U.S. Route 30 sweeps into Oregon from Idaho as part of Interstate 84 at 70 miles an hour, hopping over rolling hills and cutting between others. Grasslands and some farms cover Oregon’s eastern miles.
More than 38,000 farms make Oregon the number one U.S. producer of Christmas trees, blackberries, hazelnuts, peppermint, cranberries, rhubarb, and grass seed.
About halfway through the state, the landscape, and the attitude, changes dramatically. About 200 miles from Ontario, Oregon, U.S. Route 30 meets the town of Boardman and the massive Columbia River. Suddenly, everything changes– it’s all about the water.
The Columbia River begins in Canada’s British Columbia and by the time it travels 1,200 miles and is joined by sixty tributaries, it dumps the largest amount of water in the Pacific Ocean in all of North and South America. Fourteen dams generate almost half of the total hydropower in the US. In places, the river is 1,250 feet deep.
The river provides water for farm crops and also provides bulk carriers in the way of 600-foot long tankers and barges for export. The dams also control flooding.
At Oregon’s western end is the Pacific Ocean and the rather unceremonious end of U.S. Route 30. But that’s about 460 miles from the eastern state line.
Just 15 miles from the Idaho state line, the small burg of Huntington (population 400) has become a busy place. Marijuana is legal in Oregon, and since it’s just 15 miles to the nearest Idaho town, where pot is illegal, business is booming.
“With us having 25 to 60 people waiting to get in, we go with a numbering system,” said 420Ville dispensary owner Scott Matthews. And there’s definitely income from the business since 420Ville pays more than $100,000 a month in taxes.
Legal here for recreational use to anyone over 21 years old, marijuana is legal to use in homes or private property, but illegal in public places. And illegal to carry over state lines, even where it is legal. Shops in the remainder of Oregon are rather inconspicuous, like HWY30 Cannabis in La Grande.
Baker City (population 10,000) has never been much larger than is it today, although its beginnings were in mining, timber and, as the largest city between Salt Lake City and Portland, a trade center. Baker City Tower, a nine-story structure in the historic district, is the tallest building east of the Cascade Range in Oregon. Opening in 1929 as the Baker Community Hotel, it was converted to other uses in 1970.
Five miles out of town is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
In La Grande (population 13,000), named for the town’s beautiful view from the hills, a gold strike was the reason for the town’s growth in the 1860s. Today, the town’s website says it is “the economic, educational, recreational, and cultural hub for eastern Oregon, with a family-oriented, small-town character.”
Clemens’ Cabin, a historic log cabin, was obtained by the Chamber of Commerce and moved to Gangloff Park on U.S. Route 30 on La Grande’s northwest end of town. It is cared for by the Native Plant Society of Oregon.
Pendleton, (population 16,000) is not a big city– about the size of Hanover, Pa.– but is an educational tourist stop.
The home of Pendleton Woolen Mills, the factory here offers tours. The original mills in Pendleton and Washougal, Washington, are among the few woolen mills in operation in the United States today.
In 1896, Pendleton began making Native-American trade blankets—geometric patterned robes (unfringed blankets) for Native-American men and shawls (fringed blankets) for Native-American women in the area—the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes. In 1912, the mill in Washougal was open for the production of woolen fabrics used in suits and other clothing. The adjoining retail store sells Pendleton products.
Several years ago Pendleton moved clothing production overseas and into Central America. Most of the coordinating blouses and non-wool accessories are made in China or in other Asian countries. The wool that is still produced in Oregon, is, for the most part, sent to Central America for construction.
The Pendleton Underground is an intriguing tour through an underground city built and inhabited by Chinese laborers. And, the history lesson continues into opium dens, prostitution, alcohol during prohibition. The subjects aren’t exactly PG, but the language and explanations most certainly are.
The tunnels were built by Chinese workers who had been harshly discriminated against by the town’s white population —to the point that it was unsafe for Chinese people to be out after sunset. In order to run businesses and move freely from place to place, hidden tunnels were built beneath the city, eventually forming a secret underground district that was home to both legal and illegal businesses.
And, just a side note– a 1960s musical group took their name from the Pendleton shirts they wore and called themselves the Pendletones. They later changed their name to the more familiar Beach Boys.
Just outside of town is the Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center. where Lynn and husband Bob run a program that cares for 900 animals a year, and 8,000 since its beginning in 1990. The center’s 48 percent release rate, they say, is among the best in the industry. They care for all animals, but specialize in raptors.
Lynn and Bob take on interns to teach the next generation and to keep costs low. Food for the animals costs about $70,000 a year, 70 percent of that coming from memberships and donations.
Also in Pendleton is a casino, the Pendleton Roundup & Happy Canyon Hall of Fame, and the Pendleton Air Museum.
At Boardman (population 3,300), scenery along U.S. Route 30/I-84 becomes a boater’s paradise. At first sight, the Columbia River is nearly two miles across as it wanders west toward the Pacific Ocean. While the river might seem calm, more than 2,000 boats have been lost on the river.
“It’s fitting that the Columbia River Gorge is known as one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon,” says TravelOregon.com.
Three huge dams– John Day Dam, The Dalles Dam, and the Bonneville Dam– control river flow between The Dalles and Bonneville, a length of 77 miles. All have fish ladders to allow fish past the dams, and all have locks to allow boats– even huge tankers– upstream.
At The Dalles (population 13,600), U.S. Route 30 leaves the interstate for a few miles and cuts through downtown and rejoins on the other side of town.
The Route 30 Bottles and Brews is a comfortable bar, screaming its location. One TripAdvisor reviewer said, “Slow down because you might miss it! Route 30 offers live music and a cozy casual atmosphere. Vintage meets steampunk kind of vibe. Great choice of beer/cider.” The bar is next-door to Klindt’s Bookstore, the oldest bookstore in Oregon.
