Last spring, as we all got re-educated about the potential dangers of indoor air, my personal mission became clear: to gulp down as much fresh air as possible while exploring the great outdoors.
The outdoors don’t get any greater than our own nearby Columbia River Gorge, where I continue escaping with regularity. Coronavirus has provided a yearlong excuse to go Gorge myself.
Thick forests that give up the occasional western Gorge vista are grand, but what enchants me most is how the landscape transforms as you head farther east — morphing from verdant green to rocky golden brown, dramatically tilting to expose millennia of geologic history.
The word “awesome” was invented for this, I often think while trying to keep my eyes on the highway.
Here’s my guide to that farthest-out quadrant of the Columbia River Gorge, northeast of the Hood River Bridge. To preserve the awesomeness, considering going on a weekday, not an overrun weekend. Pick a site or two for an easy day trip. Or, if you’re a curious completist like me, try an early morning sprint out to the east end of the Gorge — that’s just over 100 miles — and then meander back at a leisurely pace.
You can try the reverse, too, spending a day wandering eastward and winding up stargazing at the Gorge’s strangest site: Stonehenge.
Nobody knows what inspired the ancient, mysterious circle of stones in England, but we know it inspired Sam Hill — railroad magnate and mastermind of scenic Gorge highways — to create his own full-scale version at the site he dubbed Maryhill.
It costs nothing to drive up and wander around Hill’s Stonehenge, which stands on a windy bluff overlooking the Columbia River (and the Sam Hill Memorial Bridge).
Hill’s intent was to mourn Klickitat County’s losses during World War I, and to protest in stone the “incredible folly” of war. He is buried in a crypt down the hill.
Hill’s bigger accomplishment is west of there: a neoclassical mansion that might look more appropriate in some European capital than perched here at the edge of the Gorge. Designed to anchor a Utopian town that never materialized, the project was repurposed as a museum aiming to bring high culture to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.