The Columbia Gorge, Columbia Basin, Grande Ronde Valley

(and also some parts of east-central Oregon)

11-12 August 2001


11 August 2001


The Columbia River Gorge as most people know it.

This picture was taken at Cascade Locks -- at the locks themselves, actually, in the back parking lot. The Columbia River was behind me at this point. 

The official Columbia Gorge stretches about from Troutdale east to The Dalles. However, to me, the Columbia Gorge begins in The Dalles and ends in Boardman. The Columbia Gorge, to me, is the dried-out, nearly treeless part of Eastern Oregon where you can see the Columbia River and the huge, barren hills towering over you.

However, this picture was taken in the official Columbia Gorge. ;)


More of the official Columbia Gorge.

Witness the mighty Columbia River, near Cascade Locks, Oregon. The picture was taken looking north into Washington. 

I have no idea what those spray things are for. 


Gorgeous, isn't it?

Mountains, river, trees, all in Washington.

You have to pay sales tax if you buy things over there, you know. ;) 


Now that's what I call the Columbia Gorge.

Taken while driving along I-84 at unconscionable speeds.

This is what I-84 looks like from The Dalles to Boardman: barren, vaguely grassy hills along both sides of the river, with sagebrush and such being the only major vegetation. The river would be visible in this photo if it wasn't for that concrete barrier. 


The site of the Gigantic Freaking Disneyland™!

A long time ago, when my family was traversing this stretch of I-84, I was under the influence of much cola. And I did declare unto my brother that this spot should be a place where they ought to build, and I quote, "a gigantic freaking Disneyland".

You had to be there, I guess.

Anyhow, I actually stopped my car alongside the road and took pictures of this spot between Arlington and Boardman. To me, it's a major I-84 landmark.

Off in the distance, you might be able to make out a farm house, a grain silo, etc. It's the only house for miles.


More of the Gigantic Freaking Disneyland™!

For some odd reason, this barren, isolated spot in northern Morrow County -- this spot, with its distinctive several-hundred-foot tall mesa in the background and its view of the Columbia River -- just struck me as the ideal spot for some kind of theme park. 

Of course, I had imbibed much cola at that point in time ;)


More of the Columbia River Gorge.

People either stereotype Oregon as a rainy place or a desert. It's both. West of the Cascade Range, it's rainy and fertile. East of the Cascade Range, it's dry and desolate (except in mountain areas, such as the Grande Ronde Valley).

This is a perfect example of the desolate part of my state.


The west side of Pendleton at dusk.

This picture, taken in the parking lot of the Burger King near Tutuilla Creek, does not give you any idea of what Pendleton really looks like. 

Pendleton (population 15,000) is located in wheat-growing country. It's in a canyon; when you're downtown, the steep walls of the Umatilla River canyon surround you to the north and south. The canyon is in this picture, sorta -- you can tell where it is by looking for the trees in the middle distance. The Burger King, and nearly anything built since 1950, is built atop the plateau bordering the canyon (thus the impression of flatness in this picture).

The territory surrounding Pendleton is composed of dry, rolling hills, upon which much wheat is grown. So much wheat is grown there that the local country station is even called K-Wheat (103.5 FM, in case you're ever there).

Pendleton is the home of the "world-famous" Pendleton Round-Up rodeo.

Pendleton is both more boring and less boring than La Grande. (You have to live in La Grande to understand why. ;) )


12 August 2001


Good morning, good morning, good morning, it's time to rise and shine...

Sunday morning in La Grande (well, technically, Island City). I stopped here, at the WalMart/Shop 'n Kart shopping center on the Island City Strip (OR 82) to get some pictures of the area...

When I lived in La Grande, the Quizno's Subs place used to be a Subway sub shop. The salon to the right used to be a pizza place. The Taco Bell never used to be there -- when I first moved to La Grande at age 14, in 1992, I missed Taco Bell a *lot*. 


Welcome to progressive Island City!

La Grande, at least when I lived there, had no desire to grow -- either in stores or in population. 

Island City, a trailer park of about 900 people that's located just northeast of La Grande, decided to allow Wal*Mart to locate there... and that made it the one part of the La Grande area that actually got new businesses in the 4 years I lived in La Grande.

This picture is looking roughly west-northwest, and it was taken from the corner of Walton Road and the Island City Strip. 


