The Long Puddle
Huh? Well, after all, the valley where the river runs through it used to be under the ocean. Then it was a shallow marine bay. Then it was full of volcanic spew. Then a tropical oasis. Then a puddle. But that was all stretching millions of years ago. Now it is a valley where a river runs through it. With lots of people, too.
When I left Oregon back in 1998, the only large major city was Portland on the Columbia River. Smaller communities to small towns, college towns to agricultural centers. Even the state capitol, Salem, was small by modern standards in most eastern states, even here in Texas. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, Corvallis was just right.
Agriculture was everywhere: from large corporate tracts of wheat, oats, corn and nearly everything that can be grown, mid-sized family and local farms, to small mom-and-pop pick-your-own and roadside stands. One of the joys during the growing season was to drive to the 3-acre blueberry field and pick a flats of blueberries. Or stop by one of the many roadside stands and buy a week's worth or produce grown right next to the stand. Even go pick out your beef critter and place an order for the butcher (or in my case, sell lambs and sheepskins).
No matter where you drove, you would pass more than a few logging trucks coming off the coastal hills or high Cascades. About the first of November, you'd see tractor trailers full of tied Christmas trees bound for California and the southern states.
Typical of Oregon and Washington, the Willamette Valley was a favorable place to grow almost anything, and people had easy access to locally grown food and wood products. They still do, but the Valley is now becoming full of people and their accouterments: cars, noise, traffic jams, more noise, smoke, lights, noise. It seems this is what follows people like the odor of skunks waddling down the roads. Our first inkling to that was on the way into the Valley from the Columbia Gorge.
Can't Get There From Here
Since I was co-piloting, we headed for the byway that circumvents most of the Portland metromess on the east side: 205. I've driven it many times and it's always been a scenic and less congested alternative to I-5, which intersects the city. Little did we know that it would be just as jam-packed as the Interstate. As we slowly headed our way south, we found ourselves stopped in traffic. Like everyone else. We crawled for awhile and then I saw a digital road sign warning of a traffic accident on I-5 southbound; expect delays. What it didn't say was the Interstate south was closed because of the accident.
We finally escaped off of 205 to find an alternate route south. The only problem was the accident was also just south of the river. And the bridges that cross the river are very far and few between. We also realized other drivers were ditching the interstate with the same idea we had. So even off the Interstate, we were still crawling.
We zigzagged back and forth for a few hours. Then I realized we were near a backway that I used to drive north to Portland. After we found that, along with the other hundreds of drivers fleeing I-5 during Friday rush hour, we inched along south. As we drove, I realized that all the sleepy tiny little rural communities were now bulging with gas stations, Starbucks, chain stores, Home Despots, Block Stores everywhere. The only difference between there and here in Texas was the obvious dearth of lines of roadside strip malls.
In all, what should have taken an hour and 1/2 (62 miles), took almost five hours. By the time we got to my daughter's house, we were exhausted. Luckily, dinner was waiting: a Tex-Mex dinner in honor of guests from Texas.
We barely got the pop-up set up before dark. Once dinner was done, I hit the bed, grateful for the breeze, crickets and occasional barking dog.
Lesson learned: Avoid I-5 completely, and never take I-84 west of The Dalles. A preferred route next time will be Hwy 20 or 26 west out of Vale, or turn south at The Dalles on 197 (or 97). All three options lead into and through eastern and central Oregon, then crossing the Cascades at one of the several passes. Much better option and worth the scenery.
Heck, might not even get into the Valley at all.