It’s a random Thursday morning at 7:00 AM. My dog is next to me in the passenger seat of my car. As the sun breaks thru the clouds I head towards the freeway debating: Should I head east or west?
West goes towards civilization: the city, cafes, books, people watching. East…. east goes towards cliffs reaching sky high above an expansive river, waterfalls and towering evergreens, tiny wildflowers and bubbling creeks.
I know the dog and I have to be out of the house all day while the maintenance guy is fixing the items on his list. We always go west, I think. I instinctively cut across the empty 3 lanes and follow the pull of my heart. Just like that we went from a usual day of coffee shops and concrete to a runaway adventure.
The beautiful thing about re-fueling the soul is that it doesn’t have to be a weeklong event, or even an overnight one. Sometimes, we just need to get out and feel the earth between our toes and simply be. Be alone. Be silly. Be expansive. Be silent. Be sad. Be loud. Be joy-filled. Be one with nothing and everything all at once. Just…. be.
I debated how far to go and where to stop. With an arthritic dog, I knew a serious hike was out of the question for the day. I consulted one of my great Columbia Gorge hiking guides I keep in between the seats of my car, and decided upon the “obscure” trail that leads to the 221 foot Elowah falls. It worked out that the trail was the very last stop on the Historic Highway 30 before it merged with I-84.
Multnomah Falls is probably the most well known waterfall in the Gorge, with upwards of 10,000 visitors a day in the summer months. Elowah Falls is its just as gorgeous, overlooked, shy sister. It was perfect. I passed 5 people on the trail the entire time I was out there.
Life had been particularly uncertain in the previous weeks. Lots of transition, lots of “in between” time, and lots of wondering what was coming next. I was heavy in my thoughts when it happened. I found love underfoot in the form of a heart shaped rock. And then another. And then another. I sat down on the trail to give the dog a break and just looked all around. I constantly look for hearts in the environment around me…and this trail was full of love rocks! No wonder I felt called to come this way.
Even when we are feeling alone, in the solitude of nature we can find messages of calm love all around us.
I picked up a few of the heart shaped rocks I found along the way and placed them in my pocket, feeling their magic seep thru the fabric. My heart instantly grew lighter and I gave my worries to the trees. Although I had the sweet tears of release trickling out of my eyes, I was practically skipping down the trail when an unexpected, expansive opening in the cliffs took my breath away.
I stopped, in awe. The sun began to peek over the cliff, lighting the hillside. The falls seemed to float down and gently skim the top of the rocks before entering a still pool. The cliffs almost completely encircled us, allowing me to safely let the dog off the leash.
I sat at the bottom of the falls and put my feet in the water, feeling the soft moss and slippery rocks underneath me. The dog happily trotted thru the pool and up into the grassy hillside, rolling on her back with a giant grin on her face.
We were exactly where we needed to be.
I took the heart shaped “love” rocks out of my pocket and decided to display them on the moss, leaving them for another hiker to find. I sat and let the mist hit my face, let the dog run around, let my spirit recharge, happy with my decision to not hoard the rocks for myself, but to share the specialness of the trail and spread the love beyond me.
Since I live at the beginning of Historic Highway 30, I decided to drive the length of it back. Its only 1 lane each way, and it curves and turns with the lay of the land, surrounded by trees and fields and many roadside waterfalls. I took my time and stopped at ever fall I saw on the side of the road along the way. I decided to also stop at the 3 major Western Gorge viewpoints. I still had a lot of time to kill, but I knew the dog wouldn’t be able to handle many more trails. Almost all of the overlooks are accessible from the car. A little nature, a little convenience, and a whole lotta soul-recharge.
Viewpoint 1: Bridal Veil Falls
This one isn’t in any books as far as I can tell. There are two different trails you can take. There is a flat one that circles around and takes you out to the edge of the cliffs so you can see the views from an open perch. The second path leads you down a switch back trail to the actual falls, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in total to do both.
Viewpoint 2: Crown Point Vista Falls
This is an iconic viewpoint that was built about 100 years ago, complete with restrooms and a gift shop. It sits atop an 825-foot (251.46 meter) bluff with full views of the Columbia River below.
Viewpoint 3: Larch Mountain in the Mount Hood National Forest.
While it isn’t technically part of the Columbia River Gorge, it’s a 14-mile (22.5 km) drive off the Historic Highway, followed by a 15-minute walk with a 121-stair climb. (Although, by this time the dog’s arthritis was kicking in so for me it was about a 25 minute walk carrying a 45 pound fur ball up the stairs. Who needs the gym?) This is the Gorge’s highest vantage point at 4,056 feet (1,236 meters). From here you can see 5 of the Cascades peaks and on a very clear day you can see Portland to the west. This is the only viewpoint that you have to pay $5 to park. (Or you can take one of the many trails leading up to it if you want a real hike and no parking fee.) There is also NO cell service up here.
Viewpoint 4: Portland Women’s Forum State Viewpoint
It’s basically a really long parking lot, with plaques informing you about the history of the Gorge. But the view…. lets just say the stop is worth it. This is where most of the world-famous photos of the Columbia River Gorge have been taken. From it you can see Crown Point and the infamous cliffs beyond.
If you were to have a similar adventure, keep in mind that I traveled East to West on the Historic Freeway. I needed to be immersed in nature for a bit, and deciding to meander back towards Portland while taking pit stops and photo-ops wherever I pleased was just the randomly delicious icing on the cake.
Instead of the usual day into town, I got to have a Runaway Soul-Day. I challenge you to start a day out with no particular plan in mind, and just see where it takes you. For me, those are always the most satisfying mini-adventures.