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A revival of earlier grace

McCORD CREEK Bridge, a feature of the newest section of the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail, spans the creek in a gentle arc and art deco style, distinguishing this new feature from the original highway.

Skip Tschanz photo
McCORD CREEK Bridge, a feature of the newest section of the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail, spans the creek in a gentle arc and art deco style, distinguishing this new feature from the original highway.

In the early part of last century Sam Hill and Samuel Lancaster had a vision for a road that would connect The Dalles to Troutdale.

They didn’t want it to be just a road; they wanted their road to have all the grace and beauty of some of the new roads that were being built in Europe.

Their idea was for a road that would wander through the gorge, taking advantage of every viewpoint, and cruise past every waterfall. In short, rather than just getting from A to B, this road would be a destination on its own. And so it was for the next 35 years.

The construction of Interstate 84 was the death of Highway 30 as a continuous route from The Dalles to Troutdale. The new highway was designed to move traffic quickly and safely through the gorge. And it did that with brutal destruction of what had been one of the most beautiful highways in the world.

Tunnels were filled with rock or, even worse, blasted to smithereens by dynamite. The new highway cut like a knife through the loops and delicate curves of Highway 30 leaving oxbows and islands of chunks of the old road marooned in a sea of green forest. In 1987, the Oregon Legislature made it clear with ORS 366.550 that the reconstruction of Highway 30 through the Columbia River Gorge was public policy. Over the last 27 years, 62 of the original 73 miles have been completed.

All of that brings me to last Monday when I joined a group of fellow bicyclers to ride the newest section of the Historic Columbia River Trail. This is the leg that completes the trail from Cascade Locks to John B. Yeon State Park. Our ride started in Cascade Locks where we picked up the trail at the west end of The Char Burger.

This trail is paved and wide enough for two groups to pass each other. The grades are gentle and perfect for both bike riders and hikers.

The trail drops down a short hill then climbs to a tunnel where it heads south under the freeway. Soon the trail crosses the bridge over Ruckles Creek. Stop at the bridge and take a peak over the north side of the bridge.

Most folks never see the beautiful waterfall that is right under their feet.

From here the trail does an easy downhill coast to Eagle Creek Fish Hatchery parking area. It is a bit counterintuitive to find the next segment of trail, but it follows the interstate exit lane on the west side of the complex. Just ride to the “Do Not Enter” sign and follow the bicycle lanes for a few yards where again you are on the trail.

In short distance we are at the Eagle Creek Stairway. Even in the 1930s Tooth Rock was a problem for the old highway. Engineers solved this problem by drilling a tunnel through it, the same one that the east bound lanes of I-84 use today.

The stairs are easier to climb than they appear. There is a groove in the cement next to the stairs for your bike tire making it much easier to handle. At the top of the stairs we are on an original section of the old highway not used by cars since 1935. The views are outstanding.

The next portion of our ride is downhill, giving us a chance to regain our breath. At the bottom of the hill we are now at the trailhead for the hike to Wahclella waterfalls. Here we encounter another section of the original highway.

Watch out for rocks on this part of the trail, especially in early spring. The hillsides can drop football-size rocks. Once again we go under the freeway, climb three switchbacks and do an easy ride to the bridge over Moffitt Creek. This bridge was built in 1915 and at that time was the longest bridge of its type in the world.

From here we are on the newest section of the trail, Moffitt Creek to John B. Yeon State Park. This trail just opened this spring and it is well worth the wait. Rather than imitating the style of the 1920’s this new section is built in the art deco style so that there is no question about what is new and what is original highway.

This section also includes my favorite bridge in the gorge. It is a solid cement bridge but built with the look of a more laid-back era. It spans McCord Creek in a graceful curve with added viewing areas.

From here to John B. Yeon State Park isn’t very far and that’s where we will turn around and ride back to Cascade Locks and a picnic in the park. A round-trip ride is about 13 miles, but can be done as a shuttle with cars at both trailheads. If you don’t ride bicycles, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this trail. About half of the people we saw were folks taking easy walks and just having a nice day.


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