Tag Archives: Columbia River Highway

Columbia River Gorge: Starvation Creek

This holiday weekend has been all about hiking. My parents visited and we went hiking to Wahclella Falls and Elowah Falls, both rather stunning in dramatically different ways.  I didn’t write, but hiking among all that beauty did knock loose some ideas.  I’ve been stuck on the YA book for a while, and while I didn’t get unstuck on Saturday, I did get a flood of great ideas for the unfinished Nano 2011 book that I’ve let rest so far this year.

I was raring to write, naturally, and snuck some time in Sunday afternoon after my parents left, but I also didn’t want to miss the Monday holiday with Ben, so decided the rest of the ideas could wait and I’d go hiking again.  While looking at places to hike to with my parents, we’d debated something called “Hole-in-the-wall Falls” supposedly an oddity created by the need to divert a stream for building the highway.  A tunnel was bored through the rock of one of the points along the gorge to let it drain.  We made a lot of jokes that it might turn out to be just a pipe coming out of the rock with water and the tackiest waterfall in the gorge, and didn’t get around to it in favor of the others.

I was still curious though, so Ben and I went on Monday.  The trail is located at Starvation Creek, a site I was sure had to do with dying pioneers, but instead is named after a marooned train that hit a snow drift there in the 1910s where the passengers were stuck there for three week.  Despite the name, no one actually starved, they were just quite hungry (food was skied in from Hood River eventually).  To get to Hole-in-the-Wall Falls, you have to hike a trail that goes back west along 84 for about half a mile.  Its noisy since you’re near the cars, but it finally does go back into the woods.

Hole-in-the-wall Falls is surprisingly beautiful.  Perhaps its techincally man-made, but from the ground the only sign of that is the fact it comes out of the middle of the rock.  Otherwise its graceful and natural looking.  If you climb the rocks off the trail a bit, you can get a view of the tunnel, but overall quite worth it (although not as stunning as Wahclella and Elowah).

Even better, there were a couple of other small waterfalls along the trail.  So despite being near 84 we felt the whole thing was a great success.  After Hole-in-the-wall we keep going, and some other people on the trail suggest we go up just a short ways on the Mount Defiance trail for yet another small waterfall.  Rather than go back down though and walk back along 84, we decided to try to make a loop by taking the Starvation Ridge trail.  

This gave us some stunning views of Wind Mountain and Dog Mountain across the Columbia.  In college I worked at a girl scout camp between the two of them so I’m familiar with them both.  It’s a lovely section of river and slightly different than the one I’m used to at Mitchell Point or Moiser tunnels.  We also saw what I think was a couple of ospreys… they certainly weren’t turkey vultures anyway.  It makes me wish they’d get around to reintroducing the California Condor to the gorge, yet another wonderful bird that used to be native here.

While the views were great, I must say the trail was often steep and harrowing.  There were a couple rather scary points.  Most people seemed to be walking it the other direction, and on the descent we found out why, it’s easier to go steeply up than down.  It seemed a toss up though which way was better or worse to me though, since the scariest point of the trail (along a sheer drop off) I was relieved to be going up on instead of down.  Not one to bring young children on for sure.

Probably the biggest surprise though was Starvation Creek Falls itself right by the picnic area. It’s the best roadside picnic waterfall I’ve yet seen, even better than Wahkeena I think if you can get the table right under the waterfall.  Even better, there’s a section of mile long section of the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail going East to Viento State Park.  Since that comes out round trip to about what my usually hike on the highway trail in Hood River is, I tried it out this morning, parking at Viento and walking to Starvation Creek.

Its a little shorter, and you have to start out near 84 again, with traffic a bit noise, but the fact that you end with a reward of a gorgeous waterfall, as well as a couple of great view of the river, I think I’m going to favor this one as my daily walk until the weather gets nasty.  And, during my walks ideas for the middle grade novel are still boiling away.

Oh, and after all that, when I got home, this big boy was climbing the side of my glass sliding door.  Isn’t he cool?


More Gorgeness: Mosier and Rowena

This last weekend we had my in-laws up for a visit and we went hiking in the gorge, which put novel revisions on hold, but I had a fabulous time.  We took some nice pictures of the other side of the Historic Columbia Highway State Trail.  This is the Mosier twin tunnels I mentioned when showing pictures of my usual side of the 5 mile trail (which yes, I walked again today like I always do).  The Mosier side is steeper to start out with, but more open, offering nice vistas of the gorge.  Plus, it ends in the tunnels.

Built I think in the 1920s, these tunnels used to take cars, but are so narrow I can’t imagine wanting to drive even down the middle of them in a modern car.  This area is prone to landslides and falling rocks as well, which was why they discontinued this as a one lane section of highway eventually.  What I find the most interesting about the tunnels though, is that they have windows cut into them on the north side so you can look out over the gorge.

