Having powered our way up the Lost Coast of California and the entire coast of Oregon, the next phase of our roadtrip was to do a reverse Lewis & Clark for a bit. That meant following the Columbia River to the east. We caught our first glimpse of the mouth of the Columbia from Astoria and, wow, is it big. It’s also very very industrial. Besides the ubiquitous piles of logs, there are huge cranes, ships, and rail cars paralleling it. Then somewhere in Longview, there must be a paper mill, because there is a vomit-inducing, eye-watering stench that I haven’t smelled since I traveled through Northern Maine. Luckily it seemed to be confined to Longview, because long before I got to Vancouver, the air had cleared. Speaking of Vancouver, I wish someone had told me this was one of the loveliest little cities I passed through. In fact Meriwether Lewis wrote that the Vancouver area was “the only desired situation for settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.” I wish I’d had time for more than a quick swing through the revitalized downtown on my way to see Fort Vancouver of Hudson Bay Colony fame. Not only is the Fort fascinating, but it sits in a beautiful former Army base which is reminiscent of San Francisco’s Presidio and where Ulysses S. Grant was once quartermaster.
We enjoyed Fort Vancouver so much, we were behind schedule for our drive down the Columbia River Historic Route. The drive officially starts in Troutdale, but that’s where it almost ended for us. I was traveling down a three lane road — one lane going in either direction and a middle passing lane. Suddenly I noticed that I was gaining on the car in front of me a lot faster than I should have been given that I was going the 30 mph speed limit. The car in front of me wasn’t breaking and it wasn’t signaling. What I think he did was take his foot of the accelerator and coast down to 2 mph. When I realized he was barely moving and I was almost on him, I contemplated slamming on the brakes, but it was raining and, in a split second, I made the decision to go around him in the middle passing lane — especially since that lane was clear as far down as I could see. That’s when the driver decided to make a sudden left turn right into me. Turns out the driver was 90 years old and quite confused. As we were exchanging information, he kept saying I need your license plate number. We were standing in front of my car and I pointed out my license to him. “No, no”, he kept saying, “These aren’t the right license plates. They don’t say Oregon on them.” Me: “Uh no, they say California on them. I’m from California.” “Well, you have to give me your Oregon plate number!” At this point, we had the local police and the County Sheriff on the scene and the old guy was getting very confused. He seemed to think that law enforcement was going to stage a trial right there on the street. The police got so frustrated with him, they told us to just move along, find a DMV or police station somewhere and fill out an accident report.
Well, nothing to do but keep keeping on. So I headed out for Historic Oregon Highway 30, which, surprisingly, was the first planned scenic roadway in the United States. Note to anyone following my Prius tracks: your GPS will NOT want to take you on this road, it will want to route you on Highway 84. There is also another Route 30 that is not the one you want. Look for the brown signs. It was raining pretty hard at this point, but the views were still spectacular.
The view for 20 miles or so was the classic Oregon-Washington lush, rain drenched scenery. Until I rounded a corner and, suddenly, it wasn’t. It was as if I’d suddenly stepped into the high plains of Texas: brown grass, sagebrush and not a tree in sight. I couldn’t snap a picture as there were no turnouts once Historic 30 dumped into plain old Interstate 84.
Not only was I suddenly in the Wild West, but I ended up in Pendleton, which must be some kind of cowboy heaven. The downtown could be the set for a John Wayne movie. There are six restaurants on the main street. All of them are steakhouses. The rest of the stores are saddleries and bootmakers. Of course, I went to dinner at one of the steakhouses. Well, you kind of have to. I picked the one with the red flocked wallpaper that was housed in a former bordello. I was the only patron without a cowboy hat. The menu offered “Saddle Maker’s Red” which was billed as a “100% Grape Wine”. Well, what do you expect from a restaurant started in 1959 by a champion bull rider and local legend. Great black and white pictures of Paul Cimmiyotti wrastlin’ steers adorn the walls.
I might alter my plans and spend an extra day in Pendleton. This is my kind of place.