The Historic Highway

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

As a child, I remember loving the woods. I spent countless hours roaming leaf-strewn trails and passing the time barefoot in muddy creeks; I caught lizards and bugs, built forts and invented stories. I was almost always alone. Yet I was never bored, and I was never lonely.

I have felt very much like being alone this week. I have needed time to sink into thought in preparation for the enormous transition which lies ahead. After wrapping up some miscellaneous tasks yesterday, I took the afternoon today to visit the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail on my little black and white bike. Although also open to hikers, I think it is experienced better from a two wheel point of view.

the Coyote Wall seen from the Columbia River Highway State Trail

The entire length of the 70+ mile Historic Highway runs in segments from Troutdale to the Dalles; however, there are two broken sections isolated specifically for hiker/biker use where cars may not transgress. I drove out to Hood River first to explore the Hatfield West Trailhead portion of the trail to the Mosier Twin Tunnels. A roughly five mile tour each way, it did not disappoint. 

Mosier Twin Tunnels

The personality of the gorge is spectacular and ever-changing. It shifts character with the seasons, with the altitude, with the longitude. Here, on the eastern half of the gorge, it takes on a brilliant gold color, oak trees dotting the basalt cliff sides, the Columbia unnaturally still and glassy on this particular afternoon. The miles passed quickly on clean, well-tended pavement, and I soon found myself at the Mosier Twin Tunnels portion of the trail. 

I love history. I love imagining Model T's rolling their slow, noisy way through this landscape, marveling at the magnitude of the geology surrounding them.

Next, I drove to Cascade Locks and hooked up with the second, unbroken section of the Historic Highway traveling west. Two miles from Cascade Locks, just prior to Eagle Creek, I was thwarted by a 'Trail Closed' sign, apparently for rock blasting. Damn and blast. Oh well, back the way I came. These miles are some of my favorite: here, the gorge takes on that unique, mossy, damp, gloomy personality that pervades its western half. This is the wind-ridden, sometimes violent, landslide prone territory I love so much to explore in the winter months. Somehow, the gorge feels most alive in the winter. It is stripped down to the elements of nature, all wind and water and no compromises.

Old bridge near Ruckel Creek

Turned back before Eagle Creek, I had to migrate again yet westward, towards the Tooth Rock Trailhead. Here, I had the option of returning east for a return to Eagle Creek or heading west towards Moffett Creek. I chose west initially; not having a map in hand, I felt I vaguely remembered the trail continuing for longer than it did. I soon happened upon the Moffett Creek bridge, where the trail abruptly ends. Nothing spectacular or memorable to report about this section of trail. Essentially it parallels I-84 and there is not much else to it, unless you are a blackberry fan, in which case there are plenty of berries.

By now, I was tired and hot, so I chose not to bike the remaining section of trail east to Eagle Creek. D'oh! Big mistake as I discovered upon returning home. The final miles I did not bike are home to the Tooth Rock viaduct, an engineering marvel in its day. Nowadays, I-84 blasts its way through Tooth Rock, rather than perching its precarious way along the side of the basalt giant.

Bridge of the Gods

Another day, perhaps.