The thermometer read 107. I hadn’t seen a number that high since … ever?
I was midway through a trip earlier this summer in Maryhill on the Washington side of the Columbia River.
Maryhill is a crossroads of asphalt and water, art and wine, orchards and clean energy. I set out to see it all in one day.
Whether you begin your day from Puget Sound (200 miles), Portland (100 miles) or The Dalles (20 miles), expect to do some driving.
But what a drive it is.
Leaving from Portland, I took state Route 14 on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It’s sort of understood among travelers to this region that if you go up one side of the river you come down on the other side. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
The two sides of the river are markedly different. Because the Washington slopes of the gorge face south, it gets hotter and drier than Oregon’s. Washington has grassy hills with spring wildflowers. Oregon has jaw-dropping waterfalls and lush forests.
CLIMBING THE LADDER
There are 31 dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers that the Bonneville Power Administration uses to generate hydroelectric power. The first is its namesake, Bonneville Dam, and my first stop of the day.
Whether you’re pro- or anti-dam, green power or fish advocate, there’s probably one thing we can all agree on: This place is huge. The Bonneville complex is made of multiple dams and miles of fish ladders, locks and spillways. Seeing it all would take an entire day and involve entry from both states.
Because my mission was Maryhill, I made a quick visit to the visitors complex operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Walkways offer vistas of the dams, fish ladders and white water spilling from various tubes, channels and waterways that seem right out of an M.C. Escher drawing.
I didn’t have time for a tour of the powerhouse, so instead I headed to the fish viewing room. Perhaps the fish call it the people viewing room. Either way I was eyeball-to-eyeball with all sorts of … fish. Luckily, a man staffing the room showed me a tally sheet from the previous day’s fish counting. Shad were leading the parade, followed closely by chinook and sockeye salmon. In August, coho become the stars of the show.
In last place on the tally sheet were the lampreys. Only 317 had come through the day before. But as I stared at the eel-like fish, their round mouths suctioned to the glass, I got the feeling I was being played for a sucker. These fish with faces only a mother could love weren’t going anywhere. They were perfectly content to stare back at me while their salmony brethren cruised on by.
Bonneville Lock and Dam, Washington Shore Visitors Complex
Where: 6 miles west of Stevenson. Look for signs on SR 14 at milepost 39. Vehicles are subject to search.
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.
Guided powerhouse tours: 10 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Days vary by season.
Information: 509-427-4281, nwp.usace.army.mil/Locations/ColumbiaRiver/Bonneville.
WINES AND VINES
You know you’ve entered Washington wine country when you see the vineyards. And the sun. There was plenty of both when I got to Maryhill Winery.
As well-regarded and popular as its wines are, the winery is a destination in itself. Known for its summer concert series, the complex has a wide terrace, expansive tasting room and shop, and grounds to wander on.
The concert series is on hold this summer while the winery works on a traffic congestion solution with the Washington state Department of Transportation.
On my visit, a singer and his guitar were entertaining guests under grape arbors on the terrace. Wine by the glass or bottle, along with cheeses from a small on-site deli are the custom here. Below the terrace, the wide Columbia River Gorge spreads out.
The winery is surrounded by gardens, an amphitheater, bocce ball courts and 85 acres of vineyard, a quarter of which is pinot gris. But it was the winery’s zinfandel that first attracted attention.
Inside the tasting room, which is built from a vintage bar, employee and recent graduate of The Evergreen State College Jamie Macquarrie was pouring tastings. The $5 fee is waived if you show your receipt from the Maryhill Museum of Art or if you buy wine.
Macquarrie ran me through a flight of reds and whites, dry to sweet. I went home with a bottle of pinot gris and another of barbera.
Where: 9774 state Route 14, Maryhill.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. dailly.
Information: 877-627-9445, maryhillwinery.com.
ALL THAT GLITTERS IS GOLDENDALE
Ready for lunch, I headed to Goldendale, about 12 miles north on U.S. Highway 97.
