Columbia Gorge Trip

Trip Dates: August 3&4, 2018

After working on my camera skills for moving trains this summer it was time to head out on an adventure. We drive out the Columbia Gorge a few times a year – usually on the way to somewhere else. The Union Pacific railroad runs along the Oregon side of the river while the BNSF runs on the Washington side. My impression is that the BNSF side is generally more busy. Since Washington State Route 14 parallels the tracks for much of the Gorge it was a no brainer to focus on that side.

From earlier experience and checking resources such as Flickr and Google, I came up with a route where I could stop for a while at various stops to set up and grab some photos. Click the photo below to get a closer view.

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My first two stops were duds; I couldn’t find a good photo angle in Camas and even though there was a nice little bridge in Washougal there was no place to park or stand to get pictures. I did see a westbound grain train heading into Vancouver while I was looking for a spot. I figured where there is one train there will be others so I was excited for the day.

As I was driving to my next spot I pulled over at the Cape Horn scenic overlook just to get a view of the beautiful Columbia Gorge. It was a cool cloudy day – which was a nice change from the upper 90’s we had been experiencing – and I was treated to a dramatic view.

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Looking east from the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge

The Gorge is a great place to visit even if you don’t like trains.

My next stop was the US Forest Service St. Cloud day hike area. Just off highway 14 there is a spot at the entrance to the trail area that had nice sight lines. I stopped and waited an hour for trains. No luck. No worries, let’s keep moving.

My next spot was a maintenance-of-way spot in Skamania near Skamania Landing Road. I dropped in there for a bit but no trains coming. It wasn’t the most scenic place so I kept moving east.

I was thinking that one of my stops might be in a Washington State park where I would need a day pass. Luckily there is a spot to buy passes at the Beacon Rock state park. After paying for the pass, I thought to myself “Hmm, I bet if I take this trail over the ridge and down to the river I’ll come across the tracks. Hiking seemed like a good change of pace from sitting in the car so off I went. After about a mile of up and down, I came to the tracks.

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The river was just on the other side of the underpass so I headed through and was treated to a nice view of Beacon Rock.

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With the tracks being overhead I figured I couldn’t get a good angle so I hiked back to the car to head out. As I was leaving I saw a BNSF high-railer truck heading west. Uh oh; if they are working on the tracks there might not be many trains.

Driving east I stopped at a little visitor center celebrating the history of logging in the area. Next to the road was an old F7 (or some other F unit). I thought I’d better get a picture – it might be the only train I see!

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I walked up the steps to peak inside – those early diesel locomotives were barebones – it sure didn’t look comfortable.

By this time it was well past noon and I was hungry; lunch in Stevenson, Washington sounded good.One of the tourist stern wheeler steam ships stops here meaning there is a real nice parking lot near the tracks. There is also a nice restaurant – Clark and Lewies – right on the river. I sat on the deck and had fish and chips while kite sailors made their way out on the river. No trains came by while I ate lunch and I was definitely thinking “no trains today”

Regardless, the drive is nice. Next stop Home Valley.  I was real excited about this spot. There is a little wooden pedestrian bridge over the track here with long views in each direction.

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Pedestrian Bridge near Home Valley, Washington.

That’s what I saw during my 30 minute hang-out: empty track.

Ah well, let’s keep driving.

Over the years I’ve been on the hunt for some vintage cast iron skillets.  By serendipity I was talking cast iron with buddies on two different occasions this summer. As I passed through the little town of Bingen, Washington I spotted the “Antiques and Oddities” store and those conversations jumped up in my brain so I turned in and found two gorgeous, smooth-bottom skillets. One is an 8-inch Griswold; the other a 10-inch Wagner Ware. Lodge is the primary maker of cast iron skillets today; if you have one, rub your hand over the inside – when it’s cold please! – and you’ll feel and see lots of bumps. The older cast iron cook ware were made from different molds and they have very smooth interiors. I was delighted with my find and even more delighted when I negotiated a discount for buying two skillets. I’ll post some details on these in a few weeks when I strip and re-season them.

As I was examining the skillets an east bound BNSF freight rolled through! I missed it!

On I went. The spot I had picked near The Dalles dam was way too windy – have I mentioned it gets REALLY windy out in the Columbia River Gorge? – so I didn’t stay. Then I must have entered the wrong coordinates into my Google Maps – instead of ending up at Horsethief Butte trail overlooking the tracks and the river, I ended up up in the rolling hills north of the river in the Columbia Hills Historical State Park. Which isn’t much of a park – it’s mostly a rutted dirt road through some golden fields. No trains up here for sure; but some nice views anyway.

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Looking toward Mt Hood from Columbia Hills Historical State Park

Along the way  I passed some private property abutting the park where there is a great old wagon.

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I had planned to go on out to Maryhill a few miles further up the river but it was getting past dinner time so I headed back, crossed over the Hood River bridge and spent the night in Oregon. The Best Western hotel in Hood River is right on the river along a walkway through parkland along the river bank.

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Hood River Bridge

I walked for a while hoping to find a place to eat but the sun was getting ready to set …

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Looking east up the Columbia River

… and I was hungry so I had a nice dinner on the deck at the motel.

I planned out my next day. Surely there must be trains on Saturday! No way could we have two slow days in a row. So, rather than going back home via I84 on the Oregon side I retraced some of my steps from Friday. Just west of the Hood River bridge is a nice parking area. No sooner had I parked than I saw the west bound Amtrak Empire Builder making good time. I got my camera up just in time to get a big blue and black blur.

But then I looked around and saw some beautiful sites. The moon was overhead.

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And Mt Hood looked like it was just across the river.

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I zoomed in on the mountain.

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After waiting some more, I headed west where I passed a west bound BNSF grain train stopped in a siding. That was cause for hope. I stopped at the pedestrian bridge in Home Valley again for half an hour or so; but no luck. I decided to go back to that nice parking lot in Stevenson to wait. After about 45 minutes with no action I started to leave when I saw a signal light turn to flashing yellow then green. I grabbed my gear and got ready.

FINALLY! The grain train I passed came into view. It’s the only train I got pictures of so, I’m going to show two.

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I headed home; disappointed I didn’t see more trains but happy with the trip overall. I got some nice pictures of the Columbia River Gorge, scored two vintage cast iron skillets, and narrowed down train watching sites.



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