Heading back down from our Washington adventures we wanted to stay in the Columbia River Gorge area again. The campsite we had stayed in the last time we were here a month before was closed for the season and so we decided to look for a spot on the Washington side of the Gorge. From the city of Cascade Locks we paid the reasonable $2 toll (locals pay half that amount) before driving North over the Bridge of the Gods and passing into Washington State about half way over the span.
We happily drove the 15 mph speed limit for a couple of reasons. First was because people are allowed to walk or cycle across the bridge yet there is no separate pedestrian walkway so they are right out on the road with vehicular traffic. A couple of times we had to move over somewhat into the opposing lane so as not to crush someone against the side of the bridge. Secondly was to keep the drone noise off the riveted steel mesh roadway from becoming too loud and annoying and waking up my sleeping beauty. Once across to the Washington side into the town of Stevenson we quickly pulled over and stopped to take in the views from the overlook on that side of the river.
Old Native American tales in the area tell of a natural rock bridge that once crossed the gorge in essentially the same spot the modern bridge now sits. Geologists have confirmed that, sometime around the year 1450, a massive section of the unstable North side of the Gorge including the south face of Table Mountain slipped into the river channel during what came to be known as the Bonneville Slide. This dammed the river and created a land bridge. This became known as The Bridge Of The Gods. Eventually the river worked its way through the blockage and breached it strewing the massive amounts of rock along the channel and creating what came to be called the Cascades of the Columbia. In order to make passage through the area possible for steamboats, barges and other watercraft the original locks were constructed in the late 19th Century and operated until 1938 when they were replaced by the Bonneville Lock and Dam. Portions of the old locks still exist and can be seen at the Cascade Locks Marine Park which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Essentially across the street from the overlook we saw a road that turned up and into the trees. Called Ash Lake Road our map showed it meandering around numerous little lakes in the area as it climbed the hills on the North side of the Gorge. About a mile on we came to a fork in the road. The map showed that Ash Lake Rd continued on to the right, circled Ashes Lake and came out back on Hwy 14 in a couple of miles and the left turn became Blue Lake Road which looked like it led further up the hill into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We took the left onto the steep and barely maintained Blue Lake Rd and immediately had to switch into 4-wheel drive just to keep moving. Further up the hill we passed under some electrical transmission lines, past a few small signs directing both logging and pipeline crews to their respective work areas in the forest and continued further up into the forest.
Eventually we saw a little road off to the right that looked overgrown and barely wide enough for the Tacoma to get through. We slowly rumbled up the rocky trail, turned a corner and were greeted by a small clearing with a spectacular view of the Gorge area below.
As a rare bonus and extra-added treat available to us at this spot…AT&T actually had a full 4G LTE signal! Will wonders never cease? Well of course they will this is AT&T we are talking about here but for now we had it all. That little discovery was icing on the cake and so we set up camp.
Depending on the weather and time of the day we sometimes saw nothing but thick mist with some trees poking through.
Regardless of the weather the weekdays were filled with sounds from down in the valley below us of heavy machinery doing its heavy, noisy work. For the first few days it was chainsaws and then the sounds of machines picking up limbed trees and plopping them onto logging trucks. After that the sounds changed to become more metallic in nature as the pipeline crews began their work. We found out later that both sets of noise were the result of a large contract to expand a natural gas pipeline and the logging crews had to go in first to clear the area before the pipeline crew could get to their task. They even worked on Saturday but thankfully Sunday was blissfully quiet.
A few days it continually stormed with torrential rains and high winds. Once the fog lifted or the storm blew over (if it did at all) we were greeted with more stunning views like this.
To the West of our site and behind us rose the iconic spire of Table Mountain.
From our vantage point we can see the area that sheared off during the Bonneville Slide leaving the steep face and sharp peak behind. That is if the weather cooperated enough for us to see it at all. 75% of the time we were at our little spot it was rainy, windy, foggy or a combination of those three. The snugtop camper shell once again did a disappointing job keeping our gear inside it dry.
During a brief break in the weather we took advantage of some meager sunshine to lay out, hang up and dry out some of our gear.
Willow took advantage of our first non-rain-drenched day to get in some self back scratching in.
While laying and hanging gear out to dry Willow began focusing on something in the grass and I went to take a look.
He was having trouble moving in a snake-like fashion because of his tail injury or deformity. To make sure Willow didn’t sniff him to death I gently picked him up and moved him to a nice, relatively dry rock overhang at one end of our campsite. He was noticeably lethargic and we guessed that was due to the cold, wet weather and because of his limited mobility he was probably not eating as much food as he would have liked. He perked up a bit while in my warm hand and made no strident moves to get away from me or defend himself from this massive affront to his reptilian honor.
For the remainder of our stay at this site we spotted our little snake dude friend several times a day. We knew it was him because of his tail deformity. He never moved far or fast and seemed to try to take advantage of what little good (or not bad) weather there was to be out basking on any flat rock that was lucky enough to be situated under a ray of sunlight.
During one of the longer breaks in the weather while we waited for our gear to dry out we bid adieu to our little snake buddy and took our leave on another of our all-too-common Garbage Walks and found way too much crap to pick up in the only garbage bag we brought with us. We did fill it up though and on subsequent hikes around the area we managed to fill up a total of four bags that we eventually brought down off the mountain and disposed of properly.
