OREGON, the Beaver State

What to see

Medford Rogue River Forest - Crater Lake - Mount Mazama : Super Volcano
Eugene Monaco Coach
Junction City Country Coach
Florence Coast Line - Siuslaw Forest - Sea Lions Cave
Silverton Oregon Gardens
Multnomah the Bridge of the Gods - Multnomah Falls
Portland Japanese garden
La Grande Wallowa - Nez Perce - Joseph City
Grangeville Hells Canyon
Article Hells Canyon
Other pages other states | articles

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cover west pacific

This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Pacific

In the travel series View America, West Pacific covers California, Oregon and Washington. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 180 full-sized 600px-wide pictures.

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OREGON is also known as the Beaver State, as beaver fur hats were very fashionable during the 1800's. The name Oregon very likely stems from the French "Ouragan" or storm. In 1859 Oregon joined the US as the 33rd state. Its capital is Salem and the largest city is Portland.

Oregon has a surface of about 251,000 km2, and 48% of the area is forested. There are approximately 3.5 million inhabitants, with a density of 14 per km2. More than half of the population lives in and around the Portland metropolitan area. Oregon's economy depends on the exploitation of its natural resources, and the state is the largest timber producer in the U.S.

The coast is home to the Siskiyou Mountains, which are the northern part of the Klamath mountains, with peaks up to 6,900 feet (2,100 m). The exact origin of this name is unsure, but a nice anecdote is that in 1832 the French name Six Cailloux, meaning "six stones", was given by Michel Laframboise and other French Hudson's Bay Company trappers, because six large stones or rocks lay in the river where they crossed.

The Cascade Range presents the grandest panorama's and contains Mount Hood, the highest mountain with 11,240 feet (3,426 m). The deepest canyon in the U.S. is Hells Canyon of the Snake River, with a remarkable 8,043 feet (2,451 m) difference between the rim and the river. Crater Lake is the extraordinarily beautiful site of Mount Mazama, the site of an ancient super volcano eruption!

Other points of Interest are the Nez Perce National Historical Park, with an interesting overview of the history of this tribe, the Portland Fish Ladders, that help the salmon cross the Bonneville Dam, and the Multnomah Falls, which are 620 feet (189 m) high. The Oregon coastline is certainly worth visiting, and the annual Pendleton Round-Up in September is a famous and popular rodeo.

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Medford : Crater Lake

Crater Lake

In 1902 Crater Lake was proclaimed a National Park, and it is the sixth such park in the U.S. Its Visitor Center is located at 4,921 feet (1,500 m) of altitude, and it presents an interesting documentary about the creation of the park.

Given the altitude it is not unusual to see snow, even in summer, during the drive to the edge of Crater Lake. It is located at an altitude of 6,170 feet (1,880 m), but the rim of the caldera ranges in elevation from 7,000 to 8,000 feet (2,100 to 2,400 m). The lake measures 5 by 6 miles (8.0 by 9.7 km) across, and it has a maximum depth of 1,943 feet (592 m), which makes it the deepest lake in the U.S. The deepest lake in the world is Lake Baikal in Siberia with 5,387 feet (1,642 m).

The first look at this lake is simply breathtaking! The panorama is so beautiful, that during the first ten minutes it is impossible not to gape and stand awed. The impressive crater, the exquisitely wooded mountain ridges, the lake itself, the cobalt blue color of the clear water, the small mountain top in the lake, all of this is truly exceptional!

The crater is surrounded by a road that is about 33 miles (53 km) long. It offers splendid views in different locations around the rim. One of the viewpoints is the Hillman Peak, located at an altitude of 8,149 feet (2,484 m). At this altitude the temperature drops below freezing every night, even in the summer!

Cleetwood Trail is another view point, where a 1.1 mile long path (1,800 m) leads to the surface of the lake. Going down isn't too difficult, but the upward climb back is something else. The entire descent and ascent takes about one and a half hours, without counting any breaks to huff and puff...

Last but certainly not least, the Cloudcap Overlook offers another extraordinary panorama over this truly magnificent natural wonder.

Medford : Crater Lake 1
Medford : Crater Lake 2 Medford : Crater Lake 3

The Legend of Crater Lake

The Klamath Indians must have lived in the region as early as 7,700 years ago, because artifacts such as obsidian tools, spear throwers, and moccasins have been found beneath the Mazama ash layers to the north and east of Crater Lake. The Klamaths describe the massive volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama and the creation of Crater Lake in one of their legends. The story of a raging war between two great volcanoes, Mount Mazama and Mount Shasta, parallels the geological history of Crater Lake.

