Friday, March 02, 2007

The Oregon Trail

Several iterations of computers ago, we had a computer game called “The Oregon Trail.” It was one of the few computer games our daughter had and she enjoyed playing it, all the while learning bits of information about the Oregon Trail. On one of the “trips” she took, she named the members of her party after her family. Just as with the real Oregon Trail, the computer game had hazards and disease along the way. If you left St. Louis too late, you might encounter blizzards in the Cascade Mountains. If you failed to take enough provisions, you might starve. Of course, you could always be attacked along the Trail, and disease was ever present. During the game where she named her party after family members, the person named for her dad succumbed to cholera along the way, and had to be “buried” in the desert complete with tombstone. Much to her dad’s chagrin, that became the source of a running family joke.

Well, on our trip to Oregon, we saw many reminders of the Oregon Trail. Of course, there are museums, places named for Oregon Trail events, and there are the actual locations that settlers would have seen on the Trail.

We only visited the destination end (the Willamette Valley). As we traveled eastward along some of the areas those settlers would have seen, we were struck with the incredible beauty of the area. The one sight we missed seeing altogether was Mt. Hood, as the skies were always overcast. We could see bits of the Cascades lower mountains.

We decided to drive toward the Dalles, the point on the Oregon Trail where land travel ended. The Dalles is a place where the Columbia River narrows, creating hazardous rapids. In the computer game, once at the Dalles you could choose to float across or take a land route around the obstacle. Both routes were hazardous with the river crossing resulting in many a tipped raft with all the settler's possessions lost.

Our rental car was equipped with GPS so we set the destination, and then picked “least traveled” routes. As a result, we ended up leaving I-84 heading east, and traveled along the older cross country route, U.S. 30. Remember this was a rainy day. As we began to climb in altitude, the fog increased. Next thing we knew we were traveling along a very narrow road, minimal guide rail along the side, rocky cliffs to the south side and steep drop-offs to the north side of our road. Quite an adventuresome drive as we traversed along the historic Columbia River Gorge Highway.

But it took us past a wonderful series of waterfalls. The greatest drop among these falls is the Multnomah Falls, second highest in the U.S. There are about a half dozen falls along this road. Given the rain, we did not stop at each falls, but did get at some particularly breathtaking ones. We especially liked the Wahkeena Falls.
While rain can enhance photography at times, when you are shooting up to get the sweep of the falls, with rain beating down on you. . .well, let's just say ENHANCE is not the word that comes to mind!

Back on somewhat more familiar roads (at least in type), we continued eastward on I-84. This time, our destination was the Bonneville Dam and the Cascade Locks. Constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, this dam was the first one built along the Columbia River Gorge. The location on the Columbia is where the river takes a kind of dog-leg bend. At one time, there had been a natural landslide that completely blocked the river, forming its own dam. Geologists estimate that water backed up for a month before the pressure force of the water broke through. It rearranged the topography, leaving behind an island and some water channels. Here is where the Corps sited the dam. In addition to the dam, fish ladders were built to help salmon, and a series of locks were also built to accommodate river traffic.

As we continued our journey, we crossed the Bridge of the Gods (so named after the term native Americans had used to refer to the landslide “bridge” that formed when the Bonneville landslide first occurred) over to the state of Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. We continued to where the Hood River flows into the Columbia, a prime wind surfing site in the U.S. No wind surfers on that rainy cold day—but a funky little town.

Our only regret—not getting to see the mountains, especially Mt. Hood. And as we drove back to Portland, we took the boring but safe interstate!

Photo of Mt. Hood by Tom Riedel (


Anonymous said...

Interesting! I've been in Portland a couple of times, & on Mt. Hood once, part way up that is. A beautiful clear blue sky Sunday afternoon it was too. But I haven't been further East in Oregon than that. The Dalles: Pronounced half way between "Dolls" or "Dalls", more like "Dalls". We went to a Church Service Sunday morning and there were visitors there from "The Dalles" and that is the way they pronounced it. In your last post, neither you nor your brother were quite correct in the way your cousin Merle was killed. Ask me about it next time you're out and I'll tell you my memory. I remember it well. Love. Father "C"

Body Soul Spirit said...

We played Oregon Trail here too on an old Mac computer. I really have to go west one of these days (soon). It would be disappointing to miss the mountain view, but you have lovely photos anyway.

Mary said...


I really admire your adventuresome spirit! The Oregon Trail was a formidable game. Your description of heights and drop-offs along the way made me shiver. Your photos are so nice... Thanks for sharing your journey in a place I've never visited. Is there more?