Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cascade Locks

Cascade Locks and Bridge of the Gods
In the final chapter of her bestselling book, Wild, author Cheryl Strayed ponders her experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail while enjoying a soft serve cone at the Eastwind Drive-In at Cascade Locks, Ore. Located 40 miles east of Portland off Interstate 84, it’s the only town on the trail’s 2600-mile journey from the Mexican border to Canada, and the spot where the trail crosses the mighty Columbia River via the Bridge of the Gods.
The town, one of the oldest in Oregon, has long been a place where travelers needed to come to terms with their plans. An ancient landslide created a series of whitewater rapids and cascades that served as a major barrier in the river, forcing a long portage around them.  Lewis and Clark described the cascades as “…water passing with great velocity forming and boiling in a horrible manner…”,  and pioneers on the Oregon Trail had to choose between the hard trek over the Barlow Road, or facing the rapids in a make-shift raft with the possibility of losing everything.

In 1856, a portage road was built and mules carried freight around the cascades until they were replaced with the Oregon Pony, the first steam locomotive to operate west of the Mississippi. The Pony, described as an “ungainly contraption,” with its tiny engine carried around 200 tons of freight each day. Passengers rode in one small coach or aboard the flatcars.

Historical Museum
The era of portage railroad ended in 1897 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a series of locks to move river traffic around the cascades. Later, when the Bonneville Dam and Locks were completed during the New Deal, the waters flooded the old locks leaving only skeletal stone and concrete outlines, and stairs leading to nowhere.  What remains is now a National Historic Site and can be viewed at the town’s Marina Park, owned and operated by the Port of Cascade Locks. This attractive, riverside swatch of parkland is also home to the Oregon Pony which currently resides in its own glass-enclosed and climate-controlled structure.  Next to it, occupying the former lock tender’s house, is the Cascade Locks Historical Museum with three floors of artifacts and mementos from the region’s past.  

At the east end of the park are statues of Lewis and Clark guide, Sacagawea, and their canine traveling companion, Seaman. Next door at the Locks Waterfront Café is the docking site of the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, a three-story replica of the ships that cruised the Gorge in the 1800s. Built in 1983 in Hood River, this 499-passenger paddle
Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler
wheeler offers narrated excursions, brunch and dinner cruises on the river between May and October.

A few miles downstream is an attraction well worth a short detour off Interstate 84.  While a working fish hatchery might not be on anyone’s top ten sightseeing list, the Bonneville Hatchery is located in a pretty, creek side setting with stone ponds, flowers, tall trees, and neatly manicured grounds, and receives over a million visitors annually.  The hatchery, opened in 1909, raises fall Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, and summer and winter steelhead. A self-guided tour leads visitors through the process. In the historic, wooden Egg Incubation Building, a small museum covers everything anyone would want to know about salmon and their fascinating life cycle. However, the biggest and best known attraction at the hatchery is Herman, a 70-year-old, 450 pounds, ten foot
Egg Incubation Building and Museum
long sturgeon. He and his buddies can be observed through an underwater, glass window. The adjacent Bonneville Dam and Locks also welcomes visitors.

Cascade Locks is the nearest town to a number of popular Columbia Gorge hiking trails.  In addition to the Pacific Coast Trail, there is access nearby to the Eagle Creek and Wahclella Falls trails offering some of the Gorge’s most spectacular scenery and waterfalls. This spring, a new mountain bike trail opened on the east side of town.

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