As I drive out of the sleeting Seattle rain and \trickling south on I5, I realize I have been to the Portland area merely two-three times in the last decade: A fleeting trip to the Multnomah falls with visiting relatives, a trip to get our Italian Visa, a day trip to buy a camera. That’s it!
Rhea is visibly excited at the prospect of visiting 52 places in the northwest in 52 weeks, and is sitting in the backseat of the Jeep listening to “The Little Princess” audiobook on her iPad. We take a lunch break at Chehalis, I attend a quick conference call and we drive some more. We cross River Columbia, head east on I84 and turn onto the historic Columbia River Highway.
The historic highway is a masterpiece, both in conception and implementation. It is the first scenic planned highway to be built in USA. Sam Hill and Samuel C. Lancaster, promoter and engineer respectively, were inspired by scenic highways of Europe and decided to build one in the Columbia Gorge even as the country was getting ready to enter WWI. Amidst severe hardships and setbacks, they built a motorway that made the gorge’s "beautiful waterfalls, canyons, cliffs and mountain domes" accessible to "men from all climes."
Standing at the base of the Multnomah falls, I think they did too good a job of saving people the effort. A relatively very easy climb takes us to the base of the double fall. No wonder over 2 million visitors come here. It takes almost no effort to see a sight so beautiful.
Another short hike takes us to the bridge built at the level of the first basalt basin. It is a wonderful spot to stand and stare at sheets of milky white water spill off the mountain face, crash into the basin, and to catch droplets of icy cold water that the breeze carries.
We take the short hike to the top of the waterfall. Short but steep. Eleven switchbacks covering 1.8 miles, climbing 700 feet, has our leg muscles burning by the time we reach the top. The view along the way on a sunny day is simply gorgeous, though at the top one you mostly see the parking lot and a paltry stream of water disappearing over the edge. The main body of the fall is not visible from here and it is impossible to gauge the grandiose of Multnomah falls perched on this wooden deck.
We eat a quick supper at the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge where the food is expensive but delicious and beautifully served. We then drive down the highway to Culver where we are put up overnight.
In the morning, we eat eggs and cinnamon toast sitting at a table besides the river. Steamboats chug plumes of white smoke pass under the Bridge of the Gods. It is a cloudy but glorious day. We buy a bagful of sweet-tart huckleberries from a craggy mountain man and we are on our way.
We stop at the picturesque Horsetail fall, again the road so close to the fall, that one can see the fall without getting out of the car. I see some people chose that option: cars slowing down, windows sliding down, a camera appears though the window, a few click-click-clicks, windows up and vrooom. Rhea and I, with a fresh set of legs, do the scenic 1.2 mile hike, that climbs steeply for a bit in the beginning . The beautiful mountain trail passes underneath a gigantic alcove behind the generous outpour of Ponytail Falls.
Passing through lush green woods, trees and rocks wearing a wooly skin of moss, we came to the Upper Tail falls and decide to turn back. On the drive back, we spy the tunnel leading to the Oneanta falls. Rhea and I exchange a quick meaningful glance, the one which say “Lets do that one next time” and head home.
[Photography Note: Photographers wanting to make a picture of a waterfall better use the restroom before starting out. Standing in front of the waterfall, fiddling with the camera for a long time, and all that water cascading down continuously, the last thing you want is a semi-full bladder.
To get the water to look silky white, the optimum shutter speed is a 10th of a second. The focal length should be between F8 and F16, though it can vary depending on composition and light conditions. A tripod is a must since the shutter stays open long enough to catch the shake of the hand. ND filter is a useful accessory to have if the day is too bright. Cloudy days are ideal.]