Llao was the spirit of fire, darkness and terror from the underworld, who lived beneath Mount Mazama, while Skell was the spirit of peace and goodness from heaven. Llao often stood on top of Mount Mazama, and his head would touch the stars near the home of Skell. At that time there was no lake, just a hole in the mountain through which Llao could see the outside world. One day Llao saw Loha, the daughter of the Klamath chief, and he fell in love with her beauty but she rejected him because he was ugly and came from the underworld. He swore that he would take revenge on her people and rained down fire on them.

The Klamath Indian chief then sought help from Skell, who descended from the sky to the top of Mount Shasta. The two spirits fought a terrible battle to the death that trembled the Earth, and hurled red hot rocks to each other, causing great landslides. A terrible darkness spread over the area for days.
Llao took the upper hand, killed Skell, and cut his heart out. But when Llao's followers took the heart up the mountain to celebrate, Skell's followers were able to steal back the heart and they actually must have performed the very first heart transplant, long before Dr. Barnard did so in South Africa in 1967. But I am digressing... Anyway, Skell's followers used the heart to restore Skell back to life.

The "recycled" Skell fought even harder and finally managed to defeat and kill Llao. He then collapsed the top of Mount Mazama, and to cover this dark pit with peace and tranquility he filled it with beautiful blue water. He threw Llao's limbs into the lake and tricked the water animals, which were faithful to Llao, into devouring them. But when the animals reached Llao's head they recognized it as their master and would not touch it. It can still be seen today as a lone, steep cinder cone rising from the Lake's waters, known as Wizard Island.

It may be hard for us to imagine the violence of this awesome eruption, but for the Indians who lived there it must have seemed to be a battle of the spirits.

Mount Mazama: a Super Volcano!

Though the legend is certainly very colorful and laden with emotion, the more recent scientific version of this cataclysmic event may be somewhat more accurate.

Around half a million years ago, beneath the majestic Mount Mazama (estimated then at 11,800 feet high or 3,600 m, a gigantic reservoir of magma was being formed. The magma came from the earth's core through large cracks in the tectonic plates. The temperature and the pressure in this magma bubble gradually became so enormously high that chimneys were formed, through which several volcanic eruptions took place.

Around 5200 BC the Super Volcano under Mazama erupted in a massive explosion, which was the largest in North America in the past 100,000 years. Read more about the Yellowstone Super Volcano.

Mount MazamaThe upper 5,200 feet (1,600 m) of the mountain were simply blown away! Pumice and ashes were hurled over more than one 620 miles (1,000 km) into 8 states and 3 Canadian provinces, and a surface of 4,900 square miles (12,700 km2) was covered with 6 inches (15 cm) of volcanic ash.

After the reservoir of magma was emptied the entire mountain collapsed into the empty chamber over a width of some 5.6 miles (9 km), due to lack of support. Very probably a geological winter came about through the enormous amount of dust in the atmosphere. Over the years this gigantic crater filled with water from rain and snow.

If any doubt might remain over the incredible violence of a major volcanic eruption, the eruption in 1989 of Mount Redoubt Volcano in Alaska spewed volcanic ash to a height of 45,000 ft (14,000 m).


Siuslaw National Forest - Sea Lions Cave

Florence is the starting point for an extended visit to the famous Oregon coastline. Just beyond Florence, you'll find Dunes City and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The entire area is part of Siuslaw National Forest, which is probably a corruption of the Russian name Suslov, as the Russians were among the first to explore this area.

The region is particularly scenic in nature, but unfortunately it is very difficult to reach the strip of dunes between the road and the sea and to actually obtain a view of the ocean. All the properties along the beach are privately owned, either by private homes or by campgrounds. Only here and there a small access road leads into the dunes, and usually it charges an access fee...

Continuing north along the coast, highway 101 presents truly magnificent panoramas of majestic cliffs and the great rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean. It further leads to the Sea Lions Cave, which is a breeding ground for sea lions. The cliffs are certainly most spectacular, but it takes a rather steep climb to visit the caves themselves. Very special!

Florence coastline 1 Florence coastline 2
Florence : Sea Lions Cave 1 Florence : Sea Lions Cave 2


the Bridge of the Gods

The Bridge of the Gods lies on the Oregon bank of the Columbia River.

According to Indian legend, in this spot the Gods built a stone bridge to cross the river.

However, in 1926 a more modern bridge was built by humans. Nevertheless, while the Bridge of the Gods could be used by humans free of charge, even after more than 80 years, the "human" bridge still charges its users a toll...

Multnomah : the Bridge of the Gods

Multnomah Falls

The spectacular Multnomah Falls are located along highway 84, and a sign at the site credits it as the second highest falls in the U.S. with an impressive 620 feet (189 m). The falls drops in two major steps, split into an upper falls of 542 feet (165 m) and a lower falls of 69 feet (21 m).

