October 30 – Madras to The Columbia

This RV has not seen frost since the 2007 Winter Arizona New Mexico junket.

There’s frost in the pumpkin 0700 as the dawn gleams orange to the southeast. Frost on everything else as well. Didn’t know it was that cold, I was snug enough.

Once organized, amble the two blocks over to the Black Bear Diner for the morning’s rituals and the all-essential bean distillate. Rose, ably at the con, is originally from Nawlin’s (that’s New Orleans to you civilians), somehow made it to Sacramento, but her husband was from around these parts and so they moved. She hates the winters, but likes the country.  Tammy Wynette Kline warbles “Stand By Your Man.”

Today’s Objective: Dunno.

I harbored vague desires to take in the Northeast Country, country of the Nez Perce, if permitted, visit their sacred valley, wherever it was, and look into some Oregon Trail, that part of the state, maybe venture as far as southeastern Washington to the site of the Whitman Mission.

There are no direct southwest to northeast roads. Looks like north to the Columbia, some freeway, then diverge east by southeast. The lads at the Lodge suggested 97 north to 197, which will take me to the Columbia at The Dalles. Less traffic, and get off the road just before the bridge at Maupin, take the old railroad grade along the river to Sherar’s Bridge which will put you back on 197.

Sounded good, long wanted to see what a “Dalles” is.

I wish they would have told me about the Erickson Aircraft Museum at the Madras Aerodrome. Didn’t know it existed until I was looking at the map as I write this. But, you can’t know/do everything.

Avanti! North on 97, traffic scant, the low sun like a beacon shining on Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood and far to the northwest, Mount Adams; all snow-clad and gleaming looking like the cartoon image of what a volcano is supposed to look like.

3200 feet elevation at the 197/97 junction, country naked and burned over, stench of sear and ash, the winter wind must howl like devils here in another month. Brrr.

The turn-off less taken …. at this time of year.

Hmmmm. Down and down and down the scraggy cliffs to the Deschutes River at Maupin (named for an original who ran the river ferry) and yes, there’s the bridge and here’s the right turn.  Had it not been for the lads at The Lodge, I never would have taken it, looks just like a dead-end street.

The cleft of the river cut valley is ungainly rock, some scrub close to the water, but this river must Rock in the summer. Along the old railbed every 400 yards is a campground or day-use zone. Looks like prime white-water rafting and kayaking, wonder what it rages in the Spring run-off….

Today. Nobody on the trail or in the water; a few RV’s scattered across the 4 or 7 miles along the east side of the river. Except for the remnants of the aborigines (parking reserved for tribal members only) line casting.

Rickety perches over the rapids and falls, netting when the salmon run, likely just the way it was done well before Lewis and Clark documented same.

Time capsule in wet and spray and hunt and rocks and I get to to witness it.

The road from here ascends a minor creek, or at least I thought it was a mere gash in the rocks. Turns out not.

That iron pipe diverted water from the falls – out of view to the right – to a settling pond out of view to the left. Then the tailrace shoots the water down to the powerhouse, whose remains you can see at the bottom of the chasm.

Up the plateau here’s a turn off for White River Falls. Let’s have a look. There’s no body hereabouts, even the campground host has powered off.

But what Is here is why this place is a place. The first hydro-electric power station in the State, 1903.

Teddy was president, the Wright Brothers out of Dayton were cobbling together some birch and canvas and a tiny motor down on those North Carolina Dunes. And here, way the freak out in ranch butte river cut brown dry bone solid gorge by a falls somebody had mules haul out iron pipes big as tunnel rig them in a course down to a powerhouse the dynamo’s how did they get there, bit by bit wagons in parts I reckon picture the caravan.

How did people cart bulky, heavy shit around before there were proper roads, even tracks that were not rubble strew stream beds or ski-runs before there were ski runs?

I hard by the glaring warning placards admonishing the visitor to remain behind the safety fences; which can only mean many have not and some come to a bad end. I’ve come to a good spot, both scenic and historic. Just the way I likes them.

Onward. The short by-way I am on – 216 – hooks back up with 197 which I left at the river hamlet of Maupin. It ascends a creek cleft, the ghost road, probably dating from the mid 19th Century hides in the clefts and folds of the hills while the probably 1950’s new road a more direct approach.

