You may have seen Travel Oregon’s new promotional campaign in television commercials, print advertisements or on its website. It’s called “The Seven Wonders of Oregon.”
The Portland agency Wieden+Kennedy designed the campaign, but I think their efforts fell short of their mark: Certainly, there are more than seven wonders in our state.
Here’s how Travel Oregon announces the campaign:
“There are Seven Wonders of the World, and not a single one of them is here in Oregon. All we can figure is whoever came up with the list must have never set foot here. They must have never seen Mount Hood or the grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge. They certainly didn’t explore the Oregon Coast. The exposed earth of the Painted Hills, Smith Rock’s towers of volcanic ash and the alpine peaks of the Wallowas were overlooked as well. Even Crater Lake, the deepest lake in America, was left off their list.
“So we see your wonders, world. And raise you seven of our own. And we invite you to not just see them, but experience them. Because our wonders aren’t just for taking pictures of — to truly say you’ve seen our wonders, you have to get out of the car, hike down from the scenic vista and feel them beneath your feet.”
I agree with the sentiment. So to the original list, I have added two that I consider essential — Oregon Caves and Hells Canyon. Neither one of them can be seen from the safety of your car.
There is no landmark that says “Oregon” to the outside world so much as 11,245-foot Mount Hood. The first sighting of the state’s highest peak by Europeans was by Capt. George Vancouver’s 1792 expedition, and this “very high, snowy mountain,” as it was described, has captured the imagination of travelers ever since.
Timberline Lodge, now a renowned national historic landmark, was built high on Mount Hood during the Great Depression. In just 22 months, laborers for the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps built the lodge by hand, using stone and timber from the mountain itself, plus other recycled and repurposed materials.
Skiing, hiking, mountaineering and other outdoor sports now keep visitors coming year-round. Timberline is one of several ski areas, including Mount Hood Meadows — on the peak’s eastern flank — and Skibowl, just outside the hub community of Government Camp. In summer, Skibowl becomes an adventure park with zip-lining, alpine slides and other family activities.
The old Barlow Road, representing the last leg of the continental crossing for mid-19th-century Oregon Trail pioneers, circles the south side of Mount Hood. Numerous interpretive plaques and other historic markers recall the path.
Columbia River Gorge
The first designated National Scenic Area (established in 1986), the gorge surrounds the historic Columbia River Highway, built between 1913 and 1922 and stretching 75 miles from Troutdale to The Dalles east of Portland. The highway is credited with introducing modern tourism to the Pacific Northwest, with campgrounds, roadhouses and lodges catering to tourists.
At its wetter western end, the highway weaves past the stunning Chanticleer Point scenic viewpoint and the classic Vista House at Crown Point State Park, 733 feet above the Columbia River. It also passes numerous waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, second-highest falls in the United States, plunging 611 feet in two cataracts.
The eastern end of the gorge beyond Hood River is much drier, but it is no less scenic. Just west of The Dalles, the highway winds through wildflower-rich Tom McCall Preserve and over Rowena Crest, with a descent along a series of graceful switchbacks. And near its east end, on the Washington shore, such enigmatic creations of Quaker leader Sam Hill as a war-memorial replica of Stonehenge and the Maryhill Museum of Art rise on bluffs above the river.
Today, tourism takes a different form than it did before World War II. The gorge is home to highly regarded wineries and breweries, and prevailing winds on the Columbia River have made the gorge world-renowned for wind surfing and kite boarding.
The 363-mile-long coastline — from Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, south to Brookings, where the redwood forests of California spill over into Oregon — is followed along its entire course by U.S. Highway 101.
En route, this national scenic byway follows long, rocky beaches and clings to seaside cliffs, overlooks picturesque lighthouses and derelict shipwrecks, passes miles of wind-sculpted sand dunes and more than 50 state parks and recreation areas, and visits dozens of communities — some of them tourist towns, others with bustling fishing harbors.
From the Columbia’s mouth, where explorers Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06 at Fort Clatsop, the highway visits the old-time resort town of Seaside, the arts community of Cannon Beach and the surfing center of Pacific City. Beyond Lincoln City, amid rugged headlands, is the whale-watching capital of Depoe Bay. Newport is famed for its bustling harbor and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. South of Yachats, Sea Lion Caves protect a remarkable grotto whose scores of denizens maintain a constant roar.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, 50 miles long, extends from Florence to Coos Bay, the largest coastal harbor between Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay. Coastal scenery remains dramatic around Cape Blanco lighthouse; Gold Beach, where jet boats head up the wild and scenic Rogue River; and the panoramic vistas of Boardman State Park.
Within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, layers of lakebed sediments and fossilized soils have left an artist’s palette 33 million years old. In the Painted Hills, vividly striped hummocks, bands of burnt-orange and ocher-yellow, olive-green and rust-red, lay a unique veneer upon the arid landscape.
There are four short trails here. The Painted Hills Overlook Trail gives the best overall view of this vibrant landscape, its appearance changing as clouds come and go. The striations of paleosols, or fossil soils, layered between sediments left by ancient lakebeds, have created a colorful and mineral-rich canvas. Twenty-nine different minerals have contributed to the hues of these barren clay hills.
Not far away, the Painted Cove Trail winds through red and gold clay-stone hills on an elevated walkway; from this angle, they appeared as giant mounds of colored popcorn.
The Painted Hills are just one of three parcels within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The Sheep Rock Unit contains several fossil quarries at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. The Clarno Unit preserves subtropical plant fossils from more than 40 million years ago, including a diversity of fossil wood unmatched on Earth.
Central Oregon’s “wonder” is Smith Rock, north of Redmond. Embraced by Smith Rock State Park, it boasts sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt that rise hundreds of feet directly above the Crooked River, earning it acclaim as the birthplace of modern American sport climbing. Rock climbers of all ability levels, including many experts from foreign countries, gather at Smith Rock to test its cutting-edge routes.
First-time visitors might be forgiven for thinking they’ve been transported to the canyonlands of southern Utah: The view from the parking area is reminiscent of the red-rock gorges of Zion National Park, with precipices towering above the meandering river. And nonclimbers may behold a similar panorama as they ascend the Misery Ridge Trail and wind around Monkey Face, an unmistakable sentinel above the high desert.
Smith Rock has served as a film location for several notable features, including “Rooster Cogburn” (1975), with John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn; “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” (1994), with Uma Thurman; “The Postman” (1997), with Kevin Costner; and “Swordfish” (2001), with John Travolta.
In so many ways, Wallowa County is the proverbial end of the road. All alone in Oregon’s isolated northeastern corner, its lofty peaks surround a spectacular glacial lake, a nationally acclaimed community of bronze sculptors in Joseph and beautiful ranchland that spreads to the rugged chasm of Hells Canyon.
The summer tourist season is short, and even at the peak of that season, velvet-antlered mule deer sidestep small tents to graze in the state park’s campground. Meanwhile, the region’s No. 1 man-made tourist attraction, the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mount Howard, is lucky to fill every third cab.
Above deep-blue Wallowa Lake, nestled in the cradle of moraines, foot and horseback trails climb into the Eagle Cap Wilderness, long ago nicknamed “America’s Alps.”