Through one of these is someone’s private island on the Columbia.  Now, I know living on a private island would be in many ways, highly inconvenient, but every time I go here, I gaze longingly at that little island.  It looks like such a fun place to live!  You can’t really see the house because they hid it behind the trees right next to the dock, so that it’s mostly facing away from I-84 (the freeway) and towards the Washington side, but it looks like a full house, not just a summer cottage.  Not that I don’t truly live already in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but still, I can dream.

To protect hikers and bikers from the falling rocks, below/past the tunnels is a causeway.  This makes the most dangerous part of walking this not falling rocks, but speeding bicycles.  They really get zooming through both the tunnels and the causeway.  when coming out from the windows in the tunnels I adhere to road rules and carefully look both ways before resuming walking on the right side of the road.  Still, I always find it well worth it.

After Mosier, the Historic Columbia River Highway is open again to cars all the way to The Dalles.  Usually we only take it Rowena, so see the outlook there and then get back on the freeway.  This offers next to Crown Point, some of the most spectacular high views of the gorge.  Since we’re now solidly in the rain shadow of the Cascades by now, the mountains are more bare and rugged, but still stunning and far more green than most people tend to think of them.  I’m not sure where we hit the desert properly, since it’s after The Dalles and I haven’t gone exploring that far yet, although will eventually.

At least this outlook is right off the highway, so if you’re tired you don’t have to walk far to enjoy it.  There’s also here a trail that goes up a nearby bluff with a wonderful sign warning to watch out for poison oak, rattlesnakes, and ticks, but I’ve mostly not walked up it because it tends to be hot this time of year, not for the warnings.  I’ve met a couple people who’ve walked it and recommend it and considering the cougar warning (and linx sighting) at my usual walk in Corvallis, I figure I can handle a rattlesnake warning.  But so far, I’ve only taken the lower trail, that goes out on the flat part in this picture looking west, which has some marshy lakes on top of the cliffs.

So, despite how my great grandmother always used to say the gorge was only pretty west of Hood River, I have to disagree.  Some of what lies between The Dalles and Hood River is now some of my favorite places and stunningly beautiful.  Not to mention the fresh apricots we went u-picking at a farm along the highway… truly delicious.  I’m going to have to go back and get a few more pounds of them before their season is over.

Historic Columbia River Highway State Park

One of my friends has been poking me on sharing some photos of my daily walk.  I have several nearby options for walking, but I’ve definitely settled on my favorite: Senator Hatfield State Park, a stretch of what used to be the Historic Columbia River Highway between Hood River and Moiser.

This section of highway went through a double tunnel just south of Moiser, but due to frequent rock slides, was eventually closed.  Later the tunnels were re-enforced, netting set up to catch falling rocks, and the whole thing nicely repaved and turned into a hiking and biking trail.  As a highway it must have been horribly narrow (I shudder to think of driving a modern truck on it) but as a bicycle and foot path, its wonderfully wide.  Plus, never muddy or overly steep.  Considering all the rain it’s nice to know I won’t get covered in mud and slide all over the place while taking my daily walk.

The one downside is that such a nice trail like that is very popular.  I cut down on some of the foot traffic by starting at the less interesting Hood River end of the trail.  Since 5 miles is far too far for me to walk, I only walk 30 minutes out  and then 30 minutes back.  If you do this at the Moiser end you get spectacular views of the river, followed by the double tunnels, which is why most people who walk pick that end.  The Hood River end has an initial view of the river, but turns into thick woods rather quickly.  It’s nothing but trees for 25 minutes, until there’s a small waterfall and picnic table.  Another five minutes and I reach my turning point, where the woods gives way to a rather nice view of the river.

Here I stop and rest a few minutes, enjoying it, before turning around.

My friend wanted to know what animals and plants I see while walking…. well, being so popular, there isn’t much wildlife.  I have found some road kill, which boggles me a little… this is obviously a deer, so it’s far too large for a bike to have killed it.  All I can think of is a vulture carried it up from the freeway far below to finish it somewhere quietly.

Other sights include a mostly hidden crashed car remains at the bottom of the cliff… not sure if it’s been there for 30 or 40 years or however long its been since this was  a highway… or got there some other way.  I walk for the exercise, not the sights.  There are some great wild flowers along the opening of the trail though… a ton of poison oak along the wooded section… if it really is poison oak, but I’m pretty sure it is from my girl scout camp days.

At least I’m exercising.  Don’t forget, sitting at a computer all day can kill you.  We writers need to remember to move.