Waterfalls Heaven – Columbia River Gorge Part 1

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Steve is smiling for he can now check one off from his bucket list, the Columbia River Gorge.  The Columbia River Gorge is an impressive river canyon carved by the Columbia river as it flows into the Pacific Ocean. It stretches over 80 miles and is shared by the states of Washington and Oregon.  Mt Adams to the north and Mt Hood to the south flank the gorge and the mighty Columbia River runs through its middle.  The bridges that connects the states are:  The Dalles to the east, the Hood River in the middle and the Bridge of the Gods to the west.  The Gorge is recognized as a destination for exploring the natural beauty and cultural richness of the Pacific Northwest.  Geologists must love this place with all its cliffs, rock formations and rugged terrain.

Columbia Gorge

The only wildlife seen on the highway on our way to the Gorge.

We spent a whole week exploring and enjoying the gorgeousness while staying at White Salmon on the WA side as our base camp.  During our stay, we weaved in and out of Washington and Oregon through their $1.00 toll bridges and drove from east to west by taking highway 14 on the Washington shore and 84 on the Oregon side.  We had an action-packed week and we loved it despite some hazy and smoky days.

What did we learn and enjoy? Plenty ! and so we will have more than one post  to talk about the gorgeous gorge.

Lets start with the waterfalls.  Oregon has 77 waterfalls and the Gorge contains the greatest concentration of waterfalls in North America.  These spectacular waterfalls are all within approximately a 15-mile stretch!  Traveling along the Historic Columbia River Highway 30 on the Oregon side of the Gorge, we were able to view five different waterfalls cascading over the walls of the Gorge.

Our trek began at the Latourell Falls which is usually the first waterfall seen along the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway if coming from the west.  The falls plunge 224 feet over a massive wall of columnar basalt – some of the best formations in the Pacific Northwest – before cascading hastily towards the Columbia River.

Latourell Falls

Latourell Falls

What was distinctive to this fall is the large patch of bright yellow lichen adorning the cliff face to the right of the falls, and maybe because of this we saw several photographers in the area.

Close up of yellow lichen , Latourell Falls

Close up of yellow lichen

Close up of Columnar Basalt,Latourell Falls

Close up of Columnar Basalt

Next stop was the Shepperds’ Dell Falls.  Though looking straight down from the bridge will allow one to see the two final drops, only the 45 foot tier and a pair of the small cascades above it are clearly visible.

 Sheppards Dell Falls

Sheppards Dell Falls

3.5 miles later we park our car and hiked for about 2.2 miles roundtrip to get to the base of the Bridal Veil falls, considered as the most pristine among the waterfalls in the area. This two tiered falls are the only in the area which occurs below the historic Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway – the base of the falls standing probably no more than 20 vertical feet above the Columbia River.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Continuing on the drive the next stop was Wahkeena falls.  At 242 feet, it can be seen from the Wahkeena picnic area across the Historic Highway and is the most scenic waterfall along the historic Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway.  It is unique among the major waterfalls in this section of the Gorge in that it possesses a significant alluvial fan in both size and elevation.

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

Then about half a mile later  is where  the most visited natural attraction in Oregon is located, the Multnomah Falls.  It is the highest waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge with a total drop of 620 feet.  We did a 2.5 mile hike up to the top of the falls with 11 switchbacks and a 650 foot elevation gain.  Although the top was not as spectacular as we expected, the hike was a good workout.

Multnomah Waterfalls

Multnomah Waterfalls

Multnomah Falls

Top of Multnomah Falls, spot the tourists looking up, can you see them?

Our final viewing of waterfalls along the historic highway was the Horsetail Falls.  This one is considered  pretty much the epitome of the Horsetail form with views from 180 degrees around the falls.

HorseTail Falls

HorseTail Falls

The above beauties were all accessible from the highway, two other waterfalls that we located and viewed required quite a hike.  Both Metlako Falls and Punchbowl are located along the Eagle Creek trail in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area.  Metlako Falls drop out of a narrow, calm pool, and thunder into an impressive gorge.

Metlako Falls

Metlako Falls

The Punch Bowl falls occur where Eagle Creek cuts through a narrow channel flanked by cliffs, and shoots powerfully into a large bowl.  The falls’ name is a very descriptive one, as it’s easy to see it’s resemblance to an actual bowl you’d pour punch into.

Punchbowl Falls

Punchbowl Falls

And we viewed what we can in one long day, but did we see them all ? Nope, we missed two along the historic highway Oneonta and Elowah Falls (not sure why we overlooked them). Are they not all beautiful?

Holy Smokes! Central Washington

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After the Customs officer at the US border confiscated some vegetables we had purchased in Kelowna, we went straight to a gas station and filled Betsy up.  The diesel price as we know now was a tad higher as we travelled south but much cheaper than Alaska or Canada.  The change in scenery is quite dramatic, reminding us we are back in the Lower 48 with Washington state as our gateway.

