The Columbia River Highway

Tuesday, April 2, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

The last installment on our Saturday trip to Mt. Hood, Hood River, and the Columbia Gorge.

After leaving Timberline Lodge, we proceeded a little further east on Hwy 26 to where Hwy 35 North separates and goes around the eastern flank of Mt. Hood, then down into Hood River, OR along the Columbia River on the eastern end of the Gorge. Like many roads in mountainous areas, this one follows a path cut by streams full of melting runoff from the snow pack high above.

We stopped in Hood River at a park along the Columbia to take a few pictures. Hood River is the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge (Portland and Vancouver are just beyond the western end). Until the early 1900's, there was only a rustic rudimentary trail that traversed the Gorge. The rugged rocky shoreline and the unpredictable water levels kept most traffic to the river or to a better trail through a pass on the north side of Mt. Hood. But about 1910, the legislature got serious about building "good roads" and planning for the Columbia River Highway began.

The actual construction took place from 1914 until 1921 and it has since been recognized for its good design, building techniques, and engineering excellence. Long since replaced by I-84 as the primary road along the south banks of the Columbia, the old road is still open and maintained as a "historic byway" under the National Scenic Byways Program of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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Whatever it is, it's certainly an exploration to be experienced. Along the 20 or so mile long western segment, there are dozens of waterfalls, parks, hiking paths, and stately old bridges to enjoy. It's a trip back to the early 20th century that shouldn't be missed.

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Latourell Creek bridge, completed in 1914, was the first bridge constructed on the Historic Columbia River Highway. It was designed by K.P. Billner, under the direction of state bridge engineer C.H. Purcell. The bridge is a three- span reinforced concrete braced spandrel deck arch. The braced spandrel framing is usually found only in steel deck arch construction. and is unique to this structure. At the time of its construction it was one of the lightest concrete bridges, relative to its dimensions, in the country. This bridge established the essential form of the concrete arch that would be used in Oregon and other sections of the United States.

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The L&C gang had easy-going as they headed west along the Columbia in the fall of 1805. Well, at least it was easy until they reached the Gorge, where the river was still cutting through the underlying layers of rock and debris creating numerous "shutes" or cascades. As the second-last major barrier to making their objective, the Pacific Ocean, (the other being the lovely weather this part of the country can be noted for), these shallow rapids made many long portages necessary. But they endured and adapted; they did what they had to do.

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