Biggs Junction, Oregon
Columbia Gorge Oregon/ Washington
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Campground: Lake Umatilla Le Page campground. (Army Corp.) Phone: (541) 296-1181. $20 regular price, Senior Access Pass, $10. 22 campsites. 1-8 are pull-thrus along the river the rest are easy back-ins. No Tv or radio reception. Weak to no Verizon signal.
Campground: John Day Dam, Rufus Oregon. Lots of free dry campsites. Check them out if your interested in this type of camping.
Distance Traveled: 100 miles
La Page Campground
The day after Labor day and I’m back on the road heading to the Columbia Gorge. I’ve got a campsite at an Army Corp site which are always some of the greatest campgrounds and cheap besides. It’s on the very eastern end of the Columbia Gorge area and I’ll be here for 5 days.
The next day I drove across the river from Biggs Junction to the Maryhill Museum of Art. It’s housed in a castle-like chateau but to me, had the feeling of a high class prison (at least from the outside) as I waited an extra hour before they opened up. (Brochures aren’t always accurate) The windows on all floors are covered in heavy iron bars giving that prison appearance. The massive iron gates over the main entrance were finally unlocked and swung open. The chateau was originally planned and built to be the private residence of the owner Sam Hill. A dedicated businessman to the building of better roads throughout the NW Pacific area. When his planned 5,000 acre community did not pan out, he decided not to finish the chateau and live in it. Instead with encouragement from the sugar heiress, Alma de Bretteville Spreckels , he decided to make it into a museum in this most isolated of locations along the Columbia River.
So in 1926, Queen Marie of Romania arrived to dedicate the structure as a museum. He had become a long time friend of the Queens on one of many trips to Europe, selling shares in his various transportation businesses along with helping many countries especially Romania after WWI. The main room as one enters the chateau is filled with furnishings once belonging to the queen, including a replica of the crown she wore at her inauguration as queen of Romania. A dress once worn by her shows of a waist that couldn’t have been larger than 18 inches around.
It’s a most unusual museum containing mostly secondary pieces of art. The Rodin collection being mainly original small studies he prepared before creating much larger masterpieces. A collection of western regional Native Indian artifacts, with one display telling how most of the petroglyphs in the area have been since been buried under water along the Columbia River with the building of all those dams. A room filled with unusual chess sets and on the top floor a unique collection called the Theatre de la Mode. A collection of miniature dress designs from 1946. At that time, when a French designer was ready to sell their dresses, they had miniature copies made and put on beautiful wire mannequins which were then sent overseas for viewing and for making orders to purchase the dresses. And a new modern addition to the museum has been added that seems to be a complete waste of space and money. Consisting of two levels with a small café tucked at the end of a glass wall overlooking the Columbia River. Was it worth the $8 entrance fee. Initially I’d have to say no, but on further review, with it’s unusual history, I’d say it was worth the excursion. History always comes alive after delving just a little deeper into a place like this.
A couple days later I drove to Hood River to take the Mount Hood train ride. It was only $15 for coach, but I upgraded thinking the lower dome seating ($30) would be more comfortable and I’d get better views. Not realizing that the lower dome seats were literally beneath the upper dome deck. Not a “lower dome”. So it was a bit dark and lonely down there. I don’t think it would have mattered anyway as the ride to Parkdale was heavily wooded so there were only fleeting views of the river and Mount Hood with lots of fruit groves in-between. Mainly pear and apple along with a couple vineyards. A short stop at a fruit packing plant which was just ahead of the busy packing season. Then on through Odell and Dee and finally a stop over in Parkdale. I hadn’t ordered a meal onboard ahead of time so I rushed to get a quick lunch at one of the few shops in Parkdale. Scarfing down the meal quickly as we had a short layover at this final destination before heading back. No time to visit the museum or gift shop. I’ve been on some really awesome tourist trains… this was not one of them. The train cars smelled like days old wet socks. Not a pleasant aroma. They started out by playing some really great old country music, Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson and Patsy Cline with the occasional tour description of what was out there beyond all those trees. Later the PA system started to go downhill and I only caught about half of each descriptive pitch. Still it was a great feeling riding on an old narrow gauge train. The cars sway a bit more on a narrow gauge line as the scenery slowly drifts on by. Producing a most enjoyable movement back and forth. If the seats were recliners I would have easily taken a nap on the way back…. Same view, same scenery, same trees.
More interesting was the drive from the campsite to Hood River along the Columbia River Gorge. The mountains, rounded hills covered in dry grasses looking like they were covered in golden velvet. Further on the rounded hills gave way to steep shear cliffs of solid rock, some with dramatic ledges giving a wedding cake affect. Others were punctured with tunnels for the trains. Gradually the mountainside becomes covered with evergreens adding a whole new dimension to the scenery. Now if you love trains, you’d love driving along the Columbia River. The highway often separates and one direction of traffic will be lower than the opposing traffic lanes. Sometimes a causeway out into the river would create a lagoon against those shear rock monoliths. Reflecting perfect replicas in the water. Paralleling the two are the train tracks. Either right along the rivers edge or above the highway lanes. And both roads and more train tracks are on the opposite side of the river on the Washington side. The trains are going continuously night and day along with the occasional barge traveling slowly up stream along the Columbia. A steady stream of traffic flowing along this most picturesque waterway. And wouldn’t you know it. Almost no scenic pull-outs, though Oregon does have a lot of rest stops, but not with any of those dramatic views for picture taking. Oh and overnight camping is permitted at Oregon rest stops.
I would probably advise doing a scenic drive (hwy 35) up to Mt Hood rather than take the train. I know I’d have more opportunity to pull off the road to take pictures and more time to explore some of those small towns at my own pace.
I’ve been at La Page campground now for a few days and I have to say it is my most favorite of parks I’ve been in all summer long. Only 22 campsites right on the lake. Each site, mine is a back-in or the pull-thrus along the waters edge are paved and all are good sized. Cottonwood trees are along each campsite. The mountain views and lake along with it’s swimming beach and fishing really all add up to a most stunning little park. The afternoons and evening are often breezy and the temperature in the shade is just perfect. After sunset, the air is still warm and refreshing at the same time. I site out and read until the light has completely faded away. Not a mosquito in site. The other campers are enormously friendly and I enjoy going for walks around the park which takes forever as everyone is out and eager to talk. Now one of the camphosts has told me that during the summer months it can be very hot. This summer they had 6 weeks of 100 degree weather and it didn’t cool off in the evenings at all. So be warned, it’s not the place to be in the summer unless your willing to jump in the water to stay cool. The Dalles is about 25 mile west of here and is just the perfect small town. I’ve had a couple good lunches in town and stopped in their library to get a good wi-fi signal. Super nice librarian.
In a few days I’ll be heading into Washington State to visit with friends…. And of course, more adventures.
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