Here’s a turn off (actually the original road) for something called Dufur. With a name like that, I HAS to be explored.  It isn’t really a turn-off; this WAS the road from back in the day when the sole function of a road was to connect towns. 

20th Century thinking, and highway building circumvented towns; roads were meant to speed the motorist onward, rather than to connect him with places.  Something of a metaphor for modern supposed-life: it is all about speed rather then destination.

That which we seek eludes us. You find that which you do not look for. And it is Good.

The Balch Hotel. A time capsule from 1907, lovingly and expertly restored not to look too restored. There is no one at the front desk, not a sound within; it wasn’t until I made the third and top floor that I encountered and staff: a charwoman, desk clark, house-maid, utility infielder and stock broker. “Can I help you?” “You already have, just by being here.”

Imagine sitting in this lobby, say 1909 reading the Portland Times-Clarion watching the White River Falls Powerplant big-wigs haggle for rooms on their inspection trip.

1907 – Teddy is of his 6th year of his two-term Presidency, Lee De Forest patents the vacuum tube, the first meters appear in cabs in London, Robert Baden-Powell forms the Boy Scouts, Marconi begins the first radio connection between North America and Great Britain, and Oklahoma becomes the 46th State in the Union.

The views of Mount Hood, this day uncloaked in the gods mist, are stunning. I want to return just to stay here in the President’s Suite …. if they have one.

Dufur the hamlet was incorporated – whatever that means – 1893 and named for the cattle rancher so centered. And right in the middle of that cowpile now stands the Balch.

Look forward to returning for a stay.

For now, back out on the high road and the last few miles to the mighty Columbia River. At 1,243 miles it drains a watershed the size of France. Rises from the Rocky’s of British Columbia, takes a quixotic course first north, then south and then eventually west.

And me, eventually …. east? I roll into the town of The Dalles – the name comes from the French for flat rocks which show when the river is low. Lewis and Clark, who camped near here, precisely 213 years and 2 days ago, recorded the name as Quenett.

None of this explains the local pronunciation: “Dahls.” Being French, or even English, the pronunciation should be DAHL-Les. I offered this to every Dallesian with whom I had but more than a few words – and of course they looked at me speechless as if I had three heads, one eye and no wallet.

But all this was in the vast, unknowable country called The Future. When I reached The Dahl-les, I took a turn through the business district, liked what I saw and wished that I hadn’t other plans for the day, which was to bustle across the river for a stretch downstream, cross back over and then continue eastward.

Lewis and Clark had a picnic here …. maybe.

For now, I fueled up at a Sinclair (love the Dino), boodled a bit east on I-84, crossed the Columbia and had some slow hand driving on the Washington side, this being State Route 14. Fine views here in the sunshine, westward could see the loom of the gloom.

I wanted to see Bonneville Dam. I almost did, but grew uneasy about a westward course when my goal was eastward. And so at the Bridge Of The Gods – so named for an historic slide (geologists date that slide to anywhere between the reign of Henry II to George II – where would the legions of archeo-geologists BE if final proof were to establish its date – no more scholarly papers, no more grad students, no more grants for field study and no more extensions for tenure….) that dammed the river for a time – the present structure, and a fine bridge it is (except for the 2 shinplasters it cost to cross) dates from the reign of George V – 1926.

Freeway. Okay. What’s this, a vista point. Veer. It turns out that this point, a cape once projected into the river. The roadbuilders of 1915 were stymied. Some guy – John Arthur Elliot by name – who had traveled the Alps suggested, and then made to occur a tunnel through the cape including fenestrations. It was the wonder of its day.

Alas, none of this Depression Era hospitality remains.

Just the west side of the miracle tunnel began to be a roadhouse, then a hotel, then some cabins, then a full-blown honky-tonk. This became a somewhat risque destination for the Portland demi-monde.

Alas, today, neither the tunnel or the speakeasy remain. The tunnel blasted out of memory in the 60’s when I-84 was installed; the pigs ear died with its owner.

Here, I resolved not to press east, but overnight of The Dahl-les; there ought to be sufficient interest for the afternoon and evening.

And there was.

First stop: the Dahl-les Elk’s Lodge. If lodge it be. It looked like the clubhouse for The Lost Boys who cobbled it together from masonry rubble and scavenged skids. Closed. Just as well.

Second stop: the Chamber of Commerce. An Art Deco gas station without the pumps, pumped full of G2 on the burg.

