It was just the right way to experience what the gorge has to offer, and left us wanting to return for more.
Finding A Campground For Our Explorations
We landed at LePage campground for the first part of our stay, a small Corps of Engineers park at the confluence of the John Day River and the Columbia. It was a bargain compared to the forty dollars it costs to stay across the river at the state park in Washington.
Our intention was to be close to Columbia Hills State Park. We had reservations for a petroglyph tour, and we wanted to be in a good location for exploring the eastern end of the gorge before moving downriver. I have a knack for finding interesting things to do. I’m not always as successful at the logistics, especially when MapQuest doesn’t recognize locations and the address given for campgrounds is simply a nearby town, which may be 20 miles away. Hence, we ended up driving about 30 miles to our petroglyph tour, when we would have only been about 15 miles away in our second camping location when we moved farther west.
In the space of just a few days, we hiked to ancient petroglyph ruins, biked along the Deschutes River, visited the Maryhill Museum of Art, and stumbled upon what appeared to be the world’s smallest bluegrass festival.
Here, the highlights of our exploration of the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge:
Petroglyph Tour, Columbia Hills State Park, WA
For centuries, the salmon spawning grounds of Celilo Falls were a gathering place for native tribes. The damming of the Columbia pretty much put an end to the native way of life. But rickety wooden fishing platforms still hover over the river—some directly across from The Dalles dam.
When the area was flooded, a portion of the ancient sacred rock art was relocated to higher ground near one of the most famous petroglyphs in North America—Tsagaglalal, “She Who Watches.” Today, Horsethief Butte is the best place in the Pacific Northwest to see ancient rock art. This is still a sacred pilgrimage site for native peoples and the only way to visit is with a guide.
Biking the Deschutes River Trail
Just a few miles from our campground, the Deschutes River Trail follows an old railroad line that has been converted for hiking and biking. There are great views of the Deschutes River below, few people on the trail, good wildlife sightings, and river access for cooling off. Although it was close to 90 degrees on the day we rode the trail, it was still a beautiful ride. There’s a nice state campground there, too, for future reference.
A Delightful Art Museum And A Bluegrass Festival
We spent a couple of hours at the Maryhill Museum of Art, an eclectic little museum overlooking the Columbia with an excellent array of native art.
And we happened upon a bluegrass festival in Goldendale. We spent a relaxing couple of hours enjoying what had to be the world’s smallest bluegrass festival while drinking local wines and brews. Our $5 ticket included free admission to the Goldendale Observatory that evening for a viewing of the full moon. The clouds obscured the moon just as we made our way to the telescope but it didn’t matter; we still had a great time!