Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Memaloose State Park, Columbia Gorge, Oregon

Located between I-84 and railroad tracks in the normally windy gorge, and difficult to get to from the west, Memaloose State Park might not seem like the ideal place to camp. While it is true that passing train whistles wake you from a sound slumber and the white noise of freeway traffic is ever present, a blue and salmon glow on the river at sunset may change your mind about stopping. Perched on the bank overlooking the Columbia River, history, geology and fantastic river views are yours. You could do worse.

We left on a Thursday in early spring, making our way eastbound through the city of Portland and post-rush hour traffic. Once we left the city behind, our ribbon of gray cut through the trees, forest and grasslands of the Columbia Gorge. Ever present to the left is the mighty river. Occasional raindrops splash the windshield, but we are undeterred because our destination is the edge of the more arid east side of the Cascade Mountains. The area surrounding this grassy, shaded campground is a change from the mossy green to which we are accustomed.

Arriving without a reservation, we were able to snag a prime campsite overlooking the river. Across the gray waters, sloping up from the bank on the other side, ancient lava flows, hardened into towers of basalt, provide shelter for the green grasses and wildflowers of spring. Closer to home, a wildly flowering hawthorne just 10 feet from the rear of our campsite looked like an explosion of green and white.

Also visible from the park is a granite monument marking the final resting place of a local pioneer, Victor Trevitt, on Memaloose Island. He is not alone there. When Lewis and Clark passed by, Clark called the island “Sepulchar Island” because of Indian use of the island as a burial place. The Chinook Indians tribes laid the bones of their dead on open pyres on the island.

If you tire of the views from camp, try a nearby hike or drive into town for a look at the Columbia Gorge hotel, with its secret waterfall.

To get to Memaloose State Park drive I-84 about 70 miles from Portland or 11 miles from The Dalles. When arriving from the west, follow the signs, which will require some backtracking on the freeway.

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