Tuesday, June 30, 2009

“Weekend” Activities

Yes, we are winding down our “weekend”, Monday and Tuesday.  Tomorrow – back to work!

Odel contemplating life standing on the bridge at the foot of Elowah Falls.We had a nice surprise today: our friends Diane and Frank Gruelle, spending the summer near Portland, called to ask if we were free for socializing this afternoon.  Heck yes!  We zipped out onto our trail for exercise and were just returning home when they called from the gate. 

After they visited our site and we caught up on recent life events, we headed off to one of the restaurants I had been wanting to try, the Sixth Street Bistro & Loft.  It sounded better on the website than it was in reality; we all were a little disappointed with our food. 

It seemed to be a problem with seasonings.  My Blackened Salmon Wrap was too dry and bland, needing more sauce and flavor.  Diane’s onion soup lacked the depth of flavor in the broth that she expected, and Frank’s tartar sauce for his Fish and Chips was “different” – and not in a good way.  Odel’s comment on his hamburger (local, natural, hormone-free beef) was “it needed some Lawry’s seasoned salt and pepper”.  :)   I was happy we had gone with friends, as the socializing tempered our disappointment with the meal!

High on the Gorge wall, a trail has been carved out of the cliff.

Hood River is in the middle of the Gorge’s transition from green, damp, and mossy on the west end to dry, open, and sunny on the east end.  This weekend’s activities encompassed both.

On Friday, as soon as we closed the Visitor Center, we hopped in the car and headed 30 miles west to a trail promising a easy/moderate hike to one of the lesser-known Gorge waterfalls, Elowah (top photo).  The small parking lot was full, so we squeezed into a “sort of” space and set out.

The trail was exactly what our (highly recommended) guidebook, Curious Gorge, had promised.  At the first fork, we headed up, zig-zagging back and forth through the heavy forest on switchbacks carrying us to the top of the falls.  Part of the trail (this photo) was hacked out of solid basalt and the railing was much appreciated by me – the cliff fell straight down at my feet.  The view across the Gorge was stunning, the norm around here.

Coming back down, we took the other fork, dropping down more tight switchbacks to the bottom of the falls, where we stood in a cloud of mist watching the water plunge into a deep pool.  Magical!

Sam Hill's Merryhill Museum at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge, Washington sideWhen I was in the Hood River Library recently, I noticed something interesting: library patrons can check out a free pass for the Merryhill Museum on the eastern end of the Gorge, on the Washington Side.  This is one of the places I hoped we would visit while here so, on Saturday morning, I zipped over, checked out the pass (saved us $13) and away we went.

Merryhill Museum was built by Sam Hill, the man who dreamed the Columbia River Highway, where we are now volunteering.  As we’ve learned more about this road and its history, my interest in Sam Hill has grown.  At one time, he owned almost 6,000 acres in Washington, where he – a Quaker – planned to develop a Quaker farming community.  Merryhill was to be his home, but the community never materialized and the building was never completed as a home.  He converted it to a museum during his lifetime; now it hosts traveling exhibits and has the best permanent Native American exhibit I have ever seen.

Looking west from Sam Hill's Stonehenge memorial near the Merryhill Museum.

Sam Hill’s property is on the far eastern end of the Gorge.  Drive up out of the Gorge either north or south and you are in the high, dry desert.  It is a completely different experience than the western gorge.

I took this picture from another of Sam Hill’s constructions, located further east on his property: a full-sized replica of the original Stonehenge, built by Hill as a memorial to the Klickitat County residents killed in WWI.  Look at those brown hillsides, so different from the area around Hood River and to the west, but beautifully grand.  Yes, that’s Mt. Hood looming in the background – there is no getting away from it!  

Friday, June 26, 2009


The weather in Hood River is pretty wild. The norm – as we knew before we arrived – is wind. Eight days out of ten, that means WINDY. One or two days out of ten will be breezy. The RARE day will be dead calm.

Bill, Bev, Laurie, Odel posing at Vista House at Crown Point in the Columbia River gorge.

My parents arrived at our gate around 11 am on Monday. The wind was breezy in Hood River, the sky a mix of clouds and sunshine. We decided to spend the afternoon touring the western portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway, home to the most well –known icons of the gorge, Multnomah Falls and Vista House at Crown Point.

It is a wonderfully scenic drive and we had a big surprise: no wind at Crown Point, high up on the side of the Gorge. Wow, did we luck out!