Third stop: The Dalles Hotel. Regrettably not the 19th Century original – its 1965 replacement, but without the Johnson Administration prices. Still, it was fair value proposition, and I haggled effectively.

Once the baggage laden to Room 426, I was free to wander about the place. I was advised to take in the Fort, up the hill. Fort? unFort-tunately, all the docents were at an off-site and so no tour of the Surgeon’s Quarters, which was all that remains of Fort Dalles. A militia post from 1837, it became an army post 1850 to manage the local aborigines, particularly during the Yakima War; it was abandoned 1867.

Back down the hill to town. Town is about three streets wide and about a half mile long. A half mile long and two street wide cavalcade of 19th Century architecture. Some preserved better than others, always with the pile-on and between of more recent buildings, all of them living a dozen lives since birth, many of them handsome and worthy.

Sedition Brewing in a former ice house, but the reception was warmer.

Worthy too was the dryness of the climate …. all this architecture and whispering history was akin to a desert wind down the throat of a man of the road. What to do?

Why, here’s Sedition Brewing, nicely set up in the town ice house. And nicely was the Beer Ambassador, one of the more comely women I’ve yet set eyes to. She set before me …..

Summer Blond – she ain’t no blond, anywhere else she would be a full-blooded pale ale – do disappointment here.

Bucket Drop – This is a dry IPA with the bark on, just a bit too much dog hair for my delicate little palate.

……. IN wonderment there is wonderment.

Yet, the town still bellows its welcome to such as I, and miles (beers) to go before I sleep.

Here Steve is showing me a massive drill press – the working slides on a beam for larger capacity boring.

Why, here’s an iron mongery in an historic structure reaking of guiders, stanchions, gussets and fuse welding. They entertain strangers well here at The Dahl-les, for Steven, yeomen well served entertains my inquires – no, they do not cast their own – and shows me over the shop including the inner sanctum featuring historic photos, principally of the town inundated.

Here comes The Owner in his 1970 Chevelle (never liked that model) who is cranky about the state of vocational education (the lack of) but glad of the odd sort who drop in to ask questions. I forgot to ask for a job.

At the top of the down is the old grain mill, its equipment still in place, but the drift of flour has been replaced with a wine tasting cellar (doggies!) of which I have not currency. Across the old Brewery Grade is one of the two train stations, this one in higher ground than the other, they learned from those floods.

Conditions: dry. Throat dry. Town, wet.

Into the conviviality of the River Tap Room where I was given over not so much to the admiration of their libations, which were considerable, but to the observations of their bar matrons. Nothing ensued.

Much yet unseen (drank). But something for the furnace, haven’t eaten since The Rio miles and a day ago. Rennie at The Dalles Hotel gave me a 10% off coupon for Baldwin’s Saloon so there I traipsed.

Another venerable brick pile once a grain warehouse, then the hoosegow, maybe a saloon oldest in town (so it claims) carefully restored, the old barback (mostly of period) and no muzak or worse feeds. Plenty of booths, I took a stool at the bar and was well helped toward satisfaction.

Chelsea, a raven topped, Rubenesque cherub perhaps new at this work was my conduit to that satisfaction. Diligent, conscientious, forgetful and then apologetic. No silverware, missed the drink request, but earnest. Who could ask for anything more?

I could when the steak arrives. It’s cold. Sent back. Back and for $40, you want a taste orgasm. This wasn’t it. Still, I liked the place, I liked Chelsea, I liked the moment and moments that had brought me here.

The Backwood Copper Line Amber was unrecognizable, but then again, I’d poured some hearty glug down my yap by this time juncture.

Umbrage, seems fulfilling, yet where are the snows of last winter? The outpouring, the protests, the venting over the Kavanaugh hearing …. where is that energy now? Where is the power from feeling like pouring through a turbine down a spillway …. where is that energy?

The view from Mitchell Point

Is effort to be that of cyclone, wizzing around the globe, the rain falls, so too the trees, the villages inundates, Paradise reduced to ashes, our hopes flail about like our dreams … where does this energy channel to form Anything but a candle lit and then burnt to darkness ….

Forgot to employ the coupon.

Staggered to the flop, opened the window on the Columbia, turned on the fan for the gray noise in concert with the I-84 freeway hum, let the rain moisten the darkness and was glad for the place and time.

178 miles and more than that smiles this day.