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Waterfalls of Oregon's Columbia Gorge

Show Summary - March 9, 2009

Guest: Art Bernstein

Art Bernstein, MS (Gold Hill, OR), writer and naturalist "Waterfalls and Ecosystems of Oregon's Columbia Gorge Scenic Area and Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness"

Art Bernstein joined Sharon once again to talk about the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area and the adjacent Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness Area, located along the Columbia River beginning ten miles east of Portland, Oregon.

The Columbia River, longest on the U.S. West Coast, originates at Columbia Lake in the Canadian Rockies. It initially flows northward, then makes a 180-degree turn after 200 miles, and cuts south into Washington State, past Grand Coulee Dam. Eventually, it forms the boundary between Washington and Oregon. The immense Columbia estuary at Astoria discharges a huge amount of water and salt water can extend upriver to St. Helens. The river is extremely wide through much of its length.

The Columbia Gorge is a 70-mile stretch between The Dalles, Oregon, and Troutdale, Oregon, in which the river completely breaches the Cascade Mountain Range. It is the only river in the U.S. that completely breaches a major mountain range (the Colorado also begins in the Rockies but does not bisect any mountain ranges).

East of the gorge, the land is dry and grassy. In the gorge, the terrain gradually transitions to dense forests as you move from east to west.

The Oregon side of the gorge is famous for its Scenic Drive and numerous waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, highest waterfall in the U.S. outside of Yosemite National Park (587 feet). Because north-facing slopes tend to be much shadier in the Northern Hemisphere than south-facing slopes, they accumulate more water and snow pack and therefore, there is much more runoff. Hence, the south-side waterfalls (although there are a few waterfalls on the Washington side).

The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness contains the Eagle Creek watershed, which also boasts numerous waterfalls. The creek flows into the Columbia River between The Dalles and Hood River.

The Columbia Gorge is a major funnel for winds blowing off the Pacific Ocean. As a result The Dalles and Hood River are considered by many to offer the best wind surfing anywhere in the world.

For an excellent view of the gorge, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, the drive to the vista point on Larch Mountain, off of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Drive, just east of Troutdale, is superb.

Categories: Outdoor Recreation; bodies of water; U.S. parks, monuments