Tuesday was even more surprising: no wind at all in Hood River. Odel took advantage of the calm to head out on the golf course, and my mom, dad and I took off for a beautiful, sunshine filled day of sightseeing.

I was beginning to think they wouldn’t believe that Hood River’s economy runs on wind, but the weather returned to normal on Wednesday: a calm morning followed by a freshening breeze building to high sustained winds and tree-bending gusts. How lucky we were on Monday and Tuesday!

I’ve got lots of photos of our sightseeing. Here are some of the highlights of this beautiful area, starting with a view of the Vista House (very tiny in this photo) on Crown Point, taken from the Portland Women’s Forum State Park.

The Vista House on Crown Point from Women's Forum State Park

On Tuesday, we had clear views of Mt. Hood (south of Hood River) and Mt. Adams (north of Hood River, in Washington). I took these photos when we visited a nearby lavender farm:

Lavender and Mt. Hood The photo of Mt. Hood, above, was taken looking south. I turned around and took the photo of Mt. Adams to the north.

Lavender and Mt. Adams

Though the lavender was incredibly beautiful and fragrant, I was dazzled by the poppies:

Red Poppies blooming next to the lavender

Next we headed to Lost Lake, on the northwest side of Mt. Hood, for a picnic. I took this photo from our picnic table:

Mt. Hood from Lost Lake on a sunny day.

On the way home, we stopped at one of the many fruit stands along the “Fruit Loop”, a scenic drive through the orchards in the highlands above Hood River and the gorge. We found fresh Bing cherries, and just-picked strawberries – the small, delicate ones with a juicy red heart, just the opposite of the huge, firm, often hollow strawberries shipped to grocery stores. Hurray for local produce! By the way, the Hood River County Fruit Loop Cherry Celebration is coming up in a few weeks, July 11-12, 2009. Ummmmmmmmmmm…!

On Wednesday, Odel and I were back at work while my mom and dad explored on their own. We had dinner at Dixie’s Southern Grub, the third time Odel and I have eaten there. Once again, EVERYTHING was delicious. I won’t go into a description of each of our far-above-average dishes – I’m afraid I’d get started and never stop – but we HIGHLY recommend Dixie’s to anyone who is looking for an excellent dining-out experience in a comfortable, casual (and remarkably kid-friendly) setting. A day on the Fruit Loop during the Cherry Celebration, dinner at Dixie’s… now that would be a good, good day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Now that Odel is back and learning to run the visitor center, I had the chance to tackle a favorite project: weeding!

Before we began our life of travel, I was an avid gardener. Over a period of a couple years, I replaced two-thirds of our Bermuda grass lawn with a large vegetable garden and several flower gardens.

A vanquished knapweed showing its taproot.In sunny, well-drained soil, Bermuda grass is incredibly invasive, extremely difficult to eradicate. It became my mission to keep it confined to the “lawn” area, and we clashed constantly and ruthlessly. Now, with no gardens to tend, I still relish the challenge of invasive plant control (aka weeding).

Knapweeds are invasive here. They thrive in disturbed areas, and produce an herbicide of their own that helps them subdue the native plant population. Removal is a good thing!

These hearty plants have a taproot that doesn’t give up without a fight. When possible, I rip up the entire plant – but with flower buds preparing to open, I’m willing to resort to pruners if I can’t get that taproot. My goal is to deny them the chance to produce seeds – my personal challenge. :) I must have pulled thirty or forty knapweeds in about an hour – and I sure felt it in my legs and back the next day.

Ready to head up the hill on his trike. The Mosier Twin Tunnels Trail is a multi-use trail with just two rules: Human power only (always observed), and dogs on leashes (frequently flouted).

We see bicycles of all kinds – road bikes, mountain bikes, tandems, tricycles, and recumbents - along with skate boards, skate “skis”, and of course walkers and joggers. When I can, I take pictures of the most unusual conveyences.

This guy, his friend and his dog came to ride the trail on their Trikke. Have you seen the infomercial? He did – and, after taking a Trikke for a test ride in Portland, purchased one. He claims that it is a super workout, completely low impact – and it definitely looked like a workout as he headed up the grade, twisting his body from side to side, pressing alternately outward on one “leg” of the Trikke, then the other to slowly climb the hill. When I saw him return later, his sweat-drenched shirt validated the workout claim.

Pedal-less bike and petite rider

How about this pedal-less bike and tiny rider? Look how seriously she posed after I asked permission for a photo!

