As another summer comes to a close, I am enjoying looking back at some photos from the past few months. In mid-August we had the chance to spend two weeks in Oregon, most of which we spent along the spectacular Oregon Coast. While not my first trip to the coast, this was my first time visiting some of the more remote southern sections of the coast, and over the course of the two weeks we were actually able to drive the entire Oregon section of Highway 101, all the way from Washington to California.
We began the trip in Astoria, gazing at the mouth of the Columbia River in Fort Stevens State Park and visiting the site of Fort Clatsop, quarters for the Lewis & Clark Expedition during the winter of 1805-1806. From there we travelled south to visit with friends in Rockaway Beach for several nights before continuing on to Newport and then heading inland for other adventures. A few days later we returned to the coast at the mouth of the Rogue River in Gold Beach, just 45 minutes or so north of the California border. After a quick drive into the Golden State, we began moving north, through Coos Bay, Bandon, Florence, and the Oregon Dunes before returning to Newport. After a final few days in the Lincoln City area, it was back up the Columbia River Gorge to Washington and back to work! Here are some of my favorite images from the trip, arranged from north to south:
In the home stretch of its more than 1,000 mile-long journey from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River has carved a spectacular canyon that now forms the border between Oregon and Washington: the Columbia River Gorge. Nearly 100 miles in length, the Columbia River Gorge is one of the most unique landscapes in the Pacific Northwest, and home to some spectacular geology. Most of the gorge is carved into the Columbia River Basalts, layers upon layers of volcanic rock formed by vast lava flows that inundated most of central and eastern Washington about 16 million years ago. More recently, a series of large glacial outburst floods at the end of the last ice age broadened and re-shaped the gorge as they raged their way down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, creating many of the landforms that we see today.
By the time the Columbia River enters the gorge, its elevation has already dropped to just 160 feet above sea level. The low elevation of the gorge makes it one of the warmest areas in the Pacific Northwest, and a prime destination for some early season camping. We recently spent three days in the Columbia River Gorge soaking up what passes for balmy weather this time of year around here.
Two of the main attractions in the Columbia River Gorge are wildflowers and waterfalls. Even now, in mid-to-late March, the wildflower show was already in full swing, particularly in the drier, warmer, eastern reaches of the gorge:
One of the most remarkable sights in the Columbia River Gorge is experiencing the rapid change in environment as you drive through the gorge from east to west. The Dalles, located near the eastern end of the gorge, lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range and receives very little precipitation: just 14 inches annually. Here, the rocky slopes of the gorge are nearly devoid of any vegetation other than wildflowers and grasses. Just half an hour and a handful of freeway exists to the west, the average annual precipitation has increased to about 30 inches at Hood River, and ponderosa pine and Douglas fir cover the slopes. 20 more miles/minutes to the west, at Cascade Locks, annual precipitation rises to over 75 inches and the gorge is filled with the dense, shady, and mossy forests typically associated with the Pacific Northwest. In other words, you can travel from a true desert to a near-rainforest in less than an hour, while driving on a nearly flat interstate that hugs the shore of massive reservoirs created by dams along the lower Columbia River.
The combination of dramatic terrain and copious precipitation at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge (particularly on the more mountainous Oregon side) combines to form some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the United States. As the aforementioned ice age floods flowed through the gorge on their way to the Pacific, they removed the lower ends of valleys belonging to the Columbia’s many tributary streams. Consequently, many of these tributaries enter the gorge several hundred feet above river level, terminating in spectacular plunges that carry their water into the Columbia River:
Let’s be clear: with temperatures in the 40s and 50s and the nearly constant winds that blow through the gorge, it was no spring break in Florida, but after a long winter and with the Cascades still buried in snow for several more months, the greenery and signs of spring were a welcome sight. (Even though we did have our tent totally chewed up by an unknown animal…a first for us in many, many nights of camping throughout the west!)
