Columbia River is seen from this vantage point in Tom McCall Preserve
at the east end of the Columbia Gorge.
Photo by William Sullivan
to McCall Preserve
of early spring wildflowers overlooking the Columbia River
the Hike: This cliff-edged plateau of oak grasslands and wildflowers
belongs to the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit group that quietly
purchases ecologically sensitive land. The preserve has two public
trails: an easy path that passes several ponds to a cliff overlooking
the Columbia River, and a steep trail that climbs to a panorama
atop McCall Point.
this is a nature preserve, dogs, horses and bicycles are not allowed.
Camping, flower picking and off-trail hiking are also banned. And
remember to wear long pants if you're taking the upper trail, as
it passes poison oak.
An easy, level 1.1-mile trail ambles across the plateau to the river
viewpoint. The tougher trail to McCall Point gains 1,100 feet in
Open all year, but the best time to visit this dry eastern end of
the Columbia Gorge is spring, when flowers dot the slopes. Grass
widows are at their showiest in mid March, while yellow balsamroot
and blue lupine peak in late April. Avoid the heat of July and August.
There: From Hood River, drive Interstate 84 east to Mosier exit
69 and follow "Scenic Loop" signs 6.6 miles to the Rowena Crest
Viewpoint parking area. From The Dalles, take Rowena exit 76 and
follow the old Columbia River Highway west to the viewpoint.
Tips: The easy path to the lower plateau starts at a stile and
signboard on the opposite side of the old Columbia River Highway
from the Rowena Loop Viewpoint's entrance road. In spring, look
here for balsamroot, purple vetch, bachelor buttons, and white yarrow.
Ten-inch-long ground squirrels zip about the fields from February
to June but hibernate the other seven months.
0.3 mile take a right-hand fork of the trail around a pond full
of lilypads and cattails. Listen for the melodious warble of western
meadowlarks. The trail loops past a cliff-edge viewpoint and returns
to the main trail. Continue out the plateau past a smaller, poison-oak-fringed
pond, and reach trail's end at a cliff above the Columbia. Note
the eight layers of basalt in the opposite cliffs, evidence of the
lava floods that deluged Eastern Oregon and created this plateau
10 to 17 million years ago.
try the steeper path up McCall Point (open May through October),
return to the parking area and look for a trail sign on the right
at the start of the parking loop. This path joins an ancient road
and turns left along the rim edge. When the trail forks at a large
signboard, switchback up to the right on a steep path. The trail
switchbacks steeply up the ridgecrest through scrub oak (and poison
oak) to a summit meadow with glorious views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams
and the entire eastern Columbia Gorge.
view of Mt. Hood from Tom McCall Point.
by William Sullivan
This eastern segment of the Columbia River Highway was mostly the
work of Conde McCullough, a brilliant young engineer who joined
the state highway department in 1919. McCullough is famed for the
airy, arching concrete bridges he designed, especially here and
along the Oregon Coast (for example, in Newport and Coos Bay).
name Tom McCall Point honors the maverick Oregon governor who, when
given a chance to promote tourism on the CBS Evening News in 1971,
bewildered a nationwide audience by telling them to "Come visit
us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But, for heaven's
sake, don't come here to live."
lanky, unpredictable politician dared to oppose pro-growth business
interests and fought instead for Oregon's quality of life. Oregonians
re-elected him by a landslide. When McCall passed away, locals proposed
renaming Mt. Washington or even Mt. Hood in his honor. Finally his
name landed here, on a promontory overlooking the Columbia Gorge,
the traditional gateway for Oregon newcomers.
Ice Age floods roared repeatedly down the Columbia Gorge, caused
by a glacier that dammed a giant lake in Montana. Although the last
such flood was 12,000 years ago, it covered this plateau 200 feet
deep, scouring it to bedrock. Since then, eruptions of Mt. St. Helens
have dumped a total of three feet of ash here.
this volcanic soil must have been evenly distributed, now you can
notice the powdery dirt is heaped into low, circular, 50-foot-wide
humps. These mysterious "biscuit mounds" are particularly obvious
in evening light. Early geologists attributed the phenomenon to
everything from glaciers to ground squirrels. Today the most widely
accepted theory is that earthquakes shook the powdery soil together,
in the same way that tapping a cookie sheet makes an even layer
of flour collect in rhythmic piles.