Columbia Gorge 2.1: So Many Trains

Pictures Date: September 1, 2018

On my first train-hunting trip in early August I came away with photos of only one train; so it was only a matter of time before I tried my luck again. My wife headed out for a 4-day trip so the time was right. Since she had an early flight I dropped her off at PDX and then headed east out the Gorge. The best thing about my earlier trip is it allowed me to adjust my stopping points so I had a better plan this time. That wouldn’t necessarily mean I’d see more trains but I felt I’d have spots with good visibility and nice backdrops.

Now it is said that the best light for pictures are the golden hours around dawn and again around sunset. I was lucky enough to be up at the Cape Horn Lookout a bit before the sun came up. I parked and took photos for about 15 minutes as the sun was coming up.

Looking up the Columbia River from Cape Horn Lookout

Looking up the Columbia River from Cape Horn Lookout

Although it was hard to see straight down at the tracks, I heard a train rolling up the Gorge so I had high hopes for the day.

My first stop for trains was at the St. Cloud hiking area around milepost 29 on Washington SR 14. Soon after I got out my camera an eastbound freight with a Norfolk Southern GE unit in second position was moving toward me.

Eastbound BNSF at St. Cloud Hiking Area - Columbia Gorge

Eastbound BNSF at St. Cloud Hiking Area – Columbia Gorge

 

Off I went again. The next stop was a maintenance of way rail storage spot near Skamania Landing Road. As I was waiting for a train I noticed the big beautiful moon above. I have been astounded by some moon photos on Flickr taken with a Sony RX10M4 like mine.

View of the moon from the BNSF maintenance of way area at Skamania Landing RD off Washington SR 14

View of the moon from the BNSF maintenance of way area at Skamania Landing RD off Washington SR 14

It looks blue here – from looking through the beautiful morning sky. I think the contrast in black and white really shows it off. Frankly, I’m really impressed at the images the Sony RX10M4 captures.

Monochrome view of the moon from the BNSF maintenance of way area at Skamania Landing RD off Washington SR 14

Monochrome view of the moon from the BNSF maintenance of way area at Skamania Landing RD off Washington SR 14

Once again it seemed like my luck was going to be better this trip: a westbound grain train approached soon after I got the moon pictures.

Westbound grain train at Skamania Landing RD, WA - Columbia Gorge

Westbound grain train at Skamania Landing RD, WA – Columbia Gorge

Off again. As I headed toward Stevenson, WA I spied the parking lot for the North Bonneville hiking area. Since the path looked like it headed toward the railroad tracks I jumped – well at my age I don’t actually jump – out of the car and headed up a trail, a branch of which led right over a railroad tunnel. I found a spot and waited for a train to roll by. Since it was coming out of the tunnel I couldn’t see or hear it making it difficult frame a great shot – but it was nice nonetheless.

BNSF emerging from tunnel near North Bonneville Hiking Area. Columbia Gorge

BNSF emerging from tunnel near North Bonneville Hiking Area. Columbia Gorge

I should have taken a jacket out with me as it was windy and chilly on the trail. I hopped – well, see my comment about jumping – back in the car and continued east.

I hadn’t eaten breakfast so I stopped at a place called TJ’s – if I remember correctly. I was given the opportunity to use one of favorite lines. When the waitress told me I could sit anywhere, I looked at a man and his son and told him “I’m afraid you’ll have to move – she said I could sit anywhere.” Usually this gets at least a grin – but this guy just wasn’t having it. Oh, well.

After breakfast I drove to the stern wheeler parking area in Stevenson, Washington. It was still early so the stern wheeler American Empress was at the pier.

American Empress Stern Wheeler at the Stevenson, WA pier

American Empress Stern Wheeler at the Stevenson, WA pier

There was also a fun sculpture at the entrance to a nearby park. You can’t tell by the photo but it a kind of mobile with things rotating and spinning.

Moving sculpture near boarding spot near the stern wheeler boarding arean Stevenson, Washington

Moving sculpture near boarding spot near the stern wheeler boarding arean Stevenson, Washington

This is a great place to grab train pics. There is a crossing so you’ll hear the train horn a ways off and there are signal lights you can keep an eye on. It wasn’t long before the Portland section of the Empire Builder headed toward town.