There isn’t much to see in the brown hills that separate the gorge from Goldendale. Unless you count the dozens of windmills that punctuate the land on either side of the highway. Combined with the river’s hydropower, these gigantic spinning blades make the Columbia Gorge a superpower of green power.
A roadside rest stop halfway up the climb affords a chance to get sort of close to the spinning turbines.
As I crested the pass that looks down onto Goldendale, another horizon buster came into view: Mount Adams. Below it spread miles of farmland.
There aren’t many lunch options in Goldendale. Fortunately, all I needed was The Glass Onion.
Situated in a vintage house, the restaurant has an up-to-date feel with its decor and menu. I started with a watermelon, feta, mint and olive salad ($6). Every bite brought a slightly different palate-pleasing flavor.
I followed up the salad with a velvety ricotta gnocchi served with arugula pesto ($8). Other items include ribeye, fish, chicken, and several other salads and vegetarian options.
On the edge of town is Goldendale Observatory State Park. Four telescopes offer opportunities for star gazing but only at night (except for one solar scope). Check goldendaleobservatory.com for directions, hours and what’s current in the sky.
The Glass Onion
Where: 604 S. Columbus Ave., Goldendale.
When: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
Information: 509-773-4928, theglassonionrestaurant.com.
THE HOUSE THAT HILL BUILT
From its building, to its setting, to its collection, there is no art museum on earth that could duplicate the unique vibe of Maryhill Museum of Art.
The small museum in a Beaux Arts-style mansion and its 5,300 acres are situated on bluffs overlooking the river. Built by businessman Sam Hill, 2015 marks the museum’s 75th anniversary.
Eclectic is the word most often used to describe the collection here. The entry room has collection of gilt furniture donated by Queen Marie of Romania. Other levels hold chess collections, Native American artifacts and post-World War II French fashion designs.
The museum built a new wing recently. It houses a small cafe and more gallery space. On my visit, historical photos of Native Americans from The Dalles region were on display, along with contemporary glass works by Raven Skyriver.
Other permanent exhibits include American realism paintings and an Auguste Rodin collection.
Next year will mark the centennial of the Columbia River Highway. Hill was a champion of the road. The museum has a temporary exhibition of black-and-white photographs showing construction of the highway and early views of the Columbia Gorge. The photos mostly come from Hill’s personal collection.
Maryhill Musuem of Art
Where: 35 Maryhill Museum Drive, Maryhill.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.
Admission: $9 adults, $8 seniors, $3 ages 7-18, free 6 and under.
Just when I was sure that the Neolithic collection of quarried rocks called Stonehenge was all busted up somewhere on the Salisbury Plain in England, I found it just down the hill from Maryhill Museum.
Sam Hill was so taken by the ancient structure that he had a full-scale replica built here. At this point in our story, you probably don’t need to be told that it overlooks the gorge.
Hill wasn’t going to reproduce the 4,000 years of wear and tear that the original has. So this Stonehenge, which is also a World War I memorial, is as its original creators probably intended it to be: flawless. No fallen or missing pieces here.
It’s an interesting place to walk around and saves the price of a ticket to Heathrow, but it doesn’t impart the sense of antiquity the original does.
The Stonehenge Memorial is free and open from 7 a.m.-dusk daily.
As the sun was getting lower, I continued down the hill to the rich bottom lands of the Columbia Gorge where fruit orchards mingle with scenic churches, rusting vintage cars and fruit stands.
It was the middle of apricot season during my visit, and the trees were so loaded the limbs looked as if they would break should a bird land on them.
I stepped into a stand operated by Gunkel Orchards and opted for a couple pounds of cherries (gunkelorchards.com).
The fruit is local and seasonal, so don’t expect a great variety, but you will find deals. It’s peach season now. In mid-August, a 20-pound box of Number Ones was selling for $28 and a 20-pound box of Number Twos (slight imperfections) was $12.