After you’ve passed the old two-lane section of the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway, and you’re back on Interstate 84, you’re still following the path of the old historic highway. You may see brief pieces of it, serving as frontage roads. I tried a few times to follow these sections of road, but ended up at dead-ends. Unless a brief section of the old highway is signed as a business route, there’s not much use in trying to follow it.
So, stay on the interstate and enjoy the beautiful Columbia River. As you head east, you’ll see a turnoff for a viewpoint (there’s no exit in the westbound lanes). Just off the highway, a road leads you up to a spot where you can see the highway and the river.
This is more than just a viewpoint, though. It’s the former site of another significant part of the Columbia River Gorge Highway. When the two-lane road was originally built, a tunnel was needed, to allow the highway to pass through the rock at Mitchell Point.
The rock wall dropped down directly into the river, leaving no room for a road to pass. Construction crews came up with a beautiful solution to this problem–an attractive tunnel that featured five windows, looking out onto the river.
Unfortunately, the Mitchell Point Tunnel no longer exists. It was blasted away in 1966.
The Dalles Dam
As you drive along Interstate 84 you’ll pass three huge dams, which generate electricity and control the mighty Columbia (it was much more wild when Lewis & Clark passed through here!). You should definitely stop to check out at least one of the dams, and during this trip I chose the Dalles Dam, located astride the Oregon/Washington border just north of The Dalles, Oregon.
There’s a visitor center on the Oregon side. From the parking lot you can enjoy this view of the dam. The Dalles Dam doesn’t cut straight across the river, instead its mid-section runs parallel to the river (imagine if you straightened out a letter “Z” so it had 90 degree angles). The water discharge you see above isn’t anywhere near the dam’s spillways.
Step inside the small visitor’s center to find out if any tours are available. During my visit in 2006, tours inside the dam had been suspended, due to homeland security concerns.
– It lies almost entirely in the state of Washington
– Its powerhouse is nearly 1/2 mile long, with 22 generating units, cranking out a maximum of 1.8 million kilowatts
– The locks next to the dam can handle a 650 ft. barge, lifting it up to 90 feet.
You can browse the US Army Corps of Engineers’ website for more information.
No surprise, there are plenty of power lines leading here.
What a surprise! There’s Mt. Hood. If you’ve been driving east, heading away from Portland, it’s likely you didn’t notice it there. Westbound travelers, however, will find themselves staring at it for quite a while.
Note: This trip was first published in 2006. Much of the same area was covered in the Big Sky trip in 2014.