She was accompanied by her dad and (my guess) her grandparents, who walked the trail while she “rode”. They are from San Francisco, and her dad said she was an experienced hill-rider. As he pointed out, once she is ready to move up to a regular bike, she’ll already have the balance issues figured out.

When they moved off up the hill, she looked like a little amphibian, her bent legs acting like flippers against the asphalt to move up the hill. Her daddy put his hand lightly on her back, a bit of extra power on the climb. Very cute!

Friday, June 19, 2009


Wednesday was Odel’s first workday since we came home, and after a morning bike ride to patrol the trail (blowing needed!), we spent 4 hours in the visitor center going over the opening procedures, handling annual and day passes, closing procedures and reconciling our revenue.  As soon as he is comfortable with the visitor center responsibilities, we will split the 4 hour shift so we each can spend time on the outdoor duties.  Odel blew the trail in the afternoon while I caught up with our OTHER volunteer job, the Boomers!

3 foot bull snake on bike trail, soaking up the early morning sunshine. First a quarry, then a fruit dump (and favorite spot for the bears) for the local orchards, now a lake along the bike trail.

Thursday was a different story.  Once again, the coordinator for the Friends of the Vista House (the National Historic Landmark building on Crown Point, along the Historic Columbia Highway in the Gorge) arranged a trip for us (remember last week’s train ride?).  This time, we headed out on the Columbia River on the sternwheeler Columbia Gorge.

The sternwheel Columbia Gorge coming into the dock at Cascade Locks

This is a tourist attraction I can whole-heartedly endorse!  As you can see in the photo, we had great weather for the trip, and we – along with the other volunteer hosts I met on the train last week – enjoyed the sunshine on the top deck during the entire 2-hour trip.

The sternwheeler travels both up and down river from Cascade Locks, the tiny town where it is docked.  The captain narrates the cruise, providing tidbits of current and historical information – Lewis and Clark’s passage through the area, the area’s Native American tribes, the building of the dams (Bonneville and The Dalles) and subsequent flooding of the rapids that had bedeviled explorers, trappers, traders and and Oregon Trail pioneers.

The big wheel keeps on turning...  rollin', rollin' rollin' on the river.

According to the captain, the ship is entirely powered by the big stern wheel – no auxiliary engines.  Standing on the back of the deck, looking down on the huge paddlewheel, this is entirely believable! Lots of noise, cascades of churning water, plenty of spray… it is a giddy experience to watch those big paddles whack the water.

Our two hour Sightseeing Cruise normally costs $28/person (thank you, Friends of Vista House, for picking up our tab!) and it would be worth the fare for this beautiful and educational tour (especially on a sunny day).  They also offer a Dinner Cruise, a Champagne Brunch Cruise and a once-a-week, 5-hour “Landmarks of the Gorge” Cruise – all more costly, and probably worth it.

Between Hood River and Portland, about 50 miles, there is only one place to exit the Oregon side of the Gorge – the Garden of the Gods Bridge from Cascade Locks, Oregon, to Stevenson, Washington.  Native American fishing platforms on the Washington bank.  Four Indian tribes have year-round fishing rights in these traditional fishing grounds, where the rapids were flooded as water rose behind the dams.After the cruise, we crossed the bridge to the Washington side of the Gorge and headed east, back to next bridge over the river, from White Salmon/Bingen, Washington to Hood River.  It seems to us that we encountered unusually heavy traffic heading towards us (west), and the backup at the bridge toll booth heading into Hood River was extremely long.

In Hood River, it was total gridlock everywhere! We’re talkin’ about a small town, so this was a baffling surprise to us.  The cause?  A hay truck caught fire heading west on Interstate 84 between Hood River and Cascade Locks, leaving two choices for westbound travelers: cross the bridge at Hood River and head west on the narrow, two-lane road on the Washington bank, or head south on Highway 35 and swing west on Highway 26, on the south side of Mt. Hood.  Consequently, all roads through, north of, and south of Hood River were JAMMED with traffic being detoured off the interstate. 

After finishing a few errands in Hood River, we crawled along with the rest of the 1-mile per hour traffic until we reached our turn and headed home up the loops of the Historic Highway.  The experience gave us a not-to-be-forgotten lesson on the importance of this little town in the grand scheme of travel through the Cascade Mountains and the Gorge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Heading south towards Mt. Hood on a cloudy day. 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 lazy watchcats at Draper Fruit StandThe 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.

