Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cascade Locks: Things to See and Do in this Columbia Gorge Community

As the wildfires burned this last September, we began to realize how the little community of Cascade Locks on the Oregon side of the Bridge of the Gods felt as the flames, smoke and cinders came closer and closer to their town. The visible remnants of the Eagle Creek Fire still line I-84. The town was all but shut down during the fires. And they are still recovering.

After the all clear was given, the townspeople began to pick up the pieces of their disrupted lives. Tom Cramblett, Mayor and Captain of the Sternwheeler Columbia that docks seasonally in Cascade Locks, was on television talking about the town, their strength and their financial woes.

A group of businesses gathered together and began a promotion to bring funding to the businesses who proudly were #CascadeLocksStrong. You could purchase gift cards from the many businesses thus giving them a boost when they needed it most. I was one of the people who bought those gift cards and now, that the fire was deemed 100% contained, it was time to head out to the Gorge and show them a little love.

Scenic Drive to Cascade Locks

Finally the rains were stopping for a week. With the imminent threat of landslides from the rain-soaked hills, I was reluctant to drive scenic Hwy 14 on the Washington side. But it was drying so I took off for Cascade Locks to meet some friends for lunch. Sure, we could have met for lunch in Vancouver or Portland, but we wanted to let Cascade Locks know that they were not forgotten.

The weather was promising as I headed out east on Hwy 14 on the Washington side. I always stopped at the Cape Horn lookout for a photo op. But things were different that day. All of a sudden the road was enveloped in fog. I’d never seen it like that.
Cape Horn Overlook - WA Hwy 14
The rest of the drive was quiet and scenic. I reached the Bridge of the Gods in record time and rumbled across the steel bridge with grids so open you could see the river below. It was good to be back in the Gorge once again.

Spirit of Cascade Locks

As I drove off the bridge I noticed a yellow hazard tape stretched across the entrance to the Pacific Crest Trail. Things had changed. And then I noticed the rest of the wooded drive was lined with lighted Christmas figures. Cheerful, pretty and full of spirit.

Since I had Francesca the Coonhound with me, and I had promised her that she could explore Thunder Island, we continued on and parked at the lot near the Locks Waterfront Grill where the sternwheeler docks in summer. The sun came out as we took a look at the statue of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark in their explorations of the area.

My dog stopped to sniff yet another statue, one I hadn’t noticed before… Seaman, the dog. Seaman was the only animal to complete the entire journey with Lewis and Clark. There are statues in his honor in several Columbia River cities. Francesca was impressed!
Francesca poses with Seaman, the Newfoundland
We continued our walk along the river and came to the bridge leading to Thunder Island.

Exploring Thunder Island

Thunder Island is a small island that was carved out of the mainland in 1890 to build the Cascade Locks and Canal. The historic locks and canal provided safe passage around the rapids for ships traveling up and down the Columbia River. There is a trail along the edge of the island. We checked out the interpretive information and then took a trail to the right. It’s fun feeling as though you are out in the mighty Columbia River.

At the end of the island we saw a huge blue heron, probably 5 feet high. It took off as soon as Francesca and I got very close. We rounded the end and continued on the other side of the island stopping to look at views of the Washington side of the river. We came upon a platform used for weddings on the island. (There is electricity and resin chairs people can use). As we reached the other tip of the island we stopped to admire the Bridge of the Gods. 
It was a beautiful, clear fall day on the Columbia River
 And then I looked up, at the hillsides. They were covered with snow. It was beautiful.

A recent snow dusted the hillside.
Also on Thunder Island, you can visit Thunder Island Brewing Company and the Thunder Island Historical Museum located in one of the original lock tender’s homes.

Cascade Locks for Lunch

I’m usually in Cascade Locks in the summer for hiking and walking and a favorite stop is the East Wind Drive Inn. This little drive in is a go-to place for ice cream after a hike or drive in the Gorge. They serve breakfast and burgers too. But we kept walking this time as our destination for lunch was farther up.

We passed some motels and a grocery store and the Native fish shop, the Brigham Fish Market. The serve up chowder and fish lunches as well as sell local and Alaskan sea food.

And then on the corner, just before you turn up to drive on the Bridge of the Gods is the Bridgeside Restaurant (used to be Charburger). It’s been there forever. And they still have the same arrowhead collections, wagon wheel chandeliers and marvelous char-broiled burgers.
Bridgeside was warm, cozy and decorated for the holidays.
The fire had not dampened the spirit of Cascade Locks.
Their baked goods are excellent too. Try a slice of marionberry pie. We sat at one of the many booths with a view of the Columbia River and Bridge of the Gods. It’s a homey, warm destination on a winter drive into the Gorge.
Marionberry pie with a view!
It’s one place we wanted to show some love on our day trip. It’s one place we had good memories and wanted to create more. Cascade Locks is a town worth exploring, having a picnic, stopping for an ice cream and enjoying the views. The people of Cascade Locks are strong and we were pleased to see that they were very open for business.
Bridge of the Gods

More on Cascade Locks and The Columbia Gorge

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