West bound Portland section of the Empire Builder rolling through Stevenson, WA

West bound Portland section of the Empire Builder rolling through Stevenson, WA

A few years ago we took this train the other direction all the way to Chicago. One section originates in Portland and the other in Seattle; they meet up late at night in Spokane, Washington. The Portland section is a real treat as it rolls beside the Columbia Gorge all the way up to the John Day dam where it turns north.

Having gotten up at 4:30 AM I was a bit sleepy and I still had a full day in front of me; so I reclined my seat and dozed a bit figuring I’d hear when a train approached. I ended up spending more than an hour there – which gave me the opportunity to grab pictures of another westbound grain train.

West bound BNSF grain train rolling through Stevenson, WA

West bound BNSF grain train rolling through Stevenson, WA

Next stop: Home Valley campground where I found a pedestrian bridge over the tracks on my last trip. It’s funny – as big and powerful these trains are they are relatively quiet. You may not believe it but if there isn’t a crossing nearby or another reason to blow their horns they just roll up on you. It’s a good reason to be safe – which I am – and not be too close to the tracks. As I was looking westward from the bridge I heard a train coming from the east; I didn’t have much time to get set for the picture.

Taken from the pedestrian bridge at the Home Valley campground, WA. Columbia Gorge

Taken from the pedestrian bridge at the Home Valley campground, WA. Columbia Gorge

By now it was pushing into mid afternoon and I had a way to go before the day was through so I headed out toward Columbia Hills Historical State Park. I tried to get here last time but didn’t realize there are four parts to the park. I took the first turn which sent me way out into the hinterlands along Dalles Mountain Road – I didn’t get near the tracks but I did get this picture of an old freight wagon.

This time I took the correct turnoff for Horsethief Lake Park. This park features a whole wall of petroglyphs from the Native Americans back in the day. Lewis and Clark saw them back in 1805. I was hoping to find “She Who Watches” but I must have walked past it;  I liked this one:

Petroglyphs at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

Petroglyphs at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

This spot turned out to be a really nice place to photograph trains. You can see the westbound trains miles away giving you plenty of time to set up. It’s fun to track a train as it snakes its way down the Gorge. At first you see just a trace of movement way up the river, then the train gets closer and closer.

Westbound BNSF oil train at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

Westbound BNSF oil train at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

Westbound BNSF oil train at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

Westbound BNSF oil train at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

Hmm, I noticed the side of the train was in shadow. I was on the south – or river – side of the tracks for my pictures but I guess at this point the train isn’t heading true west. No worries; after the train passed I simply parked on the other side of the road.

Westbound BNSF grain train at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

Westbound BNSF grain train at Columbia Hills Historical State Park, WA. Columbia Gorge

BNSF West Bound at Columbia Hills Historical State Park

My favorite picture of the trip. BNSF West Bound at Columbia Hills Historical State Park

As I was sitting in the hot car I was thinking that bringing along beach chair would be nice so I wouldn’t have to stand for an hour at a time so as to not miss a train rolling up while I was in the car.

On I went. I had planned to go out to Maryhill and the John Day Dam but figured I was running out of time. Nevertheless, I continued out the Gorge to checkout Horsethief Butte. But it looked like a big hike without promise of good train pictures so I decided to save it for another day. My plan was to drive east until about four o’clock when I would turn back to The Dalles where I would spend the night.

I happened upon the turn off for the Avery Recreational Area and headed down to check it out. It looked like another great place for train pictures. No sooner had I parked than I caught a westbound coal train – the vast majority of trains I saw this day were heading west.

BNSF Coal Train passing Avery Recreational Area, WA. Columbia Gorge

BNSF Coal Train passing Avery Recreational Area, WA. Columbia Gorge

Another – lower priority – train was idling down the tracks a bit. I took the opportunity to get up along side it.

Idling BNSF at Avery Recreation Area, Washington

Idling BNSF at Avery Recreation Area, Washington

I waited a while longer but nothing else was on the rails. I figured that was a sign to head to The Dalles for dinner and bed.

That’s enough words and pictures for me to write and you to read for one post. I’ll write a second post about my second day when I would head out to Maryhill and the John Day Dam.

About howardwthompson

I'm a person who likes to travel, read, cook, and eat
This entry was posted in Trains, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Columbia Gorge 2.1: So Many Trains

  1. Pingback: Columbia Gorge 2.2: Where’d All The Trains Go? | 2for66

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s