Detail of the banister caps in Timberline Lodge, a WPA project on Mt. Hood.

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!

White Trilliums Purple Trilliums

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!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I just got a phone call from Odel – the last leg of his return flight is ready to board, so I’ll pick him up at the airport this evening.  He sounded SO ready to be home!

Ranger Matt is giving us the day off tomorrow – a really nice treat, especially since it means one of the seasonal rangers will need to staff the visitor center.  Odel and I will have a three day weekend together, sharing our oh-so-different experiences of the past week (very unusual for us, since we are normally together 24/7).  After he catches up on missed sleep, we plan to get out on a couple of nearby hikes – Odel said he got exactly zero exercise while in Memphis.

View from the overlook on Twin Tunnels trail While Odel was gone, I began working on a biking habit (I took this photo from my favorite viewpoint on the trail).  From Scoopy, it is a 45 minute ride to the west end of the tunnels on our trail, with plenty of climbing.  If I am on the trail by 8 am, I can shower and eat breakfast before I need to open the visitor center. 

Part of our job is to be a “presence” on the trail, and I like bike patrolling much better than taking the loud Gator.  With Odel back home, I hope to do this west-side ride twice a day, or to ride the entire trail once a day.  That last mile, through the tunnels and down the big descent to the east trailhead is fast – eye-watering fast – going down, but I climb back up very, very slowly.

Kites and surfers on the Columbia RiverBesides biking, kite boarding and windsurfing are the big summer sports here, with the much-easier-to-learn kite boarding (see the colorful, curved kites in the air?) edging out windsurfing.  Driving down the hill on a trip to the grocery store yesterday, I caught glimpses of colorful kites soaring above the water, so made a quick right turn for a trip down to the river’s edge to watch the action. 

The poor guy in the corner of this photo, a windsurfer, was in the water far more than he was on the board.  He’d struggle upright, catch the next gust of wind, lose his balance and splash back into the river.  He gets points for persistence, though!

I can’t believe I have worked in the visitor center for only 5 days while Odel has been gone – it feels like so much longer (shows how long it was been since I learned something new).  I’m comfortable staffing it alone (on a typically slow day), but I would rather be outdoors, patrolling or blowing the trail, picking up litter, weeding.  We staff the visitor center Wednesday-Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm; Odel and I plan to split the shift so we each are indoors just a couple of hours. 

Fundraising Ride sponsored by Friends of the Columbia Gorge

This is the scene that greeted me when I walked down the hill to “work” today: tents, bikes, and lycra-clad riders milling around, grabbing muffins, fruit and water to replenish their energy.  I arrived at 10 am – these bikers had already ridden 25 miles. 

Our visitor center was the midway turn-around point for today’s Friends of the Columbia Gorge’s fundraising fun ride.  Close to 500 bikers participated, so the visitor center was busy all day.  None of the riders (from the Portland area, mostly) I talked with had ever been on our fabulous stretch of trail!

So the good thing was that we (me, Ranger Matt and Ranger Chris) were busy dealing with a happy and interested crowd.  The bad thing is that I was $5 short in my reconciliation of our revenue today (sales of day passes, annual passes, t-shirts and hats).  I’m a too-the-penny type so, though Matt didn’t seem too bothered, it sure bugged me!  Either $5 blew away in the gusts that swept through the visitor center every so often, or I undercharged someone.  :(

Oh, man – the phone just rang.  Odel is sitting in his plane on the tarmac in Dallas, 40 minutes after their takeoff time; the plane needs some servicing.  He started his day in the airport at 7 am PDT; he was originally scheduled to be touching down in Portland at 5:30, half an hour from now.  Our unexpected day off tomorrow will be incredibly welcome.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Yesterday I dove into our packages of mail first thing in the morning, doing only those things that needed immediate attention.  Everything else (including trying to match Anthem’s “explanation of medical benefits” statements with each provider’s bills… how can they possibly make all that stuff SO confusing??) will sit in a pile on the table until I have the time and desire to deal with it.

The Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain at the dock in Hood RiverBy 10 am, I was on my state park supplied bicycle, cruising the trail to see if it needed to be blown.  Not bad, so I figured it could wait until an actual “work day” (our work week is Wednesday through Sunday, but since Odel is away, I’m trying to do a little more than my 20 hours).  On the way home I stopped at my favorite overlook and saw two “pirate ships” heading downriver.  They were moderately sized, old-looking, masted sailing ships, and they looked right at home.  Wow.

