Since it is now long after dark, I decide to go for the cheapest option, so I pull into the Motel 6. The clerk behind the desk is helping a man who is angry because his TV does not work. He asks to move to a different room, to which the clerk replies, “You got the last room. We are full up.” GULP! I decide to wait anyway, thinking I can ask her if she knows of any other hotels that may have rooms. She hands me a list of hotels in the area, and suggests I start calling…
After my third failed attempt, I start to consider if I should drive back to Portland. But it is now 10:30pm, which means I wouldn’t get back until midnight. My waterfall hikes have left me feeling a bit weary. Besides, I don’t want to miss the Washington side of the gorge.
Finally, I call the Oregon Motel, the least desirable on the list. My stereotype tells me the name “motel,” along with the thick Indian accent on the other end of the line means this is not exactly going to be a pleasurable place to stay. But it’s only to sleep. I will be out of there first thing come morning. He tells me he has one nonsmoking room left, first come, first serve, so I high-tail it across town.
The room is surprisingly clean and modern, and considering my rapidly drooping eyelids, a bargain at $75 per night. There is a giant screen TV in the room, the first I have seen since I left Texas in March. I fall asleep with the TV blaring, overdosed on my former addiction of the CNN loop.
In planning my weekend, I also get the brilliant idea on my way to the Dalles that this will be a perfect time for my 8 week “root touch up,” as it is a whole lot easier coloring my hair in a big bathroom than the tiny Winnie, where I typically end up slinging “Golden Brown” all over the washed walnut woodwork.
I awake the next morning to the iphone ding, the TV still blaring, and realize I have neglected to let my family know where I am. The email ding is from my brother Don in Mexico, asking my whereabouts. My reply reads “A lot has happened in the last 24 hours, so I find myself writing you from a cheap motel room while trying to dye my hair before they find me here past check-out.” I realize this sounds like a line from a bad fugitive movie.
I somehow manage to waste away the morning on my dye job, but still want breakfast, so I ask Siri to find the best restaurants in The Dalles. The number one recommendation is a French bistro and bakery, Le Petit Provence, which turns out to be the ideal choice. Trust me on this one, their “Soufflé Brownie” was so delectable, it made the previous night’s hotel hunt all worth it!
The bridge to cross over into Washington was a bit anticlimactic, and seemed dwarfed by such a mighty river. The Dalles is where the gorge ends and Oregon’s high desert country begins. Right away, the change in vegetation is evident, as the hillsides along the river are golden rather than green, and free of the tall evergreen trees.
The Washington side of the Columbia Gorge is also known as “A world of wine in forty miles.” The varying micro-climates and soil differences from nearby volcanic activity make growing an abundance of grape varietals possible.
I travel a few miles up the hillside to see a replica of Stonehenge, a rather odd tribute to the veterans of World War I. A replica in size and shape of England’s famous Stonehenge, dated 1900 to 1350 B.C, it was created in the 1920’s by a Quaker pacifist, Samuel Hill. After having seen the original alter of Stonehenge, believed to be used in human sacrifice, Hill remarked, “After all our civilization, the flower of humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war on fields of battle.” The drive back along the sometimes narrow, winding Highway 14 offers some phenomenal views of Oregon’s snow-capped Mt Hood across the river, and dramatic views of the “wet side” of the gorge.
If one must choose between the lush, green, waterfall wonderland of the Oregon side, or the impressive views from the Washington side, of course I would say to go for the waterfalls. But why not pack a bag, take a road trip, and see them both?
(A special thanks to my Vancouver friends Linda and Chester, for all their great Columbia River Gorge suggestions.)