The Island City Strip, southeast of downtown Island City.

The circular sign on the left is the sign for the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church. I went to school there, in spring 1992... that place was instrumental in causing me to give up fundamentalism. In that place, I saw fundamentalism taken to its logical extreme.

I drove out to Island City this morning to get breakfast at the Burger King where I used to work -- it was located inside a feed store and convenience store, and it was a truly unique place to work. You could get chicken feed and Chicken Tenders in the same building ;)

However, it's no longer there! It's been replaced by a pizza place *and* a sub sandwich shop. Disappointing. I can remember many thunderstorming summer evenings, with me back in the huge dishwashing room, listening to "Here Comes The Rain" by the Mavericks...


The Island City Strip, heading toward La Grande.

A mundane drive to and from work in La Grande involves scenery like this.

I hated La Grande while I lived there, but it did have one thing going for it -- it's very, very scenic.


The Island City Strip, at the La Grande city limits.

This is the section of the Island City Strip that had all but two of La Grande's fast food restaurants when I lived there (the two that weren't present here were KFC and a local place, Nell's N-Out).


Adams Avenue, downtown La Grande. Heading west.

"Downtown La Grande, we've got it all for you!" So cooed the perky jingle on the badly-produced cable TV ad that ran incessantly on local cable while I lived in La Grande.

The Granada movie theatre is ahead on the right. I've never been in it, but it's a landmark, definitely. 


More of Adams Avenue, heading west.

Misty watercolor memories... memories of being very, very bored. ;)


Three cheers for our alma mater / Faithful and true always...

That is actually a quote from La Grande High School's school song, which was not rediscovered until my junior year. It was made PC by changing the word "boys" to the word "guys". You've gotta love La Grande ;)

La Grande High School, where I spent several of the best and worst years of my academic career, is located to the left. I graduated from there. My diploma plainly says "La Grande High School", so I can't tell people that the "L" in LHS stands for "Lake Oswego" or "Lincoln City" or anything ;)

The hill in the distance is the famous Hill With The L On It. The L used to be a plywood thing, but, during the spring of 1994, the L was mysteriously rearranged into the shape of a squid (a character in a local cartoon strip that briefly had cult status at the high school). Then it became a question mark. After this, a committee from town dismantled the L. They recently chalked an L up there on the hill -- following the pattern of many other Eastern Oregon cities -- and thus there is an L there today. 

Therefore, we can truly say that La Grande will always go through life with an L on its forehead ;) 


The view from the back parking lot at LHS.

La Grande is very scenic.

As a city, it truly sucks. But it definitely wins in the scenery department.


The Intermodal Transportation Hub!

This is the Townsquare Intermodal Transportation Hub, now apparently known as "Max Square", along Adams Avenue in downtown La Grande.

You see, many years ago, a building stood on that spot. It burned down. For the entire time I lived in La Grande, it was a highly uneven gravel lot full of... gravel. And dirt.

But local politicians had grand plans for this unfortunate plot of land. It was not to be another commercial establishment. No! It was to be Townsquare Park -- a nice little park in downtown La Grande, right across from City Hall. However, these plans changed. In 1994, a sign was put up near the place where the "Max Square" sign is now... this spot was chosen to be the Townsquare Intermodal Transportation Hub!

What is an Intermodal Transportation Hub? It's a spot, built with state and federal funds, where people utilizing one method of transportation can go to find another mode. Somebody can bicycle there to take the bus. Somebody can walk there and catch a taxi. Somebody can take a bus there to catch the light rail line.

The trouble is -- La Grande has no buses, no taxis, and no light rail line. People walk, bicycle (rarely), or drive. However, the local elderly care centers have little mini-buses, and there's a supermarket across the street, and thus that was the justification for this project.

Yet, all along, it wasn't fated to be just an Intermodal Transportation Hub! No, no, no! The little video store to the left of this picture was to become a Museum Of The History Of Downtown La Grande! There was to be an amphitheatre! And fountains! And grass! And trees! And benches and picnic tables!

They sold bricks -- personalized bricks -- to the citizens of La Grande, to help pay for the building of this park. This, in addition to the federal intermodal hub funding they'd already received. 

When I left La Grande in 1996, they'd been predicting it for two years, and they hadn't built it yet. The mayor planted a tree in the gravel-and-dirt lot, back in 1994, amid much fanfare in the local press... the tree died, and the sign weathered, and nothing was built.

