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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

The Mount Hood Loop and Timberline Lodge, Oregon

Travel to the Pacific Northwest was and is an adventure. Except for a few trappers and native Indians, the area was not part of American consciousness until the great explorers, Lewis and Clark, wrote of it.

"The mountains through which the rivers pass
to sepulcher rock are high, broken, rocky
covered with fir white cedar, and
exhibit very romantic scenes
cascades tumbling from stupendous rocks
into the river."
- Meriwether Lewis, April 14, 1806

Aside from a few visits to Seattle, I have had no travel experience in the states north of California - Oregon and Washington. So, when my cousin, who was enroute to a conference in Portland, invited me to meet him a few days early to explore the area, like a latter day laggard Lewis and Clark, I set off to join him. And what better timing. After all, this is the bicentennial of their exploration.
Portland, Oregon was a short two hour flight from Los Angeles. The airport there is modern and rental cars are conveniently available in the parking structure just across the street from the terminal.
We drove along Route 26, southeast from Portland through majestic evergreen forests past pastoral villages with curious names like Zigzag and Rhododendron, to the base of towering snowcapped Mount Hood - at 11,235 feet, the highest point in Oregon.
My cousin had chosen our hotel and - since he has his eccentricities - I was already wary as we drove up a tortuous road to our destination. When a great ski chalet came into view mid-mountain, I subconsciously envisaged blood seeping from its walls and Jack Nicholson's maniacal and fearsome smile. But I blinked again and it was my cousin's face beside me and the chalet was the Timberline Lodge, familiar because it was the exterior setting for Stanley Kubrick's classic horror film, The Shining.
Timberline Lodge (800-547-1406, rates from $90/night) is set on the south face of Mount Hood and exudes a welcoming and scenic beauty that diffuses any fears Stanley Kubrick tried to conjure. It is a wonderful stone and timber mountain chalet that was dedicated in person by President Franklin Roosevelt in December 1937. It was built by his WPA (Works Progress Administration) and was the crowning jewel of their work in the Northwest. The 71-room hotel was always intended to be a ski lodge and is still today. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is still owned by the federal government. Forest Rangers are available in its lobby during the week to provide insight into its history and the surrounding national parks. The hotel has been preserved and modernized by the RLK (Kohnstamm) Company, a small family run business that has overseen the management of Timberline for the last fifty years.
There are several ski resorts in the Mount Hood Ski Basin but Timberline provides the only ski-in, ski-out lodging. The resort has the most vertical feet and most acreage in the region and it has the longest ski season in North America. The Lodge is situated in the middle of its chairlift system. Three chairs below it reach down to the 5000-foot elevation; the two chairs above it stretch to 8500 feet into snowfields present all year round.
Receiving about 12 feet of snow yearly, Timberline is open for skiing twelve months of the year and has one of the finest summer ski programs anywhere in the world. In the winter, Timberline is primarily a backyard metropolitan Portland ski area. But in the summer, it becomes a major international destination. By mid-June, you'll hear six different languages being spoken in the lobby as patrons arrive from all over the world. Top ski teams from the United States, Europe, and Japan come to practice there. While summer skiing can be found south of the equator during "winters" in South America, Australia, or New Zealand, Timberline Lodge is perhaps the best place for summer skiing for enthusiasts in the U.S. - and the economics of getting there are significantly better.
The Lodge was built by the WPA, an organization created by Roosevelt to "provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering from the Depression." Its construction focused on old world quality arts and crafts. The "make-work" project put a few master craftsmen to work together with hundreds of out-of-work unskilled laborers in a master-apprentice program. Stone masons, woodworkers, ironworkers, sculptors and painters all worked on site.
The main lobby or "head house" is the heart of the lodge and shows off the best craftsmanship of its builders. It has a 98-foot tall chimney with six individual fire places. It is hexagonal shaped and nearly everything in the room is hexagonal as well - tables, lampshades, light fixtures, and great Douglas fir columns. Resources were precious back then and most of what was created was recycled and made on site. Andirons were made from old downtown Portland trolley rails. Chain guards in front of the huge fireplaces were chains from the trucks that hauled workers up the mountain each morning. Old utility poles were cut up and carved into unique animal head banisters. Drapes were made from old CCC uniforms. And, keeping with the project's three decorative themes - wilderness, pioneer, and Native American life - original paintings matching those themes decorate the lobby, common areas, and guest rooms. Rooms however are somewhat small with rustic knotty pine walls and comfortable but dated furnishings.
The Mount Hood National Forest is a world-class recreation area. There's skiing and snowboarding at Timberline. There is, of course, hiking and mountain climbing. Mt. Hood is the second most climbed mountain in the world after Mt. Fuji in Japan. The Columbia River Gorge is renowned for windsurfing. And tributaries of the great river are popular for fishing and white water rafting. And the sight-seeing is phenomenal. So, you can ski in the morning and fill in other recreational blanks in the afternoon.
The scenic route back to Portland on Route 84 parallels the Columbia River - retracing the route of Lewis and Clark. We paused for lunch in the quaint town of Hood River. While the town has many tourist enticing shops and restaurants, its most interesting attraction is perhaps the myriad of windsurfers who embark from here to ply the Columbia River. Further on we stopped to tour Bonneville Dam, its power station and fish ladders. After leaving the exhibit, I knew everything and more I wanted to know about salmon. But there was nowhere to order a bagel and lox. Just past Bonneville, you can take a scenic detour off the main highway, along a narrow tree shaded road, past several dramatic waterfalls that cascade down into the Columbia River. Multnomah Falls is the premier falls of the area and Oregon's most popular tourist attraction. It is the second highest year-round waterfall in the nation and one of its most magnificent. More than two million people visit it yearly. It plunges 541 feet into a pool and then another 69 feet into another pool. There's a stone lodge at its base with a restaurant, gift shop, snack bar, and a U.S. Forest Service Nature Center. For dramatic views, you can walk a short distance up a trail to a bridge above the lower falls. And, if that's not exercise enough, you can trek another mile uphill to an overlook at the very top of the falls. Needless to say, I was quite enamored with the lower views.
Lewis and Clark experienced the Columbia River Gorge accompanied by their Indian guide Sacagawea in canoes. Poor me, I had my cousin Stanley and an air-conditioned rental car. The Mt. Hood loop from Portland to Timberline and back was wonderful - full of scenic beauty, sporting adventure, and educational. While sadly, I don't think they'll be celebrating Barry and Stan's bicentennial travels in 2205, I think you'll be well served by a trip north to celebrate Lewis and Clark's.