Back at the campsite, Ranger Matt was removing the front wheels from the Gator, taking them to town for new tires.  We had a short chat, and I confirmed the plan for Wednesday: the Visitor Center would be closed so I, the newbie volunteer, could go (for free) on the Mt. Hood Railroad, on a 4 hour excursion trip from Hood River south towards Mt. Hood.  Tough work day, huh?  :)

Then into the car, and off I went.  My first stop was the Hood River Chamber of Commerce (picking up “Fruit Loop” touring maps for my Visitor Center) – which happens to be at the Port of Hood River.  What did I spy with my little eye?  The ships!  They are the Lady Washington and (on the far right in the photo) the Hawaiian Chieftain, which I toured in Sacramento several years ago.

Seaplane at the dock in Hood River, with the marina behind. Turning 90 degrees to my left, I saw another unusual sight at the dock, a seaplane.  Sailing ships, the little seaplane, and on a windy day you see both sailboarders and wind surfers… very busy, colorful, and interesting.

Just before I headed off for further sightseeing, my phone rang: Dave, our good friend from Sacramento, and his friend Dwayne were calling from near Bend, Oregon.  They are heading to Alaska, and Hood River looked like a good stop for the night.  Dave was surprised to hear that Odel was in Memphis, but we made plans to have dinner together.

Shortly after I got home, my ranger radio chirped.  Ranger Matt called to say he couldn’t get back with the Gator tires until Wednesday afternoon.  I asked whether Dave and Dwayne could park their little van here on our acreage for the night – the answer was a cheery “Of course!”.  (Sydney and Frank, take note if you want to escape Arizona’s heat for a few days!) When Dave and Dwayne arrive a few hours later, they loved that development.

Dave and Dwayne, heading to Alaska in Dave's Class B, with kayaks on top.They set up the van for sleeping, took a quick stroll on the trail, then we headed off for the largest of Hood River’s two - or maybe three – breweries, Full Sail Brewing.  Over pub grub and microbrews (local white wine for me), we talked about travels, recent and ancient.  With Odel gone, it was particularly pleasant to spend time in the company of friends (plus, they treated me to dinner.) 

D & D were up with the sun this morning, setting off on the trail for several miles worth of exercise before they headed out at 8 am.  I was right behind them, heading to the Mt. Hood Railroad depot for my “continuing education”.

I had already researched the Mt. Hood Railroad, thinking it sounded like a fun trip, maybe something to do with visiting friends and family – but at $25 to $30 for an afternoon excursion trip (the least expensive way to go), I had mixed feelings. 

It seemed that most of the ride was through the forest.  This photo came from their website.It turns out that the Oregon State Parks Department thinks it is a good idea for the volunteers to be familiar with two of the Columbia Gorge’s tourist attractions, the Mt. Hood Railroad and the Sternwheeler, a riverboat that plies the Columbia. A few days ago, Ranger Diane radioed me, scheduling me on the free-to-me railroad trip, and today was the day. 

I met my little group at 9:30: Sally, the organizer who works at the Vista House at Crown Point; Melinda and Dick, the host at Rooster Rock, a day use park close to Portland, and three campground hosts from Memaloose State Park, the nearest campground to the Mosier Twin Tunnels Trail.  Everyone was friendly and talkative, and it was fun for me to meet other volunteers and hear stories of their experiences (ALL of them have hosted in numerous Oregon State Parks).

The train departed at 10:30 and returned at 3 pm, with a one hour stop in Parkdale for lunch and sightseeing.  On a sunny day, we would have had fabulous views of Mt. Hood from Parkdale, practically at the mountain’s foot – but today was overcast and hazy.  Most of the ride is through a tunnel of trees, with views (of anything but trees) few and far between. 

The Clear Creek Station, end of the line for the Mt. Hood Railroad in Parkdale, OregonThough the historian narrating the trip was full of interesting information (and corny comments), I’m afraid the public relations aspect of the trip was a failure – I could recommend the trip only to railroad buffs who find four hours on a bumpy, swaying train in an uncomfortable chair closely examining the trees of the Columbia Gorge a good way to spend their time.  Unless they do some serious chainsaw work along the side of the tracks (ha, ha), I would not make the trip again. 