As we drove along the highway we noticed the mountains are dry, with parched forest, dry brush and grass. Interspersed are acres of orchards and vineyards. Remember, red delicous apples from Washington – that’s where they are grown.  Nearing our destination we noticed smoke and fires coming from the mountain tops and noticed that a haze was already covering the valley.

Central Washington

Wildfires

We decided to forego our original destination, Alta Lake State Park, as it was really close to the wildfires and the area was already smoky.  We drove further and found Lakeshore RV park at Lake Chelan and fortunately they had a site available for us.  Lake Chelan is a pristine 50.5 mile glacier-fed lake, is 1.5 miles at its widest and 1486 ft. at its deepest point making it the third deepest in the U.S. behind Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. The Lake Chelan valley is nestled in the North Cascades National Forest.

Lake Chelan

Smoky, Lake Chelan

Chelan,WA

Quaint downtown of Chelan, blanketed in smoke

The haze was quite visible around the town and lake.  Despite that we followed  their Riverwalk Trail around the lake and downtown area.  We learned that Lake Chelan is a destination resort as it is known for its 300 days of sunhine and lots of things to do all year round.  The sunset by the lake while we were there  was beautifully enhanced by the smoke and dust in the atmosphere.

Sunset at Lake Chelan

Sunset at Lake Chelan. the sun is behind the mountains not clouds.

After three days we decided to move on for the smoke was getting thicker and we could really smell it.  But then after continuing for more than a hundred miles, the smoke still covered the mountains and valleys. We learned that the fire started on Sept 7, caused by lightning and the fire still has not been contained.   The smoke is blanketing much of central Washington as wildfires remain uncontained with the dry conditions and no rain in the forecast.  The highways we were on were supposed to be scenic and  picturesque with the view of the eastern Cascades and the peaks of  Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, but visibility was low.  We arrived at Yakima with a layer of smoke lying over the city.

Highway 97 S WA

Highway 97S

I90 East, WA

I-90 East

Washington ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind  California.  Here in Yakima is where 40% of it is produced.  In addition, the Yakima valley produces an abundance of agricultural products where the famous Washington apples and cherries are grown.  We went wine tasting in one of the wine appelations here, the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail, where we  noted acres of orchards and vineyards enterwined in the land. Various fruit stands were also visible on the highways and byways.

Orchards and Vineyards,WA

Orchards and Vineyards

Washington Apples

Delicious Washington Apples

We also visited the neighboring town of Toppenish located within the boundaries of the Yakama nation and is quite rich with Native American history.  We did a short walking tour to view and to admire some of the 73 murals around the city.  This is the town where walls  can really talk for each mural has its own introduction.  Below are few of interesting mural stories.

Indian Stick Game, Toppenish

Indian Stick Game

Ruth Parton , Toppenish

Mural shows Ruth Parton’s fame in rodeo, racing and relays

Toppenish,WA

Rodeo, recalls the early Toppenish round ups where cowboys and ranchers get together.

Toppenish

Yakima also boasts their 10 mile paved pathway called Yakina Greenway, which parallels the Yakima river and in some stretches parallels the highway and overpasses.  We enjoyed this walk/hike while our Honda was in for some maintenance work.  At the end of the walk we burnt 1200 calories, yeah!  And the best part was that the RV park had a nice pool and Therapy Pools (as they called it) where we could dip our tired and sore muscles for a while.

Yakima Greenway Trail

Yakima Greenway Trail

Yakima Greenway Trail

Off we went despite the smoky haze

Yakima Greenway Trail

Heron taking a rest from his flight

Yakima Greenway Trail

Cat’s Tail

Yakima Greenway Trail

Smoky Hills

And here is Steve’s good deed for the day.

Yakima Valley

This poor woman was inexperienced and ran into a utility post with her trailer when she arrived late at night (see the utility post on the lower right).

Damsel in distress

Steve helping the Damsel in distress who is traveling by herself with 3 dogs and ended up with a flat tire.

So we will move on now, hopefully to where the air quality is much better.  Columbia Gorge, here we come!

Yakima Valley

The second time around – Alaska Highway, Yukon

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Going into our next leg was something we weren’t  excited about and can not to be taken lightly.  Driving back over the Alaska Highway and particularly on the long stretch from Tok was jarring, tortuous and induced crankiness and a few expletives due to the many remaining un-repaired frost heaves. (Frost heaves are still an unresolved problem.) We learned from the first time driving here in June that going 6 long hours and 226 miles of rough road in one way was not a great idea for us and Betsy.  So we sliced this stretch into three manageable segments.

