Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail was a 2,000 mile overland route from Missouri to the Oregon Territory, ending in Oregon City (modern day Portland). This was the main migration route from 1841 to 1969 for people looking for riches and a new life. After 1861the railroad provided an easier path to the Pacific Northwest, and use of the arduous wagon route began to wane.

We traveled part of the Oregon Trail while exploring Oregon for this first time, making our own discoveries of the natural riches of this state. Our journey started at the end of the Trail in Portland, visiting our good friend Rosemary. She walked us through the tranquil 5+ acre Portland Japanese Garden, interweaving her impressions and interpretations of the five gardens.
A short walk down the hill from the Japanese Garden are the Portland Rose Gardens. As you step down into the gardens, 10,000 rose plantings and more than 550 varieties stretch out before you. Each rose bush radiant with a different color and fragrance.
A few roses
Portland Rose Gardens

Leaving behind the well-tended gardens, we headed west along the Columbia River Gorge. This vast river begins in northern Idaho and southern British Columbia, slices through the Cascade Mountain Range, and makes its final run through the 80-mile gorge before reaching the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia River must serve many uses, including power generation, not all compatible or complimentary. Much of the gorge is a National Scenic Area, with miles of trails, more than 77 waterfalls, great vistas, and amazing windsurfing (we watched in awe from shore).

Columbia River Gorge

620-foot Multnomah Falls
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

The next day, after a much too short of a visit, Rosemary sent us on our way down the Oregon Trail (Route 26), past the 11,000+ foot volcanic Mt. Hood, with stops at Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne and Newbury National Volcanic Monument, before ending the day at Crater Lake National Park. This route through the Oregon High Desert was amazing for its diversity and the completely unexpected natural places tucked off the main road, and worthy of many more hours (or days) of exploration.

Smith Rock State Park is off the beaten path and without the tip from Rosemary we would have missed this little gem. Tucked along the Crooked River, Smith Rock is apparently known far and wide by rock climbers. We stopped for lunch; the picnic area offering excellent views of the rock faces and winding river below.

Smith Rock State Park

Our next stop at Lava Lands and the Newbury Volcanic National Monument left us completely dazed, so unexpected that it was. With our final destination still hours away we had little time to absorb the new Visitor's Center, before venturing onto the Trail of the Molten Land. This trail winds through part of a 7,000 year old lava flow from Lava Butte, a cinder cone (formed when fragments of lava erupt and fall as cinders around the vent) that rises up amid the black jumble of lava. A few hardy plants had taken hold among the red and black lava, which looked like deeply plowed soil churned up by giant tractors.

Lava Lands

Red and black pumice at Lava Lands

Life among the lava

Each stop along our drive left us wide-eyed as we tried to absorb the immense forces of nature that created these wondrous places. As we reached the rim of Crater Lake we sucked in our breath one more time as the caldera opened out before us. At nearly 2,000 feet deep the intense blue water contrasts sharply with the rock walls and ragged rim.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicualis) on the rim, Crater Lake

Reflections from the rim, Crater Lake

The Phantom Ship, Crater Lake

The Pinnacles, Crater Lake National Park

We watched the sun set below Crater Lake amidst a haze of smoke from forest fires burning thousands of acres to the north and west. We ended our day-long journey along our "Oregon Trail" below the rim of Crater Lake tucked into a cabin at Mazama Village, named after the great Mount Mazama which last erupted only 7,700 years ago.

Sunset at Crater Lake

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