I headed home, ready to fire up the Gator and clear the trail, but instead met Andy, another of the Rangers, apologizing that the Gator was still disabled.  Tomorrow, he says.  Maybe I’ll tackle the pile of mail… or take a walk on the trail… or have a glass of wine and commune with Luna… hmmmm…

I can’t wait until Odel gets home – I sure miss him!  So does Luna – she is always communicative, but with Odel gone, she often sits beside me, looking up into my face and meowing non-stop, as if to alert me that something is NOT RIGHT in her world.  I know, baby; I know just how you feel. 

Monday, June 8, 2009


Hey, it’s my weekend!  Monday and Tuesday are our days off, while the Visitor Center is closed.  I was up early, had breakfast, let Luna play outside until she was ready for her first nap of the day, and was out the door around 9 am, with a tour of the eastern end of the Gorge in mind. 

Mt Hood from Panorama Point First, though, I headed to Panorama Point, a county park about 5 miles south of here.  I had been there a couple days ago while exploring our nearby sights, and wanted to get back in the morning on a sunny day to try to capture remarkable Mt. Hood.  When you drive up, out of the Gorge, Mt. Hood is a looming presence that can take your breath away when you come around a curve or over a rise – take a look.

Odel and I are stationed at the west end of the Mosier Twin Tunnels trail, which is closed to vehicular traffic.  On the other side of the tunnels, the old Columbia River Highway travels another 20 miles between the tiny town of Mosier (population 640) and the large town of The Dalles.  A map I wanted to pick up for the Visitor Center was available in The Dalles, so that stretch of the old road was my route today.

Curves in the old Highway at Rowena Crest I had a perfect day for sightseeing.  I stopped at Rowena Crest, one of the high points on the road, and took a photo of the graceful curves climbing up the steep hill.  This road was built to accommodate Model T’s – meaning no grades greater than 5%, and no curves with less than a 100 foot radius.   You can see the beautiful engineering well at the Rowena Crest.

I stopped along the way to The Dalles at every point of interest, including all the turnouts and overlooks and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.  I walked through a few streets of The Dalles and picked up my maps at the Chamber of Commerce, then hopped on I-84, the “new” road and visited two state parks on my way back to Hood River. 

Then it was home for lunch and a pretty thorough cleanup, while Luna had quality time outdoors.  The afternoon was a combination of errands (library and post office) and more sightseeing, strolling the streets of Hood River, a great little town.  I finally headed home about 6 pm, feeling much better equipped to talk with our visitors about what lies to the east of Hood River along the old highway. 

We live in a gated community - of ONE! This picture shows the one little fly (tiny, tiny –just a gnat, really) in the frosting on our cake: the locked gate that has to be negotiated each time we leave or return.  It stretches right across the old highway, at the point that it becomes the bike trail, and is locked with a heavy chain and huge padlock, rather time consuming to come and go. I took this picture looking west, as if I was heading to town – but I continued to drive east, right up the trail (flashers on, 5 mph). 

I had planned to drive through the orchards, vineyards, and lavender farms up towards Mt. Hood tomorrow, but got so much mail that needs to be dealt with that I might not make it… but the mail can probably wait one more day.  :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009


It was a day of fit, sweaty young men in lycra.

Team Rio Grande of Boulder, Colorado, post race.Thursday night, it RAINED! Rain and wind, more rain and more wind. Odel and I were up early on Friday, talking about what we needed to do to make sure the bike trail was free of hazards for the bike racers, who would be coming through our section beginning around 10:45. Jump on the Gator and go look for trees or rocks on the trail? We also wondered where the race organizers were, since we had expected them Thursday afternoon.

Just then, a bike rider (recreational, not a racer) went zooming past. A-HA! How about if we ask a rider? We walked down our hill to the trail and started down towards the visitor center, where the bikers slow down, and saw two large trucks parked outside the locked gate - the race organizers with tents, cones, cameras, signs. We caught up with the rider as he turned to come back up the hill. He reported only one hazard, a rock, and said he would move it on his way back – thank you!

Bike Racer with a $5,000+ bike and a $400 helmet.  Serious stuff! The organizers were happy to see us, with keys to the gate. We let them in to set things up, and the day got underway, not yet 8 am. Ranger Matt arrived shortly, and we all watched the race organizers set up.

Everyone needed a parking pass to park a car in the lot, so we learned how to sell daily passes, annual passes, extra cars passes – cash, check and credit cards. Lots of little procedural details, but no matter what else Matt was doing, his first priority is greeting and interacting with the visitors. He is a listener (I admire that), not an interrupter or a monopolizer (I fear I stray into those areas). Learning the procedures will be easy – learning the history of the trail, details of this area, which restaurants to recommend, where the good hikes are, how far it is to The Dalles or to Cascade Locks, how to nicely ask a trail user to observe the leash law… all of that will take a little longer.