In one of the local newspapers we saw mention that something called Logtoberfest was to be held on October 8th one town over in Carson, WA and decided that would be an interesting side excursion to pick up some of the local vibe. Because of the less-than-ideal weather that was expected and the probable small crowds it was held on a relatively small parking lot at the Elk Ridge Golf Course. We got there about an hour before it was to start, pulled up right next to the Golf Course’s main building and got a great parking spot. Inside was a golf Pro Shop and a bar/pub. Since we had been eating camping food for weeks on end I decided to splurge and had breakfast there while we waited for Logtoberfest to officially get underway. I am usually not one to post pictures of my food but this monstrosity I chose was both disgusting and awesome at the same time. Called Stuffed Hash Browns it was a large plate completely filled with hash browns stuffed with bacon, sausage, bell peppers, onion, tomato, locally smoked cheddar and topped with thick country gravy.
Even though the day started off drizzly and overcast the crowds arrived by the tractor-pulled wagon load as parking was scarce and they had directed people to park in an area a couple of blocks away.
We were lucky to arrive when we did as they closed off the parking lot and only allowed the tractor-pulled crowds in. Entrance was free but it was $10 if your wanted a commemorative Mason jar glass and two drink tickets ($5/ea if you wanted additional tickets) to enjoy the local craft beer from eight different breweries or local cider, spirits and wine. If you dressed as a logger you got one free ticket. You could tell the real loggers as they wore their actual dirty, greasy logger clothes and the posers wore brand new or sparkling clean Eddie Bauer-style flannel shirts, gucci suspenders, never-seen-dirt Diesel jeans and Gore-Tex hiking boots. The real loggers collected in groups and made friendly fun at the posers. But hey, if you tried you got a free adult beverage so we’re kinda sad we didn’t know that little detail or I would have worn my old Pendleton shirt and dirty duckcloth jeans, bought a cheap pair of suspenders, worn my old beat-to-shit combat boots and looked the poser part too.
Once the weather cleared and bands wouldn’t be electrocuted the music started up on the small stage and continued throughout the day. Some decent Country & Western bands for the most part. Some interesting vintage logging equipment demonstrations from way back in the day before either OSHA or the EPA existed were held several time during our stay.
There were booths where you could make your own apple cider, metal and woodwork vendors and some pretty good-looking food although, after my monstrous breakfast the thought of more food made me want to upchuck. Seemingly the biggest draw of the day was Cliff Barackman, host of “Finding Bigfoot” on Animal Planet, giving a talk on his search for Bigfoot over the years. Some unlucky soul was tasked with walking around in a Bigfoot costume and now that the sun had come out we can only imagine how hot and uncomfortable he/she was in that furry suit.
The little fenced-in area where you were allowed to enjoy adult beverages was WAY too small for the amount of people who wanted to take advantage of it. It was literally shoulder-to-shoulder waiting in line for a pour and then standing around trying to enjoy a lovely barley pop without being bumped into and getting it spilled. My first IPA was great. My second, not so much so I was not too sad to dump it out (I know, I know…alcohol abuse) and escape the crowds in that area.
As soon as I stepped out we heard a voice calling my name and there, out of the blue, stood some friends who we had no idea were in the area. We knew them from Humboldt County and remembered they had moved down to the San Francisco Bay Area but, unbeknownst to us, they had moved back up to this area and bought a house down the road in White Salmon. Those 6 degrees of separation narrowed to 2 or 3 I tell you. They had their little dog Cinder with them and she and Willow had a great time getting to know each other again after 6 months or so without smelling one another.
After we had our fill of Logtoberfest we made plans to meet up over at Backwoods Brewing, a quality local brewery and pub. My friends wanted lunch. I still wanted nothing to do with food but was happy to join them and enjoy a nice beverage on the brewery’s outdoor dog-friendly patio. After a nice visit we again commented on what a strange coincidence it was to meet up here under these circumstances, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
Once back up at our site we took in our gear that had been hanging up drying all day and reorganized it so that it might fare a better and drier fate during the next storm that was supposed to be arriving shortly. We also began generally organizing camp since we were planning on starting our way Southward again in the next few days.
After another couple of days of schizophrenic weather we were ready to head to a warmer, drier climate. Sadly on our last morning in camp we found our little snake dude buddy out in the open curled up upside down and looking dead. I picked him up and he wasn’t in rigor mortis and his eyes were not cloudy so that was a bit weird. After a couple of minutes the warmth of my hand somewhat revived him but we could tell he was not doing well in this environment with his limitations and was going to continue to decline. We made the sad and difficult decision to not let nature run its slow, cruel, course and humanely euthanized him. Willow gave his body another thorough nose once-over and then promptly lost interest and I placed his little remains where they would be quickly recycled by some other local wildlife denizen. From his death something would gain a bit more life to help it through the upcoming harsh winter months.
We left our Springbar tent up until the last moment so that it would dry out as much as possible before we packed it away. It is a relatively expensive investment and we don’t want mold or mildew to damage it early in its life. As I was packing up our gear Willow enjoyed one final bout of rolling-in-the-dirt/back-scratching bliss.
This general area, the Columbia River Gorge Valley, is one of the more stunningly beautiful places we have ever been privileged to spend some quality time in. Over a two month period we explored both sides of the river from Portland to Hood River and many parts above, below and in between. Because of the changing seasons we had our fair share of less than awesome weather and, truth be told, that balance probably leaned more towards “bad” than “good.” Exploring an area of such beauty in more than one season though gives visitors an even greater appreciation for the sights as one day you can see something wet and shiny under cold, stormy skies and the next day see the same area dry, warm and bathed in sunshine…or covered in snow. Keeps you on your adventuring toes. When we head up into this area for next August’s Total Solar Eclipse we will arrive early enough to revisit this sublime spot and explore some more without the need (hopefully) for the daily wearing of foul weather gear. We highly recommend that if you ever have a chance to visit this area you jump at the chance.