Just north of The Dalles is the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum. This museum covers everything about the gorge–early missionaries, trappers, and Native Americans, Lewis and Clark, dinosaurs, and the Oregon Trail.
The Historic Columbia River Highway is actually U.S. Route 30– not interstate– in certain places. As one forest ranger explained, “When they built I-84, they had no room to build a side-by-side highway, so they built over the top of it.” And the ever-present railroad already had its share of space taken.
It’s a beautifully scenic drive, climbing over and around the gorge. U.S. Route 30 heads to Mosier and then rejoins the interstate until Hood River (population 7,600), where U.S. Route 30 takes visitors through this pretty — and busy– town.
Known as a site for world-class windsurfing and more recently kiteboarding, Hood River has become a tourist capital because of its prime location on the water, backed by miles and miles of forests, and Mount Hood, the highest peak in Oregon at 11,250 feet. Timberline is the only ski area in North America open all year and with 3,690 vertical feet, boasts more elevation than anywhere else in the U.S. Pacific northwest.
The Bonneville Fish Hatchery near Cascade Locks (population 1,166) is an impressive stop not only for its numbers of fish and gardens but for a single fish– Herman the Sturgeon. Herman has become the hatchery’s mascot at more than 75 years old, ten feet long and over 500 pounds.
Bonneville Dam was the first of the three dams built in the gorge and is a national historic landmark. It was built during the depression, providing jobs for thousands of workers, and began producing electricity in 1938.
The turbines that produced the electricity were built by the S. Morgan Smith Company of York, Pa., which eventually became Voith Hydro, in operation in York. Only after 60 years were the original turbines replaced. One is on display outside the visitor center.
Voith Hydro‘s location in York is one of the world’s largest dedicated hydropower turbine equipment manufacturing facilities, and the only one in the United States to feature a hydraulic laboratory– from the website.
U.S. Route 30 again becomes the Columbia River Highway near Warrenton and takes a beautiful journey–nearly into Portland– joining the interstate at Troutdale.
The forests along this stretch show the scars of the Eagle Creek fire that destroyed 48,000 acres– nearly the size of Baltimore city– almost two years ago. Many of the hiking trails are still closed because of the possibility of falling dead trees. The fire was caused by a 15-year-old Vancouver boy who was caught on video throwing a smoking firecracker. The boy was fined $36 million.
In the burned area are some of the highest waterfalls in Oregon. Multnomah Falls, at 620 feet, is the highest here and the second highest in the country for all-year falls. Horsetail Falls drops 176 feet. Trails to these falls have been deemed safe to explore.
Rainier was the site of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant which went online in 1975, only to be shut down and decommissioned in 1993 after a long line of safety concerns, including cracks in the steam pipes. In December 1992, documents were leaked from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission showing that staff scientists believed that Trojan might be unsafe to operate.
Spent fuel was transferred in 2003 and the cooling tower was imploded in 2006.
The 50 remaining miles of two-lane U.S. Route 30 into Astoria is quiet, with light traffic and mostly away from the river.
Astoria (population 9,862) is the end of the line for U.S. Route 30, but there’s plenty for tourists to see and do before turning around.
Since the town is just five miles from the Pacific Ocean and is at sea level, elevation is the key to sightseeing. Visit the Astoria Column, the highest spot in town, and an interesting piece of history/art/engineering.
Dedicated by the Great Northern Railway in 1926, the Astoria Column stands high above the city on Coxcomb Hill and then rises another 125 feet to give visitors a terrific 360-degree view of the countryside– the Pacific Ocean, tankers on the Columbia River, a busy city below and magnificent bridges connecting Oregon to Washington.
The column is not wheelchair accessible, and its 167 steps to the top make it a tough climb for anyone. “At its dedication on July 22, 1926, the Astoria Column was described as the “greatest of western monuments. It was listed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1974.”
The column is covered with an artistic history lesson. Starting at the bottom, the pictorial story begins with the Clatsop and Chinook Indians and ends with the arrival of the railroad in 1893.
Down at river level again, count the huge tankers–some 600 feet long– that are anchored in the Columbia, waiting their turn to load with, probably, chemicals or grain.
While train tracks have led the way along U.S. Route 30, tankers are easily the cheapest way to deliver goods, according to a sign at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. “River shipping is efficient and inexpensive. Shipping wheat by barge costs about 2.5 times less than shipping by train, and about 7.5 times less than by truck.”
“Waterways transportation keeps America and its commerce on the move with fewer adverse societal impacts than truck or rail,” said Michael Hennessey, Chairman, National Waterways Foundation.
The Columbia Maritime Museum’s collection, made up of artifacts collected since its opening, has grown to more than 30,000 objects, 20,000 photographs, and a research library. See work done by the Columbia River Bar Pilots and the Coast Guard. Visit the Lightship Columbia, a floating lighthouse.
The Astoria-Megler cantilever steel truss bridge across the Columbia River connects Astoria in Oregon and Point Ellice in Washington. The bridge is 4.1 miles long and is located about 14 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River. It is the longest truss bridge in North America.
Tool around Astoria on the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, a three-mile-long historic streetcar line that was once railroad tracks. The car is an original 1913 model.
The Bumble Bee Cannery Museum takes visitors back a few years when fishermen brought tons of fish to the pier. The museum is housed in the oldest cannery building still standing on the Columbia River.
Working west, visitors will finally come upon a one-of-a-kind road sign.
Like a thousand others they’ve seen, this is a U.S. Route 30 sign.
But this one says, “End”.