We came home at 2 pm, the official end of the visitor center hours, though Matt kept it open until the race ended. Around 3 pm, our official radio “beeped” – which sets off a round of slapstick-style alarm: “What’s that? The radio? Where is it? How do we answer it? Yikes! Yikes!” We’re improving, though – the first time it beeped, we looked at each other in shock, then stared at the radio laying on the passenger seat until Odel moved over to pick it up.

Odel with his ear protection in Micky Mouse mode. Ranger Matt was calling to ask if we could make sure the gate was locked after all the race people left. We also had a rattlesnake warning sign to post halfway along the trail, so we got on the Gator and headed up the trail. With all the wind and rain, we found lots of leaves, needles and twigs on the trail, so decided we might as well blow as we go. Odel got out to start up the blower and I caught him with his Mickey Mouse mode, wearing his hearing protectors in stand-by position.

Odel leaves for Memphis today, so I’m taking him to the Portland airport – an easy and pleasant 50 mile drive along the Columbia River – then “reporting for duty” at the visitor center. Life sure got busy all of the sudden!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Wednesday was our first official day of work but, since it was our Ranger’s day off (as is today), we weren’t able to start our training in the Visitor Center.  We DID have the key and an alarm code to get in, though, so went down to see if we could retrieve the two bikes stored there and determine what would be needed to prepare them for riding (we knew one had two flat tires).

One of our duties is to keep the trail free of hazardous debris: rocks, tree limbs, quantities of pine needles.  The volunteer before us “blew the trail” daily, using the heavy-duty blower mounted on the front of the Gator. 

Wildflowers along the trail The trail itself is very winding, with lots of undulations.  Fast-moving bicycles fly down some of the hills in excess of 30 miles an hour (no speed limit).  Since the unwieldy Gator travels the center of the trail to blow the debris off, it seems to us to be the most hazardous thing we have encountered on the trail so far!

With a thought to fitness and fun, Odel and I hoped to use the two (apparently unused) bikes in the Visitor Center to do a daily patrol, then take the Gator out no more than a couple of time a week.

As we were pumping up the tires of the unused bikes, Ranger Diane arrived.  When we told her our plan to patrol on the bikes, she was enthused; she said the bikes had been purchased for the volunteers, but none of them wanted to ride.  It’s understandable – the round trip is just under 10 miles, and there is an uphill stretch of about 1 1/2 miles that is truly a challenge for us. 

We got the bikes ready, put on the helmets, and headed off up the hill from the Visitor Center.  It was fun to be riding again, and we had grins on our faces in spite of the difficult uphill return trip.  We gained first hand experience of what it is to ride the length of the trail (the better to help our visitors).  It seemed like everything was going our way: we are settled in a wonderful site, beginning to learn our “job”, have a couple of bikes to ride and a great trail…

Odel’s phone rang soon after we got home, with bad news.  His father, who was hospitalized about a month ago (age 92), then moved to a care facility, was back in the hospital and not expected to live much longer – a matter of hours or perhaps a few days.  Just about 24 hours later (today), he died.  It was not unexpected news, and Odel was not close to his father, but needs/wants to help with the resulting decisions and responsibilities.  He has a plane flight out on Saturday morning, likely to be gone for a week. 

Laurie in volunteer vest and hat, ready to pilot the Gator. We took the Gator out this morning, as planned, to blow off the trail in preparation for tomorrow’s big bike race.  I wanted to make sure I knew how to start both the Gator (easy; use the key in the ignition) and the blower (TOUGH; pull a rope like a lawnmower), so I could blow the trail alone next week.  Tomorrow we will get a day of Visitor Center training together, then I’ll have the volunteer duties to myself for a week (with two days off).  Guess I will be training him when he returns.  :)

Our weather radio went off earlier today with a severe thunderstorm warning for an area well east of us.  We haven’t heard that alarming sound in months!  A few hours later the local news showed the wild weather in Portland (50 miles west of us), including pouring rain, localized flooding, and downed trees. A huge line of severe storms moved through, both to our east and our west, with nothing but a heavy breeze and a few drops of rain here in Hood River.  Good!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


On Tuesday morning, Ranger Matt Davey arrived at our site around 10 am to get the Gator in traveling shape and teach us how to use it. It is a two-seater utility vehicle with four wheels, a little bed for hauling “stuff” behind the two seats, and a blower on the front to blow leaves, small rocks, pine needles, and other debris off the trail. He showed us how to start and operate both the Gator and the blower, then Odel and I drove the Gator down the hill from our site to the Visitor Center so Matt could show us how to get in, disarm the alarm, and let us look around.

