A BYWAY RESTORED
The Columbia River Gorge offers moments of magical beauty when the sun, and clouds dance their shadows across the cliffs to create lasting memories of the times each of us spend there.
“Enough memories to last a lifetime,” I like to say. Especially along the Columbia River Scenic Highway – stretching eighty miles from Troutdale to The Dalles as an unmatched scenic byway that came to life nearly one hundred years ago.
Back then, it was called “America’s Greatest Highway” and it was the vision of many people at the turn of the century, but the chief backer and promoter was Sam Hill, who hired engineer Sam Lancaster. Lancaster had traveled extensively throughout Europe and studied its roadways.
Oregon’s version of a scenic highway was built in 1916 and, by making the most of the Gorge’s size and splendor, it rivaled anything built in Europe.
The highway was designed for travel that followed the contours of the shifting landscape, with plenty of viewpoints and turnouts. It was enhanced with arched bridges, stone railings, and tunnels.
This magnificent achievement, the first paved road in Oregon, allowed Oregonians easier access between the eastern and western sides of their state. It also allowed them to visit many of the Gorge falls.
But over the decades much of it was bypassed for progress – and speed – called the Interstate Highway. It was a faster way to move people and commerce from this place to that and it left the historic highway in the dust.
Still, if you have the right guides who know where to look, you can touch history in the nooks crannies of the gorge where signs of the old highway still exist.
Recently, I joined Kritsen Stallman, who works for the Oregon Department of Transportation – and Ernie Drapela, a member of the Historic Highway Advisory Committee.
The duo loves to hike into the backwoods and explore any sections of the old highway that can still be traveled.
“You’re walking thru the woods and it’s all trees,” noted Stallman. “Suddenly you come up to a section like this and say, ‘Wow-it looks like the old highway.”
Stallman and Drapela agree that there is treasure in the gorge – the old asphalt highway that is hidden under carpets of thick lush moss.
Drapela said that there are many places where Hill’s dream road lies waiting to be re-discovered and Lancaster’s engineering marvels wait for a second life.
“We have seen what happens when we neglect old sections of the highway and you kind of feel remorse over that. So, we want to put our arms around it and save it if we can. If you can design a use that makes sense – such as a trail for safety, for beauty, for fitness – well, why not go for it?”
Nearly twenty years ago the state launched an ambitious program to do just that as sections of the old highway we’re restored just for hikers and bicyclists along a new Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
So far, eleven miles have been completed and include places like the Oneonta Tunnel.
Matt Davey is the Oregon State Parks Ranger charged with managing many of the trail sections and said that the tunnel restoration was a huge job, but it’s really paid off with visitors:
“It allows people to walk through the tunnel and it got them off the roadway into adjacent parking areas – so, it’s a much safer stretch for walking or biking now. It gives them a place to park and a safe way to access the Oneonta gorge too - a unique viewing opportunity and a slower way to experience the historic highway.”
Other completed stretches include six miles between Eagle Creek and Cascade Locks, the Mosier Twin Tunnels and just last summer, the newest section, Viento State Park to Starvation Creek, opened to the public.
Viento offers a mile long reach that people are now able to hike for the first time in nearly sixty years.
A gentle five percent grade makes the biking and hiking easy, plus there’s one particular feature that waits for your closer inspection: an original, four-foot tall mile marker with the number “58” carved into the concrete face.
Stallman added, “This is one of the last remaining original mile markers on the historic highway and this marked distance from Portland.”
There are more sections planned down the road too. In fact, the state has embarked on plans to convert Twelve Miles By 2016, so places like the spectacular Ruthton Point will be open for your enjoyment.
“I think Ruthton Point is one of the most incredible views of the gorge from this section of highway. It really shows the craftsmanship of the highway too; the rock walls and how they designed the roadway to capture the river and mountain views. It’s wonderful!”
Ernie added that it is all a legacy worth saving – places where visitors may hike and wear down their heels but build up their souls!
“You know, those original designers really understood the land – they didn’t want to disturb the land anymore than was necessary to build the scenic highway and yet still allow for people to pass through in their automobiles. We think that deserves another chance at life for a new generation of hikers and cyclists too. Those folks back then did such a great job!”