But while I was gone, they obviously built it!

It didn't turn out to be Intermodal. And its name is apparently not Townsquare. And the planned museum of the history of downtown La Grande is now a sub shop. However, it does have benches! And trees (of a sort)! And the bricks were actually put in place! And they built an amphitheatre, just as they had planned! 


The amphitheatre!

Ladies and gentlemen, the much-vaunted amphitheatre.

Those are not ten-foot-wide bouquets of gigantic mutant flowers. That stage is maybe 10 feet across, and 6 feet deep. Whoo! Wild times in the big city.


Adams Avenue, downtown La Grande, facing east.

La Grande is the quintessential American small town. 


Mt. Emily, towering over the Grande Ronde Valley.

Sadly enough, this was the best photo of Mt. Emily that I got -- it was taken across the road from a construction site in La Grande, along Adams Avenue (US 30), heading out toward Hot Lake and Union.

It wasn't a good day to take pictures of the local mountains. My pictures of Mt. Harris and Mt. Fanny were so blurry that I didn't even bother to upload them.

Mt. Emily (6,110') is the most recognizable symbol of La Grande. It towers over town to the north. Its shape adorns the local Chamber of Commerce's logo. And it's beautiful. I have never been able to dislike it. It's even more beautiful in the winter, with the currently-brown areas covered in brilliant white snow... 

La Grande is very scenic. It's a terribly dull place to live, but it's extremely scenic.


Hot Lake!

Ah, Hot Lake.

When my family was trying to decide whether to move to La Grande, we got a brochure from the local visitors' council. One thing that was listed in that brochure was Hot Lake -- a 1920s resort, on the shore of a mineral lake, 8 miles from La Grande, that had recently been restored and re-opened.

When we finally made the drive out toward Union, we came across Hot Lake -- abandoned. Some Californians bought the place and tried to rehabilitate it, but it's on the National Historic Register, and so there's some things you can't do to the building (no matter how good those things might be for the building). They poured over a million dollars into it, and they still didn't get things in decent shape. So they abandoned it. And so it has been, right up until the present day.

It's a spooky kind of scene.


Open! 

Er... not quite.

The field of wildflowers in the background is what's supposed to be a mineral lake (i.e., the famous "Hot Lake"). When I first got to La Grande in 1992, it still had water in it, and when you drove past in the winter, you could see steam rising from the water. It's been dry since about 1995, though. 


My farewell look at La Grande.

This is a view from the hill above Kiwanis Park in northwest La Grande. The mountain is, of course, Mt. Emily. The small hill to the right of Mt. Emily is Mt. Glenn (as in Mount Glenn Road, where many of La Grande's rich people live).

When I left here in 1996, I said "Goodbye, and good riddance!" I'm not so bitter now, but then again, I've had the good fortune of living in a civilized part of my state for 5 years now, so I wouldn't be quite so bitter. ;)


"Blue Mountain weeds".

What in the hell are these things???

I never noticed them before about 1994. Then they started popping up all over the place along the sides of I-84, especially in the Blue Mountains near Meacham. None of my teachers at school knew what they were. I christened them "Blue Mountain weeds". 

I moved to Eugene, and suddenly I saw them here, too -- I've seen them beside the road once in a while, but some people here have even planted them in their yards as a decorative plant!

What in the hell are these things???

This picture was taken along the side of OR 244, between La Grande and Hilgard.

(August 29th Postscript: I've been to Klamath Falls since I wrote that text above... and "Blue Mountain weeds" are all over the place down in that neck of the woods. Are "Blue Mountain weeds" actually indigenous to the Klamath Basin? And what in the hell are they?!?!)


The desert.

This picture was taken somewhere in Wheeler County, at a geological viewpoint. I didn't expect the road to the viewpoint to be gravel, but it was gravel, all right.

Nevertheless, I got a couple of good pictures from up there -- this was one of them. 


More desert.

This was far more scenic in person.


Wacky-lookin' mountain.

This mountain is visible when you're heading west on US 26 between Mitchell and Prineville. Note the formations tipping in bizarre ways. This is Central Oregon, and in Central Oregon, nobody wants for wacky-lookin' geology. ;)


Text written 29 August 2001.
Last updated 19 January 2006.

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