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The gorge.

The gorge

A legendary slice of Northwest geography,the Columbia River Gorge is a surprise to Northwest visitors expecting endless evergreen forests. Last fall, after decades of bitter controversy, a sizable part of this river-sculpted canyon, stretching 85 miles from Troutdale (near Portland) to Maryhill, was set aside as a national scenic area.

This time of year, it's rich with wild-flowers,waterfalls, and grand vistas. Our pictures and text highlight attractions on both sides of the river. If time is short, a 33-mile loop from Portland lets you sample waterfalls on the river's lush Oregon side, then return past May wildflowers on the south-facing Washington side.

Recreational opportunities along here aresurging. There are new hiking trails. Bicycling, sailboarding, fishing have come on strong. Two ships offer cruises. Old Multnomah Falls Lodge has expanded its day-use facilities, the 1921 Columbia Gorge Hotel has been renovated, and other inns and B&Bs are opening.

Waterfall-watching from the Columbia River Scenic Highway

Charged to capacity by runoff frommountain snows, the waterfalls on the gorge's Oregon side will be roaring this month and perhaps into June.

You'll see a stunning array: long chutesplunging into stone punch bowls, feathery veils spreading over rocky faces, awesome torrents twisting and turning as they roar through fern-clad clefts.

You'll pass nine falls in less than 10 miles,beginning just a 1/2-hour drive east of Portland on the Columbia River Scenic Highway (built in 1916), now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Much of the old two-lane roadway has been closed or lost entirely (I-84 obliterated miles of it). But two remnants remain, offering more than 40 miles of old-fashioned auto touring.

The winding highway is flanked by dry-wallmasonry of local basalt so masterfully blended with the topography that it is sometimes referred to as "poetry in stone.' You'll appreciate its arched bridges and walkways built by Italian craftsmen more than 70 years ago.

The highway's 24-mile western sectionbegins at Troutdale, 15 miles east of Portland; take exit 16 from I-84.

Seventeen state parks dot this end of thegorge (eight on the Scenic Highway, one with campsites for $9 a night and up). Renovated Multnomah Falls Lodge, 18 miles east of Troutdale, has restaurant, exhibits, trailheads--but no rooms.

Two miles east of Horsetail Falls, theScenic Highway rejoins I-84.

For access to the eastern 14 miles of theScenic Highway over Rowena Crest, still bright with wildflowers in May, leave I-84 at exit 69 in Mosier (near Hood River) and follow signs southeast to The Dalles.

Oneonta Loop, other hiking trails

Most of the gorge's 200 miles of hikingtrails are on the Oregon side. Many are interconnected.

Oneonta Loop. This 2.7-mile hike isespecially worth seeking out. Easy and safe enough for families but rich in views and close to roaring falls, it is one of the gorge's most charming short walks.

Some 2 1/2 miles east of Multnomah Falls onthe Scenic Highway, take Horsetail Falls Trail 438. It climbs steeply up a basalt cliff but quickly levels off, passing a wildflower-dotted wall before ducking behind the thick plume of Pony Tail Falls at 1/2 mile. In another 3/4 mile, join Oneonta Trail 424; follow it a mile back to the highway and walk east 1/2 mile to your starting point.

Guides. Forest Trails of the ColumbiaGorge maps and logs the trail network and suggests loops. For a copy ($1) and updated trail reports, stop at the Columbia Gorge ranger station east of Troutdale (open 7 to 4:30 weekdays).

Best hiker's guide is 35 Hiking Trails inThe Columbia River Gorge, by Don and Roberta Lowe (Touchstone Press, Box 81, Beaverton, Ore. 1980; $7.95).

Biking: here's one suggestion

The Scenic Highway is narrow, oftenlacks shoulders, and frequently must be shared with drivers watching waterfalls instead of the road. But the mostly flat 8.7-mile stretch between Latourell and Horsetail falls is an easy introduction.

Park at Latourell Falls on the ScenicHighway. The road winds through shady forest to Shepperd's Dell State Park (short trail to falls) and a graceful bridge above Youngs Creek.

Then you glide gently down to Bridal VeilFalls State Park (trail to falls). After passing the hamlet of Bridal Veil, the road rolls between forest and river bottom, shade and sun. Look up hundreds of feet for views of Mist Falls dropping from basalt cliffs, then disappearing into the wind. Next come Wahkeena Creek and Falls. Half a mile beyond is Multnomah Falls Lodge and a sunny plaza at the base of the falls. The Scenic Highway crosses a viaduct, then passes a verdant cleft in the basalt cliffs at the mouth of Oneonta Gorge. Horsetail Falls and picnic area are just beyond.