In between a footbridge has been built to allow visitors to photograph the views from every angle. It is also possible to climb all the way to the top, where a second platform has been built. In the winter the waterfall occasionally freezes, which is a great source of unforgettable pictures!

Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, but as to being the second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States there is some skepticism, as it is listed as the 137th tallest waterfall in the U.S. by the World Waterfall Database. The highest waterfall in the world is Angel Falls in Venezuela, with 3,230 feet (984 m) in height, with an uninterrupted drop of 2,647 feet (806 m). Yosemite Falls in California is the tallest waterfall in the U.S. with a vertical drop of 2,425 feet (739 m).

Multnomah Falls 1 Multnomah Falls 2

Portland : Japanese Garden

Portland's Japanese Garden is located next to Washington Park and Burnside Road. In 1962 a few Portland businessmen put their heads together and they gave Professor Takuma Tono, a Japanese garden architect, the task to build a true Japanese garden in their city. In 1967 the garden was finished, and it was entirely conceived according to Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist principles, with the three basic elements of water, stone and plants.

This exquisite garden has been recognized as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of the land of the Rising Sun. It contains artfully landscaped and asymmetric paths, beautifully constructed bushes, many water paths and fountains, an original tea house, a classic Japanese pavilion with shoji(translucent paper panels), fusuma (the famous paper sliding doors), and tatamis (straw mats), and a breathtakingly beautiful and quiet backyard, in a masterful scene of cleverly stylized mini-trees.

Normally, the ground of the backyard should be composed of sand, which is raked in quiet figures, but the one single concession to the extended maintenance was the replacement of the sand by gravel. A most delightful and harmonious visit !

Portland : Japanese Garden 1 Portland : Japanese Garden 2
Portland : Japanese Garden 3 Portland : Japanese Garden 4

La Grande

the 45th parallel

Highway 86 from La Grande leads to Baker City, and it has a somewhat particular feature. Between La Grande and Baker City it crosses the 45th parallel, which is precisely halfway between the equator and the North Pole!


La Grande is located in the northeast of the state, and it is the base for visits to the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon. The drive to La Grande yields immense grainfields and lots of cattle. The first climb to the Dead Man Pass at 3,165 feet (965 m) is long and steep, and it is followed by the Blue Mountain Forest, that presents a beautiful landscape, with lots of trees and greenery.

The road continues to climb toward the top of the Blue Mountains at 4,200 feet (1,280 m) of altitude. The next plateau is simply superb to drive through, even if it has one tiny drawback, since on the other side the descent is just as arduous...

Nez Perce

La Grande looks like a sociable oversized village, and its Visitor Center provides ample information about the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Driving east along highway 82 the next stop is Elgin, a picturesque old and sleepy village. One hour later you'll reach the Wallowa Mountain Visitor Center.
Next to general information it presents a twenty-minute documentary about the Nez Perce Indians. The French origin of the name "Nez Percé" is "pierced nose", but it is usually pronounced as "Nespers"...

Joseph City

Joseph city was originally named Silver Lake and Lake City, but in 1880 the city formally named itself for the tribal Chief of the Nez Perce Indians. Chief Joseph tried to lead his tribe to Canada, but after a truly heroic struggle against more than 2,000 federal troops and their former allies the Crow Indians, they were finally caught at a mere 37 miles (60 km) from the Canadian border.

Joseph is a nice city with many old buildings, in which numerous shops seek to attract the tourists. Every year the tribe organizes a Pow Wow and a rodeo in honor of Chief Joseph. Just outside the city lies the beautiful Wallowa Lake. Certainly worth a break to admire the view!

La Grande : Wallowa mountains

La Grande : Chief Joseph

La Grande : Wallowa lake 1 La Grande : Wallowa lake 2

Grangeville : Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon is also called the Grand Canyon of the West. It is claimed to be the deepest canyon in the U.S. and deeper than the Grand Canyon, which is one mile or 1,600 m deep. The canyon's exact depth is somewhat controversial and a matter of touristic propaganda, because mountain He Devil, which is referenced for the canyon's depth, is more than 5 miles away and not perceivable from the river.

Nevertheless the He Devil Peak is a phenomenal 7,993 feet (2,436 m) above the Snake River, and adjacent peaks are 7,900 vertical feet (2,408 m) above the Snake River!

The Hells Canyon Overlook is located at an altitude of 5,085 feet (1,550 m). The panorama is simply overwhelming, and one soon forgets the difficult and winding road to reach the Overlook. The view over the many beautiful mountains is breathtaking, and it is impossible not to stand in awe before such magnificent panoramas.

Grangeville : Hell's Canyon 1 Grangeville : Hell's Canyon 2
Grangeville : Hell's Canyon 3 Grangeville : Hell's Canyon 4

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