HIGHWAY 30 TO THE COAST
In our rush to get from this place to that, it’s good to know that less traveled roadways are easy to find and one in particular is right off the doorstep of a major city.
So it is with the Columbia River Highway from Portland to the coast; a route that is often overlooked and perhaps that is part of its charm.
Completed in 1937, US Route 30 is an unassuming route between Portland and Astoria. While it may not be the fastest byway, that’s all right with me!
The green-bordered asphalt roadway skirts the southern shore of the mighty Columbia River and for over 70 miles it forces you to slow down a savor the sights.
The first stop on this adventure is the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area!
ODFW Assistant Manager Dan Marvin said that birds arrive from as far away as Alaska each fall. In turn, the waterfowl and raptors that follow draw more people to the area.
“Sauvie Island is a very critical area and we get a large number of bird watchers and wildlife viewers who come out to look. It’s quite the resource for that.”
A compelling species are the sandhill cranes that get my vote for size and colorful markings; with striking red masks they are an impressive sight!
So is their behavior: males dance with wings sky high - tossing bits of grass to make a match with a mate.
Further along, stop in at Trojan Pond and Wetlands near Rainier to watch the family flocks of Tundra swans.
Sometimes called the “B-52’s of the waterfowl world,” Tundra swans fill the air on six-foot-wingspans and then glide to ground for a well-deserved break.
The byway tour gives you a break at Bradley State Scenic Viewpoint, just west of Rainier – the park sits atop a massive bluff overlooking the smooth Columbia River. If you stop in on a sunny day before the leaves have called it quits, enjoy a quiet picnic lunch and a stunning view.
But don’t linger here too long – the best is yet to come at the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary where Neal Maine likes to set up his camera and wait for just the right moment to capture the country’s national symbol.
Neal Maine is a wildlife photographer and a teacher who loves his neck of the woods and he has the photos to prove it.
“It’s the contrast of that majestic white head, he noted. “Wouldn’t everyone like to be king? They reign over all the other birds too…we like being in charge and being powerful and here’s our symbol.”
Twilight Sanctuary is more than 100 acres of protection and consists of the Wolf Bay Wetlands and nearby forestland that supports an array of wildlife.
The convenient, wheelchair friendly platform with easy access just off Burnside Road makes the viewing a snap:
“This is one view site that works almost all the time, added Maine. “The vista is outstanding; maybe one of the best in the lower river. There is always something going on with lots of waterfowl, herons and egrets
cruising past and you can kind of count on owning it at least for a few minutes when you come here.”
Further, it’s end of the highway line in Astoria where a new “jaw-dropper” of a display has recently been put into place.
For nearly thirty years, the “Peacock” pilot boat shuttled bar pilots to water-based offshore offices aboard commercial cargo ships. The pilots are charged with safely guiding the huge ships across the most dangerous river bar in America.
Now, the Peacock has been retired to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and Dave Pearson said that it’s a wonderful addition to the museum’s collection.
“The Peacock truly is an icon and we thought what better place for it than to give it a position of honor to welcome everyone to the ‘Gateway of the Pacific.’ It’s one of those vessels you can’t miss when you’re driving down the road and we hope people will appreciate that.”
The crossing of the Peacock from river to shore side-parking area in front of the museum was no easy chore either.
It required two 300-ton cranes with massive booms that reached 95 feet to left and move the 100-ton pilot boat.
The new display is a fine compliment to the Columbia River Maritime Museum where visitors come face to face with compelling and uniquely Oregon stories ---indoors, where it’s safe and warm.
“We have over 18,000 photographs in our collection related to people related to maritime concerns,” noted museum curator Jeff Smith. “We have many boats in our collection – fishing and recreational - every piece has the potential to tell a story and so those are the pieces we’re actively trying to collect.”
The museum’s varied photos, exhibits and videos merge the past with the present and provide you a compelling place to see, touch and learn more about an important corner of Oregon.
