Our goal on the west coast was Oregon, a state we’d never visited before, but on the way we passed through Idaho, which proved interesting in its own right.
Craters of the Moon
Our first destination in Idaho was the Craters of the Moon National Monument, which is a vast lava field created by volcanic eruptions about 2000 years ago. There is a circular drive through the lunar landscape, and some interesting walks past lava formations and giant craters. In addition there is a place where ancient trees made impressions of their bark on the lava as it cooled.
We next visited the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, where ranges of jagged snow-covered mountains line the roads. We did some hikes here, though some trails were impassable due to snow, even in late May. Others were free of snow, but involved scrambling over or round large numbers of fallen trees blocking the path. Even so, we managed to get ourselves to some interesting viewpoints where we could appreciate the grandeur of the mountains.
While in the mountains we stopped in two interesting Idahoan towns. One was Stanley, where we stayed overnight. It was a very isolated mountain town, with few scattered buildings, and we suspect it had changed little over the decades. The other was Idaho City, once a boom gold rush town and now just a faded remnant, more like a Wild West film set than a real place. It was interesting to wander round and get a glimpse of how things once were.
Arriving back in the 21st century, we visited Boise, the capital of Idaho. This is a smart modern city, with an impressive Capitol and many upmarket shops and restaurants in the downtown. It also has a spacious green park by the river, with a boating lake where we took a pedalo out for half an hour (we decided we’d been in pedaloes on five continents).
The Oregon Trail
From Idaho we pressed on into Oregon, driving 360 miles to reach our next destination. On the way we stopped at the Oregon Trail Interpretative Centre, where we learned a lot about the trials and tribulations of those who headed west in the 19th century to make new lives for themselves. We even saw the wheel ruts made by their wagons as they passed. It made our travels since leaving Chicago seem very simple and easy by comparison.
Columbia River Gorge
At the end of our first day in Oregon we arrived at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. This where the wide Columbia River carves its way through the hills, leaving impressive cliffs, waterfalls and scenic overlooks to be explored. We managed to visit most of these, including the best-known Multnomah Falls (or ‘Multinomial Falls’ – statistician’s joke). Here we climbed up a series of steep zigzags to get to the top of the falls, only to realise that waterfalls look much better from the bottom!
We also visited the Bonneville Dam and watched fish climbing the fish ladder (very clever of them without legs). Our final experience was an evening dinner cruise on a sternwheeler paddle steamer, with good food as well as great views.
Mount Hood is the highest mountain in Oregon, an extinct (we hope) volcano just south of the gorge. We drove round it on a loop of roads, on a sunny day when the sky was blue and the snow-capped peak was clearly visible. We also drove halfway up the mountain to Timberline Lodge, a historic hotel on the lines of Old Faithful Inn, set at 6000 feet. From there the views were even more incredible.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon, and the largest we’d visited since leaving Chicago. It has a pleasant riverside walk along the banks of the Willamette River, as well as an interesting Farmers’ Market and Saturday craft market. It also boasts an enormous bookshop, both new and secondhand, and we managed to escape from there having bought only two books!
We were fortunate enough to arrive in Portland during their annual Rose Festival, and were able to catch the Starlight Parade on the Saturday evening we were there. This had 101 floats, and a lot of marching bands, including many from high schools. We found a fairly good vantage point near the start of the procession. It began to move at 8.30 and it was almost 11 pm when the final participants went past. We reckoned that half of Portland must have taken part, and the other half were watching! As Ian said, it was ‘more Langley than Rio’, but it was good fun, and there was a great carnival atmosphere.