Group hike and bike trips. Friends of theColumbia Gorge will lead more than 40 gorge hikes and bike trips on the June 13-14 weekend; they also keep schedules of outings there by other groups. Write to F.C.G., Box 40820, Portland 97240; (503) 241-3762.

Driving the Washington side: a wildflower bonanza

The Washington side of the gorge is generallyless precipitous, had few waterfalls, but is sunnier and drier. Wildflowers abound. More than 800 native plant species have been identified in the gorge, and botanists are still counting.

From I-5 about 7 miles north of Vancouver,take I-205 and drive southeast 10 miles to State 14 (in Oregon, take I-205 across the Columbia to State 14). Drive 10 miles east on State 14 to Washougal; the gorge begins about 5 miles east.

This lightly traveled, mostly two-laneroad winds above the river another 80 miles to the east end of the gorge at Maryhill. Fine vista points (some marked only by a wide road shoulder) include Cape Horn and Beacon Rock, where a mile-long trail switchbacks up a sheer rock face to the 848-foot summit. The trailhead is part of Beacon Rock State Park (picnicking, campsites).

Tremendous clear-day views of MountHood across the Columbia begin as you near Bingen, which divides the western and eastern portions of the gorge. Mont Elise Vineyards, on State 14, is open noon to 5 daily for tasting and tours.

Forests yield to sagebrush and rimrock asyou continue east, passing waysides with grand views, to Horsethief Lake State Park (picnicking, fishing, trails, swimming, boardsailing, campsites).

In another 12 miles, picturesque MaryhillMuseum (9 to 5 daily) displays Rodin sculpture, Rumanian and Russian art. Two miles farther is Maryhill State Park (boating, fishing, swimming, campsites).

Friends of the Columbia Gorge (addressabove) will lead wildflower walks on May 2, 9, and 16.

Seeing the gorge by stern-wheeler or cruise ship

Before dams turned the Columbia into asuccession of placid backwaters, steamboats raced each other through the rapids. That thrill has long gone, but . . .

Steam has given way to diesel on the 599-passengerColumbia Gorge, a replicated turn-of-the-century paddle-wheeler. June 13 through September 27, it departs Cascade Locks on 2-hour narrated tours daily at 10, 12:30, and 3 (this sailing weekends only in September). Fare: $9, $5 for children 4 to 12. Two-hour dinner cruises at 7 Thursdays through Saturdays cost $26 and $23; call (503) 223-3928 to reserve.

May through October, Exploration CruiseLines offers a seven-day tour of the Columbia and Snake rivers ($1,200 up) aboard an 80-passenger cruise ship. Write to E.C.L., 1500 Metropolitan Park Bldg., Seattle 98101, or call (206) 624-8551.

World-class boardsailing

Boardsailors by the thousands come insummer to test the steady 15- to 25-mph winds and opposing river currents. Big race weekends offer quite a show as brilliantly colored sails dart across the river at speeds up to 35 mph.

Boardsailing capital of the Columbia isHood River. Races and festivals are held weekends from mid-April through early September. Best place to watch: Port Marina Park (from I-84, take exit 64, turn north under the freeway, and follow signs).

Sheltered bays up and down the river offercalmer conditions for learning, especially in The Dalles, with its 80-acre riverfront park. For lessons and rentals, check shops in Hood River and The Dalles.

For more information, write or call visitorbureaus at Port Marina Park, Hood River 97031, (503) 386-2000; and Box 406, The Dalles 97058, 296-2231.

More lodging, new B & Bs--book early

Bigger towns usually have a motel or two(The Dalles has 400 motel rooms). Visitor bureaus in The Dalles and Hood River have lists of inns, lodges, and eight bed-and-breakfast homes. But the list of good lodging is short; book now for holidays and summer weekends. For a free list of eight inns and three winery tours, write to the newly formed Columbia Gorge Country Inns and Winery Association, Box 797, Bingen, Wash. 98605.

Photo: Three miles rim to rim, the Grand Canyon of the Columbia opens wide to hiker atop Washington's 848-foot Beacon Rock

Photo: Nearing the endof its 1,243-mile course, the river cuts the only sea-level gap through the Cascades: the 85-mile-long Columbia River Gorge

Photo: Photographer snaps bachelor's buttons off ScenicHighway near Mosier, Oregon. Behind him are I-84 and the Columbia--slate gray on an overcast day

Photo: Eight-sided Vista House at Crown Point is afavorite stop along Scenic Highway. Started in 1979, restoration of 1918 landmark continues

Photo: Roaring with spring runoff, Multnomah Fallssweeps past walkers on trail bridge. At 620 feet, it's tallest of gorge's nine major falls

Photo: Flying across the Columbia, boardsailorshead for turn in weekend race at Hood River
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Title Annotation:Columbia River Gorge
Date:May 1, 1987
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