A Motorcycle Tour - "The BEST First Ride to Montana - Leg 1 - Columbia Gorge to Walla Walla, WA"

By Craig Rollins

A Motorcycle Tour;

It was in the steamy heat of July when the mountain streams still run morning cool and the rich verdant green of the Northwest strikes the eye with the best of God's beauty. The majestic mountains of 'Big Sky' Montana beckoned its call. This was to be our first real ride on our recently purchased 2000 big-bore Yamaha Roadstar. At least it was big bore for its time, boasting 1600 cc - 98 cubic inches of rompin' v-twin performance. Add Cobra slash-cut pipes to this baby and you're ready for some good soundin', throttle grabbin' riding.

We live in Washougal, WA, on the west end of the Columbia River Gorge scenic byway, a 80-mile natural geologic wonder created by the timeless waters of the great Columbia River.

The mouth of the Gorge is just minutes from our home, east on Washington State Road 14. The Columbia River Gorge is flanked by two major highways; I-84, a 4-lane interstate on the Oregon side, and SR14, a two-lane state road on the Washington side. Either offer gorgeous [no pun intended] views of the Columbia River and its picturesque gorge. If time is the priority, I-84 is the way to go, but for the true touring rider Washington's SR14 delivers breath-taking views and winding 2-lane happiness.

Heading east from Washougal in July you'll struck by the awesome beauty of the gorge. Looking to the Oregon-side of the river you'll glimpse a dozen or so shaft-like waterfalls dropping to the Columbia along Oregon's historic Columbia River Highway - Oregon's Route 66 gorge counterpart - food for another day-ride article.

The first stop on SR14 comes 10 miles into the ride - just minutes after becoming awash in forested beauty. Cape Horn Skye is a pull off on the east side of the road, but be prepared to stop or you'll miss it and think, "Wow that's a perfect place for a photo-op" as you move-on down the fir-lined road. But if you do make the stop, up the gorge to the east on the north side of the river, you'll see a solid rock promontory called Beacon Rock. SR14 passes this landmark and you can see it close-up down the road. If you do stop at the Cape, a must photo is you and your fellow riders with Beacon Rock and the gorge in the background. And for you Twilight movie fans, the view of the Cape is the background when Edward & Bella are in the tops of the trees.

Another 15 minutes and you're at Beacon Rock State Park. You can stop at the ranger station for details on nearby camping. Rest rooms are just across the highway at the base of Beacon Rock. If you're up for it, a hike up the 848 ft. rock is a great activity. The ¾ mile trek takes about 45 minutes up and 20 minutes down. The switchback trail, built by Henry Biddle in 1918, features handrails and bridges, but is steep at times and will definitely get your blood pumping. You'll want to have your camera with you for memorable views and panoramas in all directions at the summit.

Refreshed from your hike and potty-break, you'll continue east on SR14 past Beacon Rock Golf Course [a majestically beautiful 9-hole course] followed shortly by the town of North Bonneville. The next attraction is Bonneville Dam, the 8th largest of 14 power generating dams along the Columbia River and the first of four dams straddling Washington and Oregon. Bonneville Dam consists of several dam structures that span the Columbia River. You can take tour of the facility, and be sure to catch the fish viewing areas, located on both Washington and Oregon sides of the dam. The facility is open from 9am-5pm year round, but the best viewing is April through September when fish are more prevalent.

Four miles further on SR14 is the 'Bridge of the Gods' toll bridge, the first of several bridges spanning the Columbia and only 2 miles beyond the Bridge of the Gods, north of SR14 is one of our favorite hotels, Skamania Lodge. The lodge features 254 guest rooms, scenic dining and a superbly challenging 18-hole golf course set amidst Northwest fir. If you happen to arrive there on a Friday evening, be sure to feast on their delectable Gorge Harvest Buffet in the Cascade Room. You'll not find a more palate pleasing buffet anywhere in the Northwest. The menu is linked here for your dining pleasure - Gorge Harvest Buffet. Just across and down the road from Skamania lodge is the Columbia River Interpretive Center Museum, which features a reflective stroll through the history of Washington's native Indian culture, timber and train industries. Just watch for the signs and turn left off SR14 to visit these attractions.

As you've surmised, this ride centers on non-stop scenic beauty, and the next stunning installment is just around the corner - a striking view of Mt. Hood - backdrop to Hood River, OR. You've also entered the wind surfing nexus of the world. Unique to the area, the gorge forms the most exquisite geologic wind tunnel on the planet. This world renowned area beckons the faithful to throng the area for 30 plus mph winds that whip the river to a white-capped froth and speed the initiated and neophyte to the pinnacle of exhilaration. The multi-hued spectacle will tease your need-for-speed and propel you smiling on your way. Another convenient bridge grants entrance to this historic, friendly Oregon village and should you choose to cross, will reward you with quaint arty shops and appetizing eateries.

Onward east, you'll pass through a number of small towns and notice a move to a more arid landscape. Past Dallesport, OR ~18 miles you'll pass Mary Hill Winery and come to Mary Hill Museum of Art, built by the late Samuel Hill and completed by a wealthy friend. The museum opened to the public in 1940 and features a rich repertoire of art along with special events, like Ansel Adams: Masterwork July 18-September 13, 2009.

Beyond the museum and worth a detour is Washington's Stonehenge - yes that's right, a full-size replica of England's Stonehenge, also built by Sam Hill.

Time to check your fuel gauge! Just across the Columbia is Biggs, OR, and the last gas stop for roughly two hours.

Now here are some directions to keep you on the correct roads. Returning to Washington state from Biggs, travel ~85 miles east on SR14 to I-82. Take a right on to I-82 south. Cross over the Columbia River to Oregon Highway 730. Turn left on 730 east. Travel 25 miles to SR12, then turn right on SR12 for ~29 miles and you'll arrive at Walla Walla, WA.

Walla Walla is an oasis on the plains of Washington - a thriving metropolis of 30,000. One can trace the city's history back to Lewis & Clark and missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Walla Walla boasts a thriving economy with retail stores, restaurants - even a Wal-Mart. It's also a college town with two colleges, Whitman College and Walla Walla Community college, and Walla Walla University, so you know it's got to be rockin'. We spent the first night of our first trip to Montana in Walla Walla and recommend staying at either the Comfort Inn, or the Marcus Whitman Hotel. The later is an historic landmark and features an excellent restaurant.

But above all, Walla Walla means one thing to us - onions, Walla Walla onions - huge gigantic sweet juicy Walla Walla onions, and these fabulous onions make the best, most delicious, most flavorful onion rings in the WORLD. Try'em, you'll like'em. They're our favorite!!

Well, that's it. That completes the first leg of the BEST first ride to Montana. We hope it's as satisfying and enjoyable for you as it was for us.

Craig Rollins is a senior marketing communications professional. He and his wife are motorcycle advocates and love touring the US. Craig's website is ***he has failed to maintain his site and it is no longer available*** which focuses on motorcycling and products and services Craig has experienced that deliver excellence.

...Hmmm... nice rundown... now, if Craig will just pencil out the rest of his journey! :-)

Article Source: Ezine Articles

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