Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Latourell Falls, OR

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a fan of waterfalls. Mom was beginning to figure it out on our Pacific Northwest trip in 2008. After all, we spent the previous days visiting Upper and Lower Falls in Yellowstone and Shoshone Falls in Idaho. Little did she know I had an entire day of waterfalls planned in Oregon.

Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful section of northwest Oregon, near and east of Portland along I-84. The drive from Boise to The Dalles is one of my favorites in the country, and it preceded the day of falling water. I'll have separate entries on the other waterfalls in future posts, including the absolutely astonishing Multnomah Falls -- one of the best waterfalls in the world. We actually ended the day with Latourell Falls, after seeing five spectacular ones in the previous hours.

Latourell Falls was the perfect cap to the day, in part because you could walk right up to the waterfall -- which was generally impossible with the others. The waterfall is simple enough: a straight-down plunge that looks far less imposing than it actually is. The waterfall is very tall (>100 ft) and is extremely loud. Mom and I had to shout to communicate, but our visit was generally silent. When you see something so naturally imposing, you tend to just stare and admire.

Unfortunately, photographing the waterfall is difficult. It is extremely challenging to capture the entire waterfall in one photo, even from far away. This is because the vegetation does not provide many clear shots of the entire waterfall. Thus, I tried something else, which clearly failed in hindsight. I used the hand-held "profile" snapshot. I guess the sound of water was dizzying my brain by this point. Whatever the reason, you only get a sense of the height of the waterfall when seeing my weird faces blocking the more appealing site.

One thing about the Latourell Falls area -- it is very thick with vegetation. Columbia River Gorge is in a rain forest. In some ways, this was my first genuine rain forest experience, and it is something to behold. Plants are everywhere, and it is easy to understand the phrase "air you can wear" after walking from the base of Multnomah Falls to the top. By the time Mom and I reached Latourell Falls, we were exhausted. A day of frequent stops and lengthy hikes led to a gentle hike downward to the base of Latourell Falls. Actually, the trek to the base was a perfect closer for the day -- the waterfall was basically always in sight, or at least audible. The hike was generally flat -- and short (which was key).

And then the view opens up, right near the base, and the fortissimo crash of the water -- ahhhh.

Waterfalls are nature's version of violent change. The rocks the water batters endlessly erode at a geologically rapid pace. Harsh, beautiful, soothing. Three words rarely used in the same description -- perfectly comfortable with each other here.

Columbia River Gorge is a fantastic outdoor destination. Make it a top choice for your next vacation in America.