PETERSEN: Falling for Oregonís Columbia gorgeous scenery

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer September 20, 2013 11:06 am

Every time I went traveling, as a boy, my uncle Alan would welcome me home with a rousing imitation of the Johnny Cash song.

I’ve been everywhere, man.

I’ve been everywhere, man.

Crossed the desert’s bare, man.

I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.

Of travel I’ve had my share, man.

I’ve been everywhere.

Pretty soon, I thought I had been everywhere — in Oregon, at least. My parents had an obsession with driving every road in the state. They would use a felt pen to fill in lines on a tattered map. Every road — from Brookings to Imnaha — became a blue road.

But now, I know better. A recent waterfall tour of the Columbia River Gorge and Silver Falls State Park proved there is still a lot of Oregon waiting to be explored.

The occasion was Wonder Woman and my second anniversary trip. We had honeymooned in Canada, spent our first anniversary trip there and planned to go there again this year.

At the last minute, reality reared its ugly head. Wonder Woman’s brother is fighting an aggressive cancer and was soon to go for major surgery. She wanted to be close to a phone in case news broke about where and when the surgery would take place. In Canada, leave a cell phone on and you get roaming charges. This can add up to a big bill — lots of Loonies and Toonies (Canadian $1 and $2 coins — at the end of the week.)

So we made new plans. I suggested a waterfalling adventure — to see as many waterfalls as we could in one week.

Wonder Woman was on board. She suggested we go to Bridal Veil Falls on Sept. 10, our anniversary date, to celebrate.

Oregon has about as many waterfalls as Minnesota has lakes. There are fat waterfalls. Skinny waterfalls. Tall ones. Short ones. Ones with multiple 
personalities.

Some waterfalls thunder. Some whisper.

From a headquarters in Wood Village, one of about 99 suburbs of Portland, we drove to the Columbia River Gorge, that oddity of nature where the River of the West carves an unlikely path through the Cascade Mountains.

From the high dive of Latourell Falls to the poetic drops in Shepperd’s Dell, we were enchanted. Some waterfalls were adjacent to the historic gorge highway. Others required hikes to give a mountain goat pause.

Around every corner was another calendar shot.

And since Portland was in the middle of a heat wave, there was no better place to be than in a waterfall splash zone.

Each year, on Thursday of our anniversary getaway, we aim for a bigger challenge. This year, that entailed a hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s highest waterfall at 620 feet. The trail clings to the mountainside. Eleven switchbacks later — hiking along with 999 of our newest, closest most personal pilgramaging friends — we were in the tourist version of the nosebleed seats, watching humble Multnomah Creek, like a trick pony at an old fair, doing the high dive.

A day earlier, taking a break from Columbia gorgeous scenery, we drove south an hour to Silver Falls State Park, Oregon’s largest state park at more than 9,000 acres. At four of the park’s 10 falls, in amphitheater-like settings, trails lead behind the waterfalls, as if behind a curtain in a stage play.

While some people fly to Europe for vacation, our stay-in-Oregon-cation revealed new sights even to a pair of veteran Oregon travelers. Never assume you’ve seen everything in this state of infinite diversity, of coast, active volcanoes, high desert and jaw-dropping canyons, even if the map with all the blue lines is in tatters.

Explore. New sights await around every corner, right here in our 
backyard.

Just as it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts, it’s what you see after you’ve seen it all that counts.

I’ve been everywhere? Not hardly.

Contact Jeff Petersen at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Jeff on Twitter @lagrandenewsGo.