Saturday, July 2, 2016

Riding west along the Columbia River

We started today in Walla Walla, Washington, riding west on Route 12 through farmland and low, rolling hills. After 35 miles we turned onto Route 730, and the rest of the day followed the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon.

The Columbia River at this point is also called Lake Wallula due to the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers that create the 26,000 acre lake. I was expecting to see a river, not a wide lake that stretched as far as we could see.

We crossed the Columbia on Route 82, and then quickly turned onto Oregon Route 14, a 2-lane paved road that closely follows the river shoreline and is part of the Lewis and Clark scenic byway system we've been following since we left Bozeman, Montana earlier in the week.

The landscape surrounding the Columbia gradually changed from dry, rounded hills without trees to steep rocky cliffs, and finally to heavily forested cliffs as we continued to head west.

Along the way we almost constantly saw hundreds of windmills in Oregon and Washington, sometimes far away and a couple of times close enough that we could watch the three large arms turning slowly.

The mile-wide Columbia gorge at almost sea level creates strong thermal winds that power the windmills. We felt the headwind on the BMW, and watched people enjoy riding the winds using brightly-colored parasails and windsurfers.

Train tracks also closely follow both sides of the Columbia, sometimes right next to the road. At one point Mike counted 115 train cars plus 3 engines as we caught up to - and then passed - the train heading west.

We saw 4 dams on the Columbia that create wider 'lakes'. The dams on the Columbia and other rivers in the Northwest provide 40% of the total hydropower in the US. We stopped to look out over the river at the McNary Lock and Dam, opened in 1954.

There is very little car traffic, and almost no truck traffic on Washington Route 14 because of the 7 tunnels along the way built in 1933-1937.

The power of the wind, enormity of the Columbia River, huge scale of the windmills, and the twisting, winding highway that follows the river were awesome. The most majestic views today, however, were of Mt. Jefferson, at 10,495' the  second highest point in Oregon in the Cascade Mountain Range. It was named in 1806 by Lewis and Clark for President Jefferson.

We crossed over the Columbia for the final time on the Bridge of Gods, a 1,131' long toll bridge built in 1926. The bridge has steel decking that makes Mike ride extremely cautiously because of the potential for the steel to be slippery. Lewis and Clark had to portage around this area because of the Cascade Rapids.

Oregon Scenic Route 30, an old, narrow 2-lane paved highway winds through the dense forests on the south side of the Columbia. It's a gorgeous drive with several waterfalls visible from the road. Unfortunately, on a Saturday afternoon during the 4th of July holiday weekend, we were stuck in miles-long traffic jams as people jockeyed for limited parking spaces.

We ended the day in riding through busy Portland city traffic, reminding us why we much prefer little-traveled, 2-lane roads on the motorcycle. We'll stay in Portland through the weekend, then start our trip back home to Arizona.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you guys didn't take I-84 through the gorge. You definitely picked the best way.

    And Portland traffic is some of the worst in the country even when it isn't a holiday weekend.

    Watch out for people on their cell phones. It is illegal, but not enforced enough so too many people are on their phones and not paying attention to the roads and traffic.