Protection from frost heaves, Alaska highway

Crude and inexpensive way of protecting our car. It will be re-purposed into a regular tarp at the end of this trip.

Sure enough, after two months the highway had improved very little.  It was quite funny that right after crossing the border into Canada, the road deteriorated very quickly.  Our average driving was 15 mph for the gravel road and 30-35 between the frost heaves, dips, rough pavement and potholes.  We were really slooooow, and that is the key thing to preserve Betsy from any damage.  We heard from other adventurers that a few RV ‘s encounter issues along this stretch.  We dont want this to happen to Betsy now that we are winding down our trip.  A note to other adventurers – don’t let us scare you – a 40 ft RV towing a car will get tossed around much more (and possibly damaged) by frost heaves than a smaller, more nimble class-C motorhome or a trailer.  Most people can drive this stretch of the road more easily and faster than we could.

The only thing that remained unchanged on this stretch was the beauty of the scenery which Steve unfortunately could not really enjoy as he focused on the road.  Fall colors on the mountains and flowers along the highway are now starting to emerge.

Canada Border

We are in Canada again.

Frost heaves

Frost heaves decorated with blooming fall wildflowers.

The second time around brought us back into the history of the Alaska Highway and these are areas we missed the first time in June.

Our first stop was White River RV park in the Yukon Territory situated next to an airstrip and we stayed for two nights.  Bob and Amanda are both great park owners and made us comfortable while we were there. In fact Bob, who is a history buff and collects antiques and artifacts, gave us a free private tour . He rounded up a few guests and off we went on his 1942 Dodge group hauler – which was originally used during the Alaska highway construction.  This guy is quite a character and drove his truck literally over shrubs and small trees!  He pointed out the remains of equipment and tools used during the highway contraction, which were literally just left behind when the project was completed.  He took us to the White River  and showed us the original Alaska highway as it was in 1942.  As you may recall from our previous blog, the Alaska highway was built and completed in just under 10 months for military purposes.  But it wasn’t the road we drive on now, it was basically just a bulldozed single lane road built over the top of timbers and gravel.  It is amazing to learn about how tough those people were who completed such a massive project.

1942 Troop Hauler.

A private tour with Bob aboard his 1942 Troop Hauler.

original Alaska highway

Posing on top of bridge remnants from the original Alaska highway (Yukon portion)

How the original Alaska highway was built

How the original Alaska highway was built in 1942 and what remained of it 70 years later as shown on the previous picture.

White River

Hiking at White River

Our second 2-night stop was at the Cottonwood RV Park, situated along fabulous Kluane Lake.  The park  afforded us with stunning views of the lake, which is the longest in the Yukon at 43 miles long.  Forget Tahoe, these lakes are huge!  Five miles from the park is Soldier’s Summit at Mile 1053, where the highway was officially dedicated and opened on Nov 20, 1942, on a brisk -35 degree day. Did I say these people were tough?  While we were there, a convoy of historic military vehicles pulled into the parking lot. We learned that they are currently celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Alaska Highway by driving it in original military convoys.  Very cool!

Soldiers Summit, Kluane lake

Stunning vista of Kluane lake viewed from Soldier’s Summit

Soldier's Summit

Dedication plaque at Soldier’s Summit

Alaska Highway Convoy

Convoy of historic military vehicles

Kluane Mountains

Kluane Mountains

Kluane Lake

Beautiful Kluane Lake looking north

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans along the highway

Now the topper for Steve – we saw the Northern Lights!!!  Bob at the White River Park mentioned that the Aurora Borealis lights are now visible as it is getting darker in August.  We were so upset that we had missed them, so we set our alarm clock for 1:00am the next night to see for ourselves.  Unfortunately the clouds were moving in so it was not to be.  We tried again the following night but there was a storm moving through.  Then on our first night at Cottonwood, Steve got up at 2:00am and there they were!  Fantastic glowing flames of green dancing light shooting across the sky.  We were prepared to come all the way back to Fairbanks this winter just to see the lights, but got extremely lucky on the 23rd and it was a good show.  Check that one off the bucket list!

The last stop on this segment was the provincial campground at Million Dollar Falls, where we dry-camped for two days.  Here we met two women, Nancy(Birdie) and Liz driving their own RV’s alone.  We first talked to them at Kenny Lake then met again at Cottonwood RV Park and then here at the campground.  We think they are quite adventurous and brave to be driving alone even if they were a part of a bigger group of women(Womenrv.com/fprum).

Frost Heaves

Unchanged beautiful scenery

Yukon Territory

Non stop viewing of spectacular sceneries

Million Dollar Falls

Million Dollar Falls

Million Dollar Falls

Double Rainbow put up a show at the campground

Our next and final stop here  will be Haines, our jump off point to explore Southeast Alaska.