorporated into volcanology. And importantly, it’s amazing (and encouraging) to see how the area looks nearly 40 years later.
The one disappointment was the stubborn cloud that hung over the tiptop of the mountain all day, but we got the general idea.
The 1980 eruption created two brand new lakes – Castle Lake and Coldwater Lake. We stopped for a picnic lunch at pristine Coldwater Lake, shown in the photos below.
Here are a couple of other photos from our tour of Mount St. Helens.
And last but not least, the photos below show two very different approaches to land management after the eruption. National monument lands are recovering according to nature’s timetable, and the photo on the left depicts a typical hillside today. The photo on the right shows a portion of forest land that was equally devastated by the blast in 1980 but replanted with 18 million seedlings by its owner, Weyerheuser, a few years later.
Kudos to the U.S. Forest Service for providing an exceptional visitor experience at Mount St. Helens National Volcano Monument!
Sampling Wine in the Willamette Valley
Is it even possible to visit Portland without venturing west into the Willamette Valley for wine tasting? Home to more than 500 wineries, it’s especially known for producing some of the world’s best pinot noir. During two half day trips, we visited five wineries. Only four hundred ninety five to go . . .
Less than an hour’s drive from Portland, the valley provides an easy escape from the urban environment. In fact, the rural roads were quiet, and the countryside offers expansive views.
We exercised restraint, purchasing two bottles of pinot noir and two bottles of rosé.
There’s much more to the Willamette Valley than wine tasting – good food, for example. We enjoyed tasty lunches at the Dundee Bistro and the Horse Radish in Carlton. Plus the towns have interesting shops and other attractions that we didn’t have time to explore. On the list for our next visit . . . .
Bob’s Red Mill Factory Tour
Bob’s doesn’t require a full day. Located in the town of Milwaukie, it’s a short 20-minute drive from downtown Portland, or in our case, only 10 minutes from our home base in Sellwood.
The free tour (reservations not required) takes place at the factory. The store, shown in the photo below and located about a mile away, is a “must do” after the tour.
Prepare to be amazed! Prior to the tour, I associated Bob’s Red Mill with a small section of my local grocery store containing interesting but relatively obscure types of flour, such as buckwheat, rice, potato, and coconut.
We were surprised to learn that Bob’s Red Mill sells over 400 different products! In addition to flours milled from grains and seeds I had never heard of, Bob’s Red Mill makes baking mixes, granola, beans, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, spices, and herbs. All are manufactured in Milwaukie and available at the huge retail outlet shown above and in the photo below (Source: https://eatingrules.com/visit-to-bobs-red-mill/).
Bob’s is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Portland area. If not, here’s an interesting article for learning more about Bob Moore the person and Bob’s Red Mill the company: https://www.thedailybeast.com/bobs-red-mill-ceo-bob-moore-is-the-90-year-old-whole-grain-king.
And here’s a link to the full array of Bob’s Red Mill products, which of course are available online: https://ebook.bobsredmill.com/Product-Catalog/.
Sadly, our visit to Portland has come to an end, and it’s time to move on. What fun we had, and with many things still on the “to do” list, we will be back!