By RUTH BERKOWITZ
Kidding Around The Gorge
November 1, 2006
As the sun continues to shine through most of the month of October, I have an unsettling feeling in my gut that November may bring us the wet rain that muddies our streets and brings snow to Mt. Hood. But that doesn’t mean you have to store your hiking shoes in the back of your closet. Head east where the sun may be shining. According to the National Weather Service, Hood River has an average of 30.57 inches of rain, but The Dalles has less than half that – an average of 13.35 inches of rain.
Last week we —four moms and nine kids – ventured east to the Washington side of the Gorge to play around at Horsethief Butte, a 500-foot high basalt fortress created during the epic floods thousands of years ago. We parked on the side of Highway 14, just after mile post 85. As I exited our van, I feared one of the cars whizzing down the highway, might whack a kid.
Unfortunately, our group got split up at the start. Some of us were packing the snacks and getting Carmen, the youngest in the group, in a backpack. Mistake from the get-go: stay in a group and lay out the rules before beginning the adventure. The five and six year olds seemed as excited as wild horses. They trotted down the wrong path and began scrambling up the rocky butte like mountain goats. We reined them back in and took the easier path to the right.
In less than one half mile, we reached one of the openings to the butte. Like a labyrinth with many paths, the butte has many ways to enter, but this is the easier route, one which leads us to the main thoroughfare. A sign advises to take care of the historic paintings and carvings known as pictographs and petroglyphs made by the Indians about two hundred years ago. In the spring, the yellow balsamroot flowers color the grey rocks and groups of climbers with ropes and chalk maneuver the walls. Reed, Maya and Kai led the way, eager to show the others their climbing skills. “Always have three holds on the rock,” Maya advises. She learned how to climb on Tuesday nights with Hood River’s famous alpinist Lisa Rust.
We scrambled about 25 feet up to a flat area where we had a panoramic view of the Gorge. “Train, train,” exclaims Luke as he points at the train threading its way up the Gorge.
The kids continued to scamper up other rocks, my heart beating faster than the cold east wind. “Never go to the edge,” I called out, noting that next time we come, we’ll have more adults to placate my nerves.
But no one fell and everyone had a super afternoon bouldering the rocks. On the way home, we stayed on the Washington side of the Gorge and stopped at Schreiner Farms in Dallesport to see the zebras, giraffes, buffalos, camels, yaks and more.
No, I’m not fantasizing that the Portland Zoo moved to the Gorge, but this working farm raises exotic animals. Visiting is more like a safari where you are required to watch the animals from your car and make sure to pull over on the side of the road to let the workers pass. If Mt. Hood wasn’t looming in the background, I would have thought we were in Africa.
Enjoy and remember, the weather is often drier if you head east!
Either head east on Interstate-84 and cross The Dalles Bridge (Exit 87) then drive 3.2 miles and turn right on Highway 14. After 2.6 miles, you’ll see the signs for Horsethief Lake/ Columbia Hills State Park. Go another 1.2 miles and park on the south side of the highway. You can also cross the Hood River Bridge and make a right on Highway 14 until you see the marker on the road for Horsethief Butte.