Think of a town living in the hall of a mountain king. Where in it’s shadow people spend their days picking peaches and cherries. Juice running between cracks in fingers, the crevices of hands stained crimson.
Where waterfalls roar within a mile of your doorstep, mists coating rock walls cool and damp to the touch, and by dinner time beer is sipped as you watch windsurfers on the water. Tiny white waves breaking and combing the river’s surface as the sun casts the surrounding hills in golds then violets, till the night darkens the area. A quietness that doesn’t feel lonesome, but like going home.
The Columbia River Gorge feels so whimsical I want to believe the area is run by nymphs with delicate fingers and wings that beat as silent as a dragonflies. Instead, the region is built on orchard owners, beer brewers and alpaca farmers. Occupations which are some of the closest in resemblance I can think of to winged creatures. The Gorge was designated as one of the “Seven Wonders” of Oregon by the state’s tourism commission in an attempt to draw more visitors. I’m assuming this strategy is working, or at least working on me, since I’ve always been a gotta-catch-em-all kind of girl.
Wherever you go in the area, Mt. Hood looms in the distance, a third companion as my boyfriend and I drove through the Gorge’s “Fruit Loop”, a 35 mile stretch of orchards, wineries, and lavender fields. All tourist friendly and ripe for the picking, drinking, and smelling. Our first stop on the loop was Cascade Alpacas where we took a gander at the farm-woven yarns for sale, but that was just a front for our true intentions: to pet and feed the resident alpacas until they refused the grains pooled in our hands. I’ve always wanted a dog, but now I require a household alpaca.
The more time we spent driving on the loop, the more cherry pits accumulated in the car. We stopped at Draper Girls farm to load up on fresh orange juice and peaches, but beyond that we followed hand written signs along the road proclaiming “Berries 2 Miles” and the mysterious yet alluring message, “Fruit”. For several hours the hardest decision I had to make was Rainier cherries vs. Chelan cherries, then came time to decide which waterfalls we’d be hiking to.
Columbia River Gorge canyon spans about 80 miles before terminating at the mouth of the Deschutes river. The canyon itself holds over 90 waterfalls, so it’s pretty much waterfall city, USA. Since the gorge is only a 45 minute drive from Portland, some of these spots can become horribly congested in the summer months.
Multnomah Falls is a crowd favorite of the area, and walking up switchbacks at a tourist heavy destination tends to stress me a bit, but seeing gobs of trash along a one mile trail stresses me more. I will never understand what goes through people’s minds when they drive for hours to a gorgeous waterfall, only to throw their water bottle into the freakin’ fall. Shudder. We first went to Multnomah on a drizzly Easter Sunday on our way back from a Portland weekend, and saw only a dozen others waterfall-gazing then. Compared to the hundreds we saw on a June Saturday, Spring is certainly the way to go.
All guides labeled our next trail as “easy”, and it was easy for the most part. Discounting the initial scramble to beat dozens of people over a mass of slippery logs, encountering several terrified children and shaking dogs, then wading through water at times chest high, in an attempt to reach a hidden waterfall. The Lower Oneonta Falls trail is essentially just warring with strangers for falls views, but that’s really the only battle I’ll willingly fight in.
Once the log jumble is passed, you need to trek half a mile through the narrow gorge walls and freezing waters to the prize, a fall tumbling down the mossy walls. Those that make it to the end go swimming in the shallow waters below or chug beer nearby. Everyone has their own victory dance, and mine was just to watch others dancing.
Towards the evening we settled into Hood River, the kind of town where you imagine opening up a B&B and fantasize about the breakfast pastries you’ll concoct for your guests. Upon arriving at our B&B for the night, we spoke with the owner Frank about the best places to go in town. Frank wore suspenders and told us to keep the front door unlocked at night. Around the main room were vintage ceramics piled high with jelly beans and chestnuts, and decanters full of sherry and dessert wines. I liked his style and was looking forward to our breakfast which would be served on the wraparound porch covered in wind chimes and potted plants. The whole place was soaked in charm, down to the very last knickknack.
On our walk to dinner we passed creamsicle and periwinkle colored houses with soft yellow christmas lights twinkling away. Everything was coming up roses, until we arrived downtown. There are four breweries in Hood River, and this night was not proving the best night to visit them. At Full Sail we witnessed a girl fight that resulted in several teary eyed ladies. We heard through the vine that pFriem’s entire kitchen staff walked out. And at Big Horse Brew Pub the valves blew and beer couldn’t be served.
We choose Double Mountain where we noshed on oh-so-good truffle pizza and perfectly hopped IPA’s, but the place was incredibly busy due to the szigigy of events that closed down the competition. Also there were two bachelorette parties roving the area and you’d think this was all the equivalent of an ax wielding maniac in town, because the service staff everywhere was on edge all evening.
The night ended beautifully though, with me cuddled up in blankets watching the 5th season of Monk, courtesy of Frank’s dvd collection. In the morning stuffed french toast was served with fresh fruit. Which was lovely, but wouldn’t hold a candle to my imaginary gruyere biscuits and bacon and scallion strata.
Someday I’ll come back to open up my BB&B. A bed, breakfast, and brewery. I’m already creating the floor plan in my mind and picking out the duvet patterns. Don’t be surprised if you find alpacas in the backyard on your visit.