It all adds up to a perfect cap to your day’s adventure along one of the least traveled routes to the Oregon coast.
SHANGRI-LA BY THE SEA
If there is a “Shangri-La” on Oregon’s coastline, ou may feel as though you'vefound it along the Southern Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.
Once you travel the Cape Arago Highway that skirts a lonesome and lovely section of the Southern Oregon coast, it may become a road once taken that you’ll never want to leave!
It leads you past so many intriguing sights that you may well wonder, “Why have I never come this way before.””
Fourteen miles southwest of Coos Bay, drop in at Sunset Bay State Park and meet Oregon State Park’s Manager, Preson Phillips, who told me: “It’s one of those trails that just keeps beckoning you on – it’s just a matter of how much you want to hike or do at the time.”
Make time to wander Sunset Bay State Park, a jewel of a campground that offers 139 sites for tent, trailer or R.V. – plus eight yurts.
People who come to camp enjoy a spectacular beachfront that seems framed for the movies – it has been a special destination park since 1942.
If you own a spirit of adventure, you’ll no doubt relish the hiking trail that leads little more than a mile to nearby Cape Arago State Park.
Many visitors are surprised to find a front row seat of sorts – a wooden balcony that overlooks Shell Island.
Marty Giles, who owns an eco-tourism business called, “Wavecrest Discoveries” is often on hand to explain the behavior of hundreds of seals and seal lions that just plain loaf across the rocky island and Simpson Reef.
“Shell Island is a fine place for them to haul out and rest for awhile. There are four different seals and sea lions that haul out here and rest. You really need to come on up and see this show.”
You will want to make time to travel five miles further up the Seven Devils Road to visit a piece of Oregon coastal paradise that’s been preserved since 1974.
The South Slough Estuarine Research Preserve offers a visitor center that introduces you to the area with varied multi-media and hands on exhibits.
Together, the displays put you in touch with a rare piece of Oregon coastal environment according to the center’s Deborah Rudd:
“It is undisturbed, it is not developed and you do have more interaction with wildlife here. It’s quiet! It’s peaceful! And you can picture what life was like many years ago across this southern branch of greater Coos Bay.”
There’s more than 5,000 acres in South Slough Preserve – approximately 1,000 of that is the slough itself, then the rest is protected upland forest or marshland.
There is plenty of elbowroom to explore at South Slough Preserve and there are plenty of trails that take you out and about.
One of my favorites is called the Hidden Creek Trail - a little over a mile in length that offers a wonderful wooden boardwalk that takes you out over a wetland area where the freshwater creek meets the sea.
In addition, there are many stunning views along the trail, including those from atop a two level deck that looks across a marsh area to the Winchester Arm of the slough.
The preserve is open throughout the calendar year, but South Slough Preserve Education Director, Tom Gaskill, says some seasons offer unique surprises for the hearty traveler.
“I’m a birder, so for me this time of year in fall is the beginning of the most exciting part of the season. We have flocks of waterfowl that pass through here and a lot of the over wintering forest birds too – there are many species that we never see here during the summer, so it’s exciting in the winter months to see some of these migratory species that spend summers in Alaska and Canada but they’re here for the winter.”
“It is a beautiful place whatever season you come to visit,” added Rudd. “You will be amazed and it will be worth your effort to come find us.”
Each winter, a feathery invasion drops into Oregon’s fields and wetlands: a quarter million Canada geese and photographer Kelly Warren, owner of Wild Spirit Resources, likes to be where the flocks are:
“Shooting birds in flight with a camera can be really difficult,” said Warren.“A lot of people try to do it with a tripod but I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to do it off hand because I don’t get so many blurred wing shots.”
What began as a hobby born of a curiosity was refined by his grandfather’s guidance and eventually wildlife photography led Warren to a professional pursuit .
The result of his time and effort in the field was the “Field Guide to the Geese of the Willamette Valley.”
The book was first aimed at hunters who must identify each of the 7 sub-species of Canada geese that fly, land, sit or swim across Oregon each Fall.
Warren’s years-long efforts paid off with an amazing book.
