Lush: Central Oregon, Portland, and the Columbia River Gorge

The Pacific Northwest reaches a richness of green that I’ve never seen before. Helped by the seemingly ever-present gray cloud and light drizzle, the trees here are tall, the forests thick, the concrete wet and the waterfalls everywhere.

It started when I turned inland from the coast near Florence towards Eugene, and drove along Highway 126 as it tracked the Siuslaw River. Heavy clouds hung above as the river snaked its way towards the mountains. Around a bend, a truck would appear and to its left water tumbled down the rock and under the highway towards the river. The hills on either side were a few hundred feet tall and covered in pines, with an occasional clearing making room for a house.

Much of this part of Oregon is like this. Hilly but not mountainous, exceptionally green and lush. This was my first real introduction to the northwest and I started to believe all I’d heard. This is what you get from all that rain, apparently.

It rained as I drove into Eugene, in Eugene, it rained while I drove out of Eugene to Silver Falls State Park on the recommendation of my wonderful hosts in Eugene. The park has thirteen waterfalls and a trail a few miles long that works its way around to all of them, slipping in between and behind a couple of them. I only tackled a few of these, opting instead to drive to a few of the more accessible ones, limited by a rain that was at times heavy. The trails were wet but I saw a few waterfalls, generally ranging from 100-200 feet in height and a chaotic scene below, rocks and logs caught under the steady gush.

 

Portland is Oregon’s attempt at urbanity, and what a pleasant attempt it is. Portland works, it functions, it makes sense. Unlike many cities I’ve seen where urban planning happens retroactively, here everything seems according to plan. Public transit is easily accessible and effective, traffic is mild and parking isn’t impossibly hard or expensive, even in the middle of downtown. Restaurants are tasteful and relatively inexpensive with delicious offerings from a range of influences, often organic and very often local. The local landmark is a dream of a bookstore (Powell’s) and locals treat their variety of local ales and microbrews with the same regard and affection. I even managed to catch two days of perfect sunshine.

I left Portland in the morning for an afternoon in the Columbia River Gorge before heading up to Tacoma that evening. I took the scenic route, the Historic Columbia River Highway, the first planned scenic highway in the US. Built roughly around World War I, it winds gracefully along the Gorge for 75 miles, of which I drove roughly half. I joined it along a viewpoint looking out across the entire gorge, a wide expanse, steep cliffs along both sides with an interstate highway and railroad running alongside the broad Columbia River. Along these walls in a few places, more waterfalls plunge down towards the river.

The most dramatic of these is Multnomah Falls, a stunning 620 foot tall two-stage narrow stream of water gushing down the cliff face. The first stage is the primary one, 540 feet high of water, only about 10 feet wide but the roar (and the mist) enveloping the masses of people watching from below.

I watched for a while, headed up to a bridge over the lower stage that offered a clean look at the taller stage. The lens on my camera had less than a second to focus and take a picture before it was covered in mist. Water here is a blanket, even when it isn’t raining.

View pictures from Oregon.

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