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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A river that runs through Washington and Oregon: The majesty of the mighty Columbia

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

When I discovered that my tickets were just a dozen rows from the stage for the final Kiss concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre in September 2021, I couldn’t feign disappointment. It obviously wasn’t due to the proximity to the pyrotechnics provided by the cartoonish act.

If I had my druthers, I would have taken in the show from the lawn. It was my first experience at the Gorge and I was captivated by the majestic Columbia River. The view reminded me of why I prefer to sit in the upper deck at the San Francisco Giants’ ‘Oracle Park, which is a considerable distance from the field. The vantage point from the upper deck, however, allows fans to stare at the bay, which is spectacular.

After indulging in my temporary perch gazing at the Columbia from the cheap seats, I ventured to my stageside location for my first experience at the Gorge. The indelible impression from the show had less to do with Kiss and more with the mighty Columbia.

Not long after my initial Gorge encounter I researched the body of water, which enters Eastern Washington and flows south and then west at the Spokane River confluence. The Columbia’s 1,243 -mile journey starts in the southern Rocky Mountain trench in British Columbia.

The river’s western path flows through Vancouver, Washington, at the Willamette River confluence. The river forms the border between Oregon and Washington to the Pacific Ocean.

A trip to Vancouver, Washington, beckoned. The flight, a round-trip direct from Alaska Airlines goes for $158, is just an hour from Spokane to Portland.

I enjoyed a fresh view of the Columbia from my room at the AC Hotel Waterfront Vancouver, which is the first new modern hotel on the formerly sleepy and formerly overlooked town’s burgeoning waterfront. The hotel, which opened last June, features floor-to-ceiling windows and easy outdoor access to the Columbia. After gazing at the Columbia from my room during a drizzly overcast morning, I ventured along the new riverwalk where a burgeoning city is under development. Cranes and the clatter of construction is part of a city on the move.

The weather, overcast with precipitation, highs in the upper 40s and lows in the mid 30s is typical from January through May, is Portlandia during the offseason. The mercury climbs during the summer to the upper 60s with the majority of sunny days.

New restaurants, shopping and hotels either recently opened or are on the way. The riverwalk is bustling with families and joggers. It’s quite a contrast from what Vancouver was just a decade ago. The city that was primarily an industrial area with a number of paper mills that rested on the banks of contaminated water, has been transformed. Navigating the riverwalk when the sun makes a cameo was a highlight as the beams bounced off of the Columbia. A bonus is that downtown Portland is just a 10-minute drive from Vancouver. After crossing the Oregon-Washington bridge, it’s off to a city with many options.

There are a number of bookstores, museums and shops throughout Portland, which is a good walking city, but it’s a surprisingly fabulous hiking town. There’s the lush and serene Forest Park. No other city in the country has such a large forested park, hence the name, within the city limits.

Forest Park is a stone’s throw from the modern home where the charming character Edward Cullen of the film “Twilight” resides. The surprisingly vast Forest Park, which is located at the northeast slope of Portland’s West Hills, is more fascinating than the popular film, which launched Robert Pattinson’s career. There are a variety of trails. On a typically gray, rainy day I navigated toward the Witch’s Castle, which isn’t much of a structure since it was damaged in a 1962 wind storm. But it’s not so much about the destination but the journey during the 3 -hour, 4.5 -mile trek.

There’s endless moss and fern-covered Western redcedars, massive maples and towering Douglas firs as streams cascade into basalt-lined pools. The experience, which features gentle hills, climaxes at the Pittock Mansion with a dramatic view of the city.

After the hike I was reminded to watch where to park my rental car and to not leave anything of value within sight since smash and grabs are common. I was prepared, since a friend’s daughter recently moved to Portland to discover that her Honda’s catalytic converter was stolen within a week of starting a new job.

The urban issues aren’t a big deal if you’re aware of your surroundings. The threat of crime, however, weighs on the back of your mind. Fortunately, you can escape in Forest Park and then there is the Portland Japanese Garden, which is the epicenter of tranquility.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941, many Asian residents of Portland’s Japantown were forced to surrender and moved to internment camps in Portland. In 1963, Portland decided to construct a Japanese Garden to forge a healing connection to Japan. The Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most serene and authentic Japanese gardens outside of Asia.

The Stroll Po q 1nd Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden are lovely and calming. The west veranda faces the Flat Garden and east veranda offers a dramatic view of downtown Portland and Mount Hood. The Japanese Garden is a wonderful place to meditate and the same can be said for the Columbia River.

After a morning tea with a surprise visit from the sun with a light wind off the Columbia, it was time for a drive north to see where the 12th-largest river in America empties, which is the Pacific Ocean.

The highlight of the trip was the stay at Astoria, Oregon’s comfortable Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa, which is literally on the Columbia. My room was 600 feet out into the river. I sat on the balcony mesmerized by the Columbia, the Astoria-Megler bridge and the barge traffic. The hotel includes binoculars and a barge schedule. My neighbor was celebrating his birthday by photographing the array of vessels passing through. The experience at the hotel, which was renovated in 2022, was my favorite Columbia experience to date.

After dinner and a steam in the hotel’s Finnish sauna, it was time to retreat to the balcony.

The pollution-free skies were crystal clear but when the deck became just a bit too chilly after dark, it was time to slip into a bed warmed by an electric fireplace.

Astoria is a quaint town full of seafood restaurants and gift shops, but I was compelled to follow the Columbia to the Pacific. I drove across the Astoria-Megler and a half-hour later I was walking on the beach in the calm of Long Beach, Washington.

A few minutes north is Oysterville and I indulged on fresh clams, oysters and shrimp cocktail at Oysterville Sea Farms while sitting on the deck and gazing at Willipa Bay.

A few pecan cookies from the Sea Farms consumed that evening on the balcony of my room as I dozed off on my chair to the soothing sounds of the Columbia as it crashed upon the century -old pier pilings.

It was a long way from the Gorge, but it was worth the trek to experience the Columbia from other vantage points.