Recently a photographer friend who had just returned from Costa Rica confessed
to me that the trip had increased his appreciation for a place much closer to home.
“In just 10 miles of the Columbia River Gorge, there is vastly more to see and photograph than in all of Costa Rica,” he told me.
The precipitous canyon separating Oregon and Washington contains one of the world’s great rivers and 85 rugged miles of incredible things to see and photograph. At no time of year is the gorge more spectacular than in October and November. Then, the bigleaf maples in the west and the oaks in the eastern savannas turn yellow and gold. The towering, glacierclad volcanoes of Mount Hood and Mount Adams are framed by the brilliant reds of vine maple and dusted with fresh snow. But the gorge is a premier place for photography any time of year.
And it is also a paradise for just about every form of outdoor recreation, including white-water rafting, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, mountain biking, fishing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, birding, skiing and mountain climbing.
The gorge is the only sea level gap or interruption in the 700-mile-long Cascade Range, which divides the Pacific Northwest into two dramatically different worlds. On the windy west side of the mountains, clouds drop 75 inches of rain on the heavy forest each year. On the sheltered east side, the grasslands are generally dry as bone—a dramatic rain-shadow desert. The gorge’s natural diversity is a result of the abrupt elevation change from the canyon’s sea level floor to the misty heights of peaks such as Mount Defiance, which soars to almost 5,000 feet above the river.