Remember, you can hover your cursor over these photos for a caption, or double-click to enlarge the photo.

Heading down the hill to the Visitor Center and parking lotOdel in the Gator on the trail.
Driving the Gator through the tunnel. Driving through the tunnel on the Gator.Driving through the concrete Catchment, built to protect trail users from falling rocks. Driving through the Catchment area.

After a quick intro to the Visitor Center, Odel and I went into Hood River (about 2 miles to downtown) so I could get a temporary library card and pick up some books. We snagged some lunch to bring home, then set out on our first Gator ride!

Our section of the HCRH is about 5 miles long. From our end of the trail, it is 3 1/2 miles to the mouth of the first of the two (side-by-side) tunnels – the Mosier Twin Tunnels. Before you enter the tunnels from our side, you enter the concrete Catchment area, a huge concrete superstructure built to protect trail users from the rockfalls that have plagued the road through this section since it was built in 1916. From information gleaned in the Visitor Center yesterday (which I will be studying thoroughly, of course!), I know that it was built to withstand a 5,000 pound rock falling from 200 feet. WOW.

Big Smashing Rock 6-2-2009 6-41-28 PMI don’t know how much this rock weighs, but you can see the effect it had on the rock guardrail. The asphalt of the trail in this particular area is pitted and gouged, signatures of the numerous rocks that have bounced their way down the steep gorge wall, onto and over the trail.

The tunnels and the catchment are a little tricky on the Gator. We drive the trail very slowly, keeping an eye out for fast moving bikers (and they are VERY fast moving, especially now when the racers are preparing for Friday’s time trials). The tunnels are dark inside, and the catchment is very narrow. We debated whether to speed up through those points (to get through them as quickly as possible) or where to continue our slow crawl (so we can stop more quickly if necessary). More experience needed. :)

Luna coming home from a lizard hunt.

After our exploration of the trail, it was Luna’s turn for some quality outdoor time. She loves our new site, and has been very good about sticking around. About the only thing that tempts her to leave the patio is the sighting of a lizard, which is good for about 20 minutes of entertainment.

For dinner, we popped back into town to try Dixie’s Southern Grub, a restaurant we had spotted on our way to the golf course. Outstanding! We sat on the front porch of a converted house, next to a lilac in full bloom. Like many restaurants in the areas we most enjoy in Oregon, Dixie’s uses local, organic and/or sustainably grown produce and meats in their food preparations. It all was delicious (check out the menu here), but Odel pronounced the bread pudding, with bananas and coconut baked into it, the BEST he has ever had. I agree.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


We had an easy drive yesterday from Canby to Hood River, under 100 miles.  Ranger Davey met us at the Visitor Center (where we will work) at the west terminus of the Columbia River Gorge Historic Trail (a paved multi-use trail).  We each got a set of keys to unlock the various gates and doors we will encounter as we work, then we drove on up to our site at the head of the trail.

This will be “home”for the next 2 months, while we volunteer as Trail Hosts.  Hover your cursor over any photo for a description:

Host Site, looking east to west
Host Site, looking west to east

Our "yard" - lots of privacy!
Our view to the bridge and Columbia River
Deerbush and roses in the yard Look closely on the hillside to spot the five deer we saw this morning.

After we settled in, we visited the post office to arrange to receive our General Delivery mail; to Indian Creek Golf Course to verify that players 65 and older (Odel) can play this gorgeous course Monday through Thursday for just $25; and to a nearby grocery store to check out their offerings.  Back home, we headed out on the trail for our daily 10,000 steps – right outside our door!

Monday and Tuesday are our days off.  Wednesday through Sunday we staff the Visitor Center from 10 am to 2 pm and take care of the building and the trail (don’t know the details yet).  Since Ranger Davey (Matt) is off on Wednesday and Thursday, we’re going to meet him this morning to learn about the visitor center duties and (we hope) how to operate the Gator that we will use to “patrol” the trail and blow away the debris.  There will be a bicycle race on the trail on Friday (a time trial for the Mount Hood Cycling Classic), so we want to have it in good shape!

Off to meet the Ranger…