52 switchbacks, 16 wood plank bridges cantilevered out over the cliff, 850’ up: this falls under the category of ‘what in the world am I doing here? But, there we were, climbing up Beacon Rock. But, wait, first we’ve got to see the Dam and cross the bridge.
We stopped at the Bonneville Dam, built in 1933 - 1937, which replaced a much smaller, outmoded lock built in 1896. When it was built it had the largest single-lift lock in the world, able to hold 2 barges and a tugboat at one time. Then, 7 more dams were built upriver that could hold 5-barge loads and the Bonneville Dam itself became outmoded. Then, they built a new lock able to hold the 5-barge loads and the Bonneville no longer held up traffic. Take that, you other locks.
The same thing happened to its powerplant. Built for power needs in the 1940’s, it became outmoded and another power plant was built doubling its capacity. We toured the power plant and saw these huge turbines.
But, the dam isn’t just the power plant and the locks, it’s the salmon. Interesting life story - the story of the salmon. They’re born upstream in the Columbia River, grow big enough to swim downstream, ‘imprinting’ or memorizing the stream as they move down it. They swim north towards the Bering Sea, 1000 miles away, where they feed and grow larger, if they don’t end up as the main course of someone’s dinner plate. 2-4 years later they begin their long swim upriver (the one they memorized) doggedly determined to reach ‘home.’ This upriver swim takes so much strength that their flesh begins to decay. Then the males turn bright colors to compete with other males for the females, the females lay their eggs, the males fertilize them and then both die, leaving the young salmon to live on their own. And the whole cycle is repeated.
What does all this have to do with the dam? Well, it’s in their way. Thus, the dam makes a myriad of efforts to keep this pattern alive an well. For the young salmon, they sometimes transport them downstream in a truck. They also ensure that the turbines won’t kill them by operating them at peak capacity which seems to protect the young salmon. They also open the spillways wider to allow more to swim through.
For the older salmon, trying to migrate upstream to spawn, they make the ladders ‘easier’ and also open passageways at the bottom so that the salmon can swim through. Seems that they prefer this easier way to the jumping up the ladder. Looks like most of the fish are using the passageways at the bottom to swim up rather than jumping up the ladders in this picture.
They monitor the process continually and have ‘counters’ at windows in the spillway to count the migrating salmon. These counters are stationed at windows continually counting. The Dam also had lots of viewing windows for the public to watch the salmon making their way upstream.
We’ve driven up the road, visited the dam and it’s now time for lunch. Linda and Terri recommended the Charburger for lunch and here we stopped. I had the club sandwich and Big Gar had the hamburg. Ooo-eee. We each had a huge lunch when we usually have a bit of yogurt for lunch. Holy cow, they’ve even got fries with it - we should have shared. (And, yes, we took lots home.)
Thus fortified, we headed over to the Washington side of the Columbia River for, what else, the hiking. The bridge we crossed is called the Bridge of the Gods. There is a great indigenous legend about this bridge and I have copied this directly from the Port of Cascades Locks website.
'The People of the Columbia River had great difficulty crossing the Columbia River. Manito, the Great Spirit, was sympathetic and built a stone bridge for them. This stone bridge, called The Great Crossover, was so important that Manito placed Loo-Wit, an old and wise woman, as its guardian.
Over time, the People began to fear that the bridge would wash away, and they appealed to the Great Spirit. Manito agreed to protect the bridge, and the grateful People gave it a new name, the Bridge of the Gods.
At about the same time, Manito also sent to earth his sons -- three great snow mountains: Multnomah, the warrior (Mt. Rainier); Klickitat, the totem-maker (Mt. Adams); and Wyeast, the singer (Mt. Hood). All was peaceful until beautiful Squaw Mountain moved into a small valley between Klickitat and Wyeast.
Squaw Mountain grew to love Wyeast, but thought it great fun to flirt with Klickitat, his big, good-natured brother. Soon a rivalry sprang up between the two brothers over Squaw Mountain. They argued, growled, stomped their feet, spat ashes and belched great clouds of black smoke. Each hurled white-hot rocks, setting fire to the forests and driving the people into hiding. Finally, they threw so many stones onto the Bridge of the Gods and shook the earth so hard that the stone bridge broke in the middle and fell into the river.
Upon hearing this, Manito was angry and in punishment for the destruction of the bridge, he caused a series of huge rapids to form in the river.
Meanwhile, Klickitat won the fight over Squaw Mountain and Wyeast admitted defeat. This was a severe blow to Squaw Mountain, as she loved Wyeast. Though she took her place by Klickitat, her heart was broken, and she sank into a permanent deep sleep. She is known today as Sleeping Beauty and lies where she fell, just west of Mt. Adams.
When this happened, Klickitat had a high, straight head, like Wyeast. But Klickitat truly loved Squaw Mountain, and her fate caused him such grief that he dropped his head in shame and has never raised it again.
During the war, Loo-Wit, the guardian of the bridge, tried to stop the fight, but she failed and fell with it. The Great Spirit heard of her faithfulness and promised to grant her a wish. She asked to be made young and beautiful once more. However, being old in spirit she did not desire companionship. The Great Spirit granted Loo-Wit her wish. He turned her into the most beautiful of all the mountains and allowed her to settle by herself far to the west. She is now known as the youngest mountain in the Cascades, the beautiful and powerful Mt. St. Helens.'
Beautiful bridge to cross.
We turned left and headed down the road to Beacon Rock. It’s native name is ‘Che-Che-op-tin’ which means ‘navel of the world.’ What it is is actually an 848’ high basalt column which once was the core of an ancient volcano, the rest of which eroded over time. Lewis and Clark camped here on their way to the Pacific, and it was here that they first noticed that the water levels were being affected by the tides - they were getting close to the Pacific. Their quest was almost in sight. They named this rock Beacon Rock or Beaten Rock.
The Beacon Rock Trail was owned by Henry Biddle who hired Charles Johnson to build a trail to the top between 1915 and 1918. Here’s a picture of one of the workmen perched on the side of the rock, chiseling in a trail. Note the box of dynamite to the right.
When Biddle died, his estate offered the trail, the rock and surrounding acreage to the state of Washington for $1 provided that it be retained as a public park. However, the governor of Washington, in a thrifty mood, declined whereupon the estate offered it to Oregon. Oregon thought it a marvelous idea to have an Oregon Park on the Washington side of the river and accepted. Hold on there, Washington reconsidered and bought the land.
Now, from the distance it looks like it would require technical skills, ropes, pitons and sticky tape. Actually, the trail goes up right through that row of trees that curls it way to the top.
I couldn’t imagine how a trail might actually go up it but I was willing to try. Oh, yeah, not a problem. The trail is about 4’ wide, well marked, covered with pea stone and winds around up the rock. UNTIL. Oops, I might have guessed that there was a catch. Once it gets to the rock itself, the builders of the trail built wooden bridges cantilevered out from the sides of the rock itself. You want me to walk out over the rock, hanging on the cliff, trusting these pipes?
Here is one of the original rails which lined the trail before piping was put in.
Sure. And, the hike was actually easy to walk but the little niggling fear factor each time I made that first step onto each bridge. I walked a bit faster and a bit lighter til I got to the end of each individual bridge. But, we both got to the top to take in the picture postcard views down the Gorge.
And, more importantly, we both got down.