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Step back in time at the at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum in Oregon

Oregon

Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge: An Epic Cultural Journey in Oregon

By: Zaida Rios

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  • States:
    Oregon

When you come to Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, look for the story beyond the scenery.

Known for natural wonders such as waterfalls, canyons, rivers, mountains and dramatic landscapes, the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon is dense with picture-perfect scenes. But there’s more to this place than stunning terrain. Throughout the region, there’s a definitive sense of history and culture. It’s the remarkable people and places that make this an exceptional corner of the Pacific Northwest.

Follow Pioneer Footsteps

Get a real sense for what it must have been like for Oregon Trail pioneers starting in The Dalles, where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountains. This was the point where emigrants following the Oregon Trail were faced with a major decision: risk rafting down the Columbia River or go overland on Barlow Road, a much longer route across the south side of Mt. Hood. Visit West Barlow Tollgate, a replica of the final toll stop on the last leg of the Oregon Trail. Then, spend some time at the Philip Foster Farm, a 259-hectare farmstead in Eagle Creek, where many pioneers sought refuge along their trek. Visitors today can see a supply store, blacksmith shop, granary and cabin settlement. Be sure to drop into the Country Store stocked with clothing, toys, games and candy, as well as regional, hand-crafted items showcasing local talent and traditions.

The Barlow Road Tollgate in Rhododendron, near Mt. Hood

The Barlow Road Tollgate in Rhododendron, near Mt. Hood
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Cultural Heritage

Rivers here are teeming with sockeye, sturgeon and salmon, bringing in a bounty of fresh caught fish from the Columbia River. What you may not know is that traditional Native American fishing spots and techniques are still used to haul in the catch of the day. Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks, a riverfront town, honors these methods. It’s the go-to spot for freshly caught fish as well as other local delicacies. Delve deeper into the region’s history and heritage at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum in The Dalles. It showcases 10,000 years of Native American culture and natural history with exhibits including a basketry exhibit, showcasing the intricate designs of more than 80 of these artifacts.

Freshly caught fish at the Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks

Freshly caught fish at the Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks
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Artists in the Gorge

Witness the inspiration that Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge conjure for artists. Visit bronze sculptor Heather Söderberg-Greene’s Cascade Locks studio, or see her larger-than-life statues such as “Sacagawea, Pompi and Seaman” at the Port of Cascade Locks Art in the Park installation. At the Caswell Gallery in Troutdale, namesake gallery of bronze sculptor Rip Caswell, patrons can see the artist’s bronze work and paintings, plus works from other Pacific Northwest artists. Be sure to catch the annual Gorge Artists Open Studio Tour each April to browse art studios, meet the artists and admire artwork while learning more about their process and inspiration.

Captivating bronze sculpture of Sacagawea by Heather Soderberg-Greene

Captivating bronze sculpture of Sacagawea by Heather Soderberg-Greene
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Timberline Lodge Art & Architecture

There’s perhaps no building that represents the region better than Timberline Lodge. Surrounded by the enchanting alpine forest on the slopes of Mt. Hood, this striking National Historic Landmark is set at a 1,817-meter elevation. Designed by William I. Turner, a Forest Service architect, and built with many regional materials, the lodge has been fittingly deemed an example of “Cascadian Architecture.” Its roofline even mimics the Mt. Hood peak. Today, it’s still used for its original purpose (as a ski lodge), but you can also wander through the ground floor, main lobby and mezzanine and discover designs and furnishings created by local artists and craftspeople back when it was originally funded as a WPA Federal Art Project in the 1930s. Add this to your list of stops, and you’ll be in for a treat whether you ski or not. Add a side trip to the Cascadia Center for Arts & Crafts in Government Camp, which teaches the traditional crafts used during the WPA Era and in the construction of Timberline Lodge, as well as contemporary classes and workshops.

The impressive Timberline Lodge lobby fireplace serves as an ideal gathering spot

The impressive Timberline Lodge lobby fireplace serves as an ideal gathering spot
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Getting There

Fly into Portland International Airport, rent a car and drive 127 kilometers to the center of the Mt. Hood area.