“Finally, it turned into a 90-page, full of photos, lots of great details, combination photos with different sub species of geese and it’s not only helpful for hunters, it’s a really useful guide for anybody who enjoys wildlife.”
Warren’s pictures so impressed Oregon wildlife managers they made his book the state’s study guide for waterfowl hunters.
How many photos did Warren take? 26,000!
“There are some nights after I’d been in the field all day, shooting and listening to geese, I’d be hearing them when I went to bed at night – yet I never got tired of it.”
Although only 90 were selected for the book, Warren added that there are amazing differences between each species.
“The sizes of the geese vary widely: Cacklers that are a little bigger than a Mallard , but Great Westerns can reach up to 14 pounds…some are very light in breast color and some are very dark in breast color. It takes awhile for people to catch on.”
Warren’s book has caught on with folks who don’t hunt but like to watch and learn about wildlife…and he shares photo tips with anyone who wants to capture the outdoors on their own.
“Anytime between November to late January to February are really great times for waterfowl and the good times to catch birds when they’re not so wary is early morning and evening. Birds tend to be concentrated on going to the roost or going to feed.”
It’s an impressive dedication to an amazing project that teaches us more about the geese that make Oregon a winter home.
It’s always a challenge to catch a big salmon, but on a recent trip with John Krauthoefer, (Firefighter’s Guide Service/503-812-1414,) I landed a dandy, twenty-pound chrome bright salmon.
So, what to do with the catch?
I didn’t have to travel far to discover one delicious idea!
Karla Steinhauser likes to say she hasn’t met a salmon that she doesn’t like – to smoke - the old fashioned way.
Nearly half a century of experience in the Tillamook County village of Rockaway, Oregon has led her to use alder and vine maple in a smoky fire.
Through the years, she has prepared tons of salmon, sturgeon, cod and albacore tuna with a simple cure of salt and brown sugar.
She cuts the fish into numerous small chunks and places each on racks inside her famous wood smoker.
I joined her in the smoking room as she pulled a fresh batch of golden hued salmon and tuna from the mammoth wood smoker that once had a life as a stainless steel crab cooker.
But Karla had a better idea for the piece and thought that if the cooker was turned on end it would make a better smoker.
She was right!
“I basically taught myself – the fish has to be done in the thickest part of the fish - I pick up each piece and look for color and feel for firmness. It’s a touchy sort of thing but 46 years of experience lets me know when time is right to take it out.”
She learned her way around a kitchen from her Norwegian grandmother and her business savvy father - “Karla’s Smokehouse” has been a fixture on the north coast since 1964.
“My dad always said that during the depression there were two businesses that never go broke – the beer joints and the banks – so I thought, I don’t drink, so food is the way to go because people have to eat. I wanted a business that I controlled and one where I wasn’t likely to lose my job.”
So, the college graduate (she attended Portland’s Washington High School and Lewis and Clark College) who double majored in Art and Biology, created a “beachy” life for herself – one that offered independence and self-reliance.
This year, she decided time had come for a change! She wanted to slow down a bit and thought it would be good to share her secrets in a new book: “I Am Karla’s Smokehouse.”
“I always wanted to pass on what I knew to the public, which is ironic because when I was young, customers scared the dickens out of me. I was so scared of people that I asked the hired help to wait on the people. I was so shy and I had to overcome that. It took a lot of time, but eventually I did and writing a book was much the same for me; a big challenge!”
“I Am Karla’s Smokehouse” is an enjoyable and easy to read text that offers practical how to techniques in every phase of fish smoking.
The many photographs are by local photographer Don Best and show detailed pictures of filleting varied fish species, the proper application of the cure and fish appearance at the end of the smoking time.
The book also offers Karla’s own colorful art of whimsical moments that make you smile.
“I make myself look ridiculous with a long spiked nose and a great big belly and skinny legs. I am really a satirist and make fun of myself. It is expressing the real me to people and giving them the proper techniques. I want to be a teacher!”
So stop in and say “Hello!” Chances are good that Karla will be there with her friendly smile and easygoing manner as she tends the smoky fires. It’s a warm and welcome place where “class” is always in session.