Hood River County is absolutely gorgeous this time of year. The majestic Columbia River nestled in the dramatic basalt cliffs of the Gorge… the whopping mass of Mt. Hood, ambushing the unsuspecting driver at the top of a hill… the multi-hued, manicured green of orchards and vineyards… the colorful sail- and kite-boarders darting through the wind-driven whitecaps on the river. I can’t tell you how many “view” photos I have taken, and how many I have discarded. That which is so beautiful and breathtaking when viewed in person is simply too big and too grand to capture with my little Canon.
Yesterday, on our day off, we decided to explore the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway, heading south from Hood River and circumnavigating the mountain. The blue of the sky was hidden by high clouds all day long, fortunately too high to hide the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade volcanoes. I’m not satisfied with the photo, but it does provide a taste of the mass of the mountain.
The Mt. Hood Scenic Byway shares the route of Hood River County’s “Fruit Loop” for several miles, passing wineries and fruit orchards. We stopped at Draper’s Fruit Stand to pick up locally grown pears and apples. No humans were around – instead, we were greeted by this pair of lazy felines and a sign pointing to the scales and the metal pay box on a post. Honor system shopping! Since we would be out most of the day, we weren’t able to purchase any of the organic goat meat sold from coolers, but I’ve tucked that tidbit away in my mind for later action.
As we climbed towards Mt. Hood, we began to see patches of dirty snow, and the temperature dropped from the low 70’s to the mid-50’s. We passed the Barlow Road, a toll road dating back to the 1860’s that gave Oregon Trail pioneers the option to trek a grueling overland route from The Dalles to Oregon City instead of loading their wagons onto rafts to “float” the Columbia – two equally dangerous and unappealing options. We didn’t have time to stop and explore the landmarks along the Road – the Pioneer Woman’s Grave, the still visible 5-foot deep ruts, the Laurel Hill Chute (sounds ominous, eh?), and the last toll gate – but I hope we will go back in July, when the snow is gone.
A short spur road off of Hwy 26 leads to Timberline Lodge, a WPA-built ski lodge at 6,000 feet on the south side of Mt. Hood. The ski lift was running, skiers and snowboarders were playing – we were surprised!
We toured the inside of the fabulous building, built entirely by hand in the 1930’s. Once again, none of my numerous photos did ANY justice to the interior, so I focused on details that showed the quality of the handwork done by the WPA. I LOVED the banister end caps!
Leaving Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood and the skiers behind, we headed to the Mirror Lake trailhead for a 4 mile hike in the damp, deep green Cascade forest. Wild rhododendrons were in bloom, along with one of my favorite forest flowers, the trillium, shyly peeking up from the damp forest floor in white and purple.
After our hike, already halfway to Portland, we decided to incorporate a Costco run, getting back home around 5:30 pm. With our Costco haul put away and tired from our day of exploration, we treated ourselves to dinner out at another of Hood River’s excellent restaurants, Nora’s Table. An inventive menu, fresh local ingredients, and a wine list comprised of local wines made for a fantastic meal.
To start, we split the “Grilled romaine salad with Caesar dressing, potato crisps and Parmesan cheese”, the romaine grilled just enough to replace a bit of the crunch with a light char. The “Mountain Shadow rib eye with red chili posole, heaped with chipotle onion rings”, shown as an entree on their online menu, was available in a smaller portion as a “small plate”, my choice for dinner since I love posole. Yum – totally tasty. Odel ordered “Goan curry with rock fish, mussels and scallops on cumin rice with grilled naan bread”, seafood bathed in a complex yellow curry with naan so warm, fresh and delicious, we (he shared!) made embarrassing moaning noises with each bite. Definitely a restaurant worth a follow up visit!