The Dalles and The Columbia Gorge

We left Bend early this morning and drove north to a city called The Dalles on the Columbia River. Most of the countryside consisted of a flat lava plain that was intersected by gorges and ravines. It was a very dry area, and I think the locals refer to it as a ‘desert’. In the south, the vegetation is sparse sage brush but in some of the valleys where irrigation is possible, farmers grow grass for hay as a commercial crop. To the north, we could see evidence of some form of cropping like wheat. The landscape is, nevertheless, quite interesting.

There were a few small towns along the way. One of these was called Madras. We were sure that we could find an Indian restaurant in a town with such a name but the most exotic restaurant we could see was a Chinese one. Later on, we asked one of the people in a restaurant about Indians and she asked “Do you mean the ones with feathers or the ones at 7-Eleven?” I guess that there are sometimes more similarities with the USA and Australia than I had realised.



We eventually stopped for lunch at The Dalles and found a delightful little cafe called ‘Petite Provence’. It serves up luscious pastries, along with tasty gourmet sandwiches salads and soups, as well as all day breakfasts. They even managed to create a good representation of a Long Black coffee with some simple instructions from me!

The name of this city comes from the French word dalle (meaning either “sluice” or “flagstone”), referring to the columnar basalt rocks carved by the river. The name was used by the French-Canadian employees of the North West Company to refer to the rapids of the Columbia River near the present-day city. It has a population of about 13,500 people. 

Having an early lunch left us with all afternoon to explore the beautiful scenery of the Columbia River Gorge. This is another of Oregon’s Scenic Byways. There are in fact, two routes along the gorge by the river. One is the four lane, high-speed, expressway that misses most of the scenic spots and the other is the original Highway 97 that winds through beautiful forests and past many waterfalls. Sometimes these roads are only a few hundred metres apart. We had a couple of times where we were confused by directional signs or road junctions and more than once, we found ourselves back on the freeway. At the first opportunity, we retraced our steps and picked up the old highway again, meaning that we saw some sections of the road two, or there times.


Construction of the original Columbia River Highway began in 1913, and was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of its day. Its engineer, Samuel C. Lancaster, was very environmentally conscious and did not want to mar what “God had put there.” He worked carefully to plan the road so that it ran past many of the waterfalls and other beauty spots along the way.  The Columbia River Gorge is about 120 kilometres long and up to 1200 metres deep. It is the only sea-level route through the Cascade Mountain Range. The landscape was originally formed by lava flows and later floods cut into its flat landscape to create the towering cliffs of columnar basalt that make up the Gorge. It provides a fascinating set of perspectives of the Gorge, including sweeping panaromas from 300 metres above the river.




 We stopped at many of the spectacular waterfalls until we began to run out of time. By late afternoon, it was time to head into Portland and find our hotel. This was the first big city that we had driven in since leaving San Francisco and it was somewhat of a shock to experience bumper to bumper traffic along the freeway and its exits.




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