Two days til grad school starts: time for a quick post in list form! Here are some random musings, observations, rants, and pictures from a two-week, 2,500 mile end-of-summer road trip through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington:
- Packing everything you own into the backseat and trunk of a Toyota Corolla IS possible, if only for 15 miles until you get to the closest UPS store so you can pack 61 pounds of crap into a box and ship it so your car doesn’t bottom out going across every single expansion joint in the road
- A small passenger car with over 180,000 miles, power steering leaks, suspension maladies, and mysterious engine and electrical issues is nevertheless capable of successfully completing a 2,500 mile road-trip including travel up and over several 10,000 foot mountain passes, on roads through several deserts with temperatures soaring to 108 degrees, all while fully loaded with nary a squeak.
- Said road trip is also possible to complete without the aid of a GPS unit, smartphone, or other computerized mapping device.
- To anyone who claims their home town/state/country/etc has the best sunsets ever, please go to the Grand Canyon and watch the sun go down from Desert View. I’ll be expecting a formal, written retraction of your blasphemous statement in the mail any day now.
- Pink Jeep Tour guides are really good at spotting Deeres.
- It is impossible to make money in Las Vegas. Even if you win a decent amount of dough, you will be tempted into spending your winnings on drinks served in three-foot-tall brightly-colored souvenir “cups” and $7 slices of crappy pizza in the casino food court at 2am. But you won’t know its 2am because there are no clocks anywhere.
- When traveling through particularly desolate stretches of Nevada, it is amazing how quickly your mind begins voluntarily generating thoughts such as “I wonder how many hours it’s been since I’ve seen another car…” and “I bet I could take my hands off the steering wheel for 10 whole minutes and not hit anything.”
- If you never thought you encounter a situation in which you would consider $4.89 a screaming good deal on a gallon of gasoline, go visit Lee Vining, California (and look at what the Chevron is charging first…)
- Americans like Yosemite more than they dislike getting hantavirus.
- Tropical plants will die if you leave them in the backseat of a hot car for a week with no access to food or water.
- Camping in bear country is a pain in the ass. A typical night terror in Yosemite consists of waking in the middle of the night in a panicked and frantic state wondering if you remembered to take that tube of mildly scented chapstick out of your pocket and put it in the bear box.
- Even if people say they aren’t buying you something from your Amazon wish-list, never buy anything from your Amazon wishlist.
- Eugene, Portland, and Bellingham should secede and create a new autonomous state called Hippie-gon-ton. Seriously, these are the kind of places where I deeply wish I had the courage to take pictures of random people I encounter on the street; I’d have a collection to rival People of Wal-Mart in no time, albeit in a very, very different way. Also, on a related note, Portland is the perfect city to arrive in when you haven’t showered for 3 days.
- The awesomeness of Powell’s bookstore in Portland, OR is still difficult for me to comprehend…I could spend WEEKS there. One’s need for a smartphone with navigational capabilities is greater WITHIN THIS STORE than it is in perhaps any major metropolitan area in the country, with the possible exception of:
- Seattle, which has quite possibly the worst maintained and most confusing street network of ANY CITY ANYWHERE. Someone should probably go rescue the pothole crew because they clearly have been being held hostage somewhere…since the Eisenhower administration. Also, let’s stop it with the whole “Wouldn’t it be cool to make this street randomly dead-end and then reappear 5 blocks later?” thing. If I’m driving down a numbered street, it should be a thru-street and not be broken into 8 billion separate sections.
- On the plus side, if you can somehow manage to navigate Seattle streets without blowing a tire, breaking an axle, or needing to pull over somewhere and cry, there are a lot of good eats to be had, including the 3rd best Philly cheese steak restaurant this side of Philadelphia and some seriously good pizza.
- Sea anemones shrivel up when you poke them. Also, it is possible to be surrounded by so many fat purple starfish that you feel afraid.
- Randomly arriving in a new city where you know nobody and finding a place to live using Craigslist is way easier than it sounds. And no, I’m not living with a convicted felon.
- The Pacific Northwest is really nice and sunny in the summer…which is conveniently when I am never there.
- Finding that a “Vegan Revolution” bumper sticker has been pasted onto your car over a pro-meat sticker instantly turns you into a card-carrying vegan drives you to east as much meat as humanly possible the next day (such as a Philly cheese steak and a delicious bacon cheeseburger perhaps).
- On another related note, a maple long john topped with strips of bacon is just about the best thing e…….. (Zach has heart attack)