A little over a month ago, we snuck in an end-of-summer vacation to Oregon with our two daughters. We spent a couple of nights in Portland, toured a few of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls, then spent the rest of the trip laying low in the Willamette River Valley and on the Oregon Coast.
For me — in particular the morning spent driving up the Columbia River Gorge — the trip was an interesting exercise in “what if?” Namely, “what if I had ended up in Oregon years ago?” The only other time I had visited this gorgeous area was when I was entering my senior year of high school, and we were scouting out colleges. Willamette University in Salem was a top candidate, in large part because of Oregon’s scenic beauty. Back then, I could see myself settling there.
Ultimately, I went to the Colorado College and the rest was history: I met my wife there, and we now have two kids. In fact, this was our first family vacation as “the four of us.” A feeling of arrival in life permeated the whole trip: here we all are, together at last, squeezed into a rental car, doing what American families do. Oregon couldn’t have been a better place for it.
Our time in Portland was short and hot as hell. It was warmer in P-Town than it ever got in Denver this year: about 101º F. We ducked into several shops, including the beyond-awesome Powell’s City of Books — if not the best bookstore I’ve walked into, then easily the most overwhelming. We only enjoyed the outdoor spaces of this green city if copious shade and water fountains were involved, which we found at Jamison Square.
By day three, it was time to pack up in our tiny downtown hotel room, get the car from valet, and really get the trip going. Forty-five minutes later, we were cruising along the winding Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway, snapping pictures at the Crown Point overlook, and eventually stopping for a hike at Latourell Falls.
This is a waterfall of delicate and subtle beauty. It’s located only a 10-minute walk from the road, and from the first glimpse near the lot, it appears like a simple plunge of 250 feet. But as you draw closer, its finest feature becomes clear: an obsidian-colored pipe organ of rock wrapping behind the misty plume. How this piece of sculpture came into being, I don’t want to know. It looks like a divine work.
Back on the road, we tried to swing by Multnomah Falls — easily the most famous waterfall in Oregon — but there were roughly 300 cars taking up every available space. With a sleeping baby in the back, it would have to be a drive-by.
So instead, we settled for a final stop at Horsetail Falls — another misty plunge that seems divinely planned. Dropping 176 feet into a perfect plunge pool, Horsetail Creek buckles off the rocks midway down, creating a unique shape I’ve yet to see duplicated in any other fall. My wife and I took turns approaching it with our 4-year-old daughter while the other would stay with the sleeping babe in the parking lot. During my turn, Varenna invented a game involving fairies gathering rocks from the shore. Her imagination needs little help coming alive, but for me, the setting allowed me to better absorb her creative genius.
“What if?” There is no “if.” As beautiful as Oregon is, I’m glad I stayed in Colorado.