While the Willamette Valley is not the Columbia River Gorge, it’s a bit unfair to make that comparison. Really, the gorge is stunning on a global scale, while the Willamette Valley is more of a plain nice. I’ve always liked it and found the Western Oregon countryside pretty and only been a bit disappointed by it lately because of my recent move from the gorge, so I was excited when my parents and aunt invited me along on a covered bridge tour across the mid-Willamette Valley in the Stayton/Albany/Corvallis/Monmouth area. There are also a number of nice bridges down by Eugene/Cottage Grove, but my parents did those last fall and were using my aunt’s visit as a good excuse to find some new bridges they hadn’t seen yet.
Now, while I recall a “Covered Bridge Festival” in Stayton when I worked there about 5 or 6 years ago, I’d never really paid much attention to them before. My father though, gained an interest in them after reading an article in the paper about Oregon bridges and when and how they were built. I’d heard from both my parents that finding the bridges was quite enjoyable, and I found my experience with them was indeed terrific.
First, it’s a bit fun to look up the bridges, where they’re located and when they’re built. Then you have to find them, which takes some doing. The directions online are not always the best. We found 6 out of 8 bridges on our trip. One we decided we didn’t have time for and one simply wasn’t where the directions claimed it would be. The hunt was a lot of fun, and it was good I knew one of the bridges from living in Corvallis, because the directions were incorrect for that one too.
While driving to the bridges, you also see a lot of really nice countryside. The day we’d picked was a lovely summer day. It got hot in the mid-afternoon, but other than that it was perfect. Then, the bridges themselves have a rather spiritual quality to them. The best ones are the ones that have been moved off the main road, because you can walk through them. They frame the water of the small rivers they go over in so many beautiful ways. They sort of combine a house, a road, and a church all together in one. I had many lovely moments—seeing a crayfish swimming when looking down through the bridge slats, butterflies on the reeds along the bank, climbing a train bridge next to the covered bridge for a better look at one that’s along a road. I’ve arranged to join my parents next fall as they take a third trip to find yet more bridges. I can’t wait. It’ll help me start to explore the mid-valley more and find good places to walk and get out in nature.
And the gorge is still waiting for me. I plan to drive out there this week and soak up as much of it as possible in a brief visit with my writing group in Hood River.