Sunday, September 6, 2009

Descent into Portland

The sun slipped below the horizon as we began our descent, the sky casting a bright blue glow over the darkening world below.

Bird's eye view of Mt. Jefferson, sister volcano to Mt. Hood, 45 miles to the south. Taken from above Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood during a Booktraveler visit to Portland summer of 2008.

Descending into Portland offers some of the most breathtaking vistas in the country. From the right side of the plane you get spectacular views of the mighty Columbia River Gorge framed by the intermittent high volcanic peaks of the Washington Cascades.

Columbia River Gorge from the Washington State side looking east. Also taken in 2008.

First to come in to view is the massive Mt. Adams, second highest peak in the Cascade Range at a glacier encrusted 12,307 feet. Next, the infamous Mt. St. Helens, at 8,366 feet, 1,311 feet lower than it stood prior to its eruption in 1980, the deadliest (57 killed or missing) and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Finally, another 50 miles to the north, you can just make out the imposing humpback outline of Mt. Rainier, the regions tallest, most famous and most photographed volcanic giant at 14,411 feet.

Mount Hood, viewed from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, heading east on highway 26. Summer, 2008.

I was on the left side of the plane this evening however, and that means peering down through the darkening sky at a the single most amazingly beautiful and prominent feature of the northern Oregon landscape: Mt. Hood. This craggy, snow covered peak rises 11,249 feet above sea level, making it Oregon's tallest.

As the plane veers down on its final approach to Portland International Airport, the mountain rises to fill the entire southern skyline, it's rocky peak looking close enough to touch as the plane passes over the glacier-encrusted expanse. With no other mountains of similar magnitude nearby, Mt. Hood stands alone, towering high above the lush green Cascades, an awe-inspiring sentinel to the immense and timeless forces of nature.

It had been a late winter season in the northwest, a point made abundantly clear by the heavy late summer snow pack still blanketing the higher reaches of the peak. This "most climbed" of Oregonian mountains is attempted by over 10,000 people a year, so I guess it's no surprise that 130 people have met their untimely end amid its lofty, snow covered crevasses and crags.

I've been to the northwest three times and have always wanted to climb this alluring peak. It would have to wait yet again, as plans called for only one mountain ascent this stage of the trip, and that was up the 10,363 foot South Sister near Bend, Oregon. But first things first.

After landing, my Portland host steered us to an astoundingly good Spanish-themed "Tapas" restaurant in the historic northeast end of town with the apropos name of Toro Bravo or Fighting Bull. Their superb menu and tremendous drink selection made it an evening well worth remembering. I can't recommend this place enough if you find yourself in Portland in search of a good meal after a long day, or on any other day for that matter.

Stuffed and somewhat more than mildly inebriated, I turned in for the night at my host's cozy abode, thinking over the long and eventful day which started in the high mountain valley of Buena Vista, Colorado. Tomorrow I would head in to town via the nearby Broadway Bridge. My meanderings will lead me to the many used and indie bookstores of Portland including, of course, the inimitable Powell's "City of Books" which dominates an entire city block of the nearby Pearl District.

But for now - full, tired and happy, I vanquish myself to the world of dreams, visions of great literary travels coursing through synapses. Good night!

Next post: Bookish Meanderings through the Tattooed Land of the Politically Correct. Join me won't you?

Until then-


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