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The 7 Wonders of the Columbia River Gorge

It's fun to learn about the original 7 (man-made) wonders of the world. But over time, all but one has disappeared (The Pyramids of Giza). It's said that one may have never existed at all (The Hanging Gardens of Babylon). So, you can't actually travel to all but one of those wonders. What a shame…

On the contrary, when it comes to the Columbia River Gorge, there are 7 man-made wonders still intact. During a visit to the Rally in the Gorge you can visit all seven during the 5 days of the rally and we'll be providing routes to each of these.

You may be wondering just what these 7 Wonders of the Columbia River Gorge are. Follow along in chronological order now.

The Historic Maryhill Loops Road

Originally laid in 1911, this road was the very first paved road built west of the Mississippi. Designed by Sam Lancaster, the road was the predecessor to the Columbia River Highway, and it provided many lessons when the latter was built. In the late 1940s the road was bypassed by the creation of Highway 97. During the 1960s the road was officially closed to motor vehicle traffic as more and more large rigs including RVs had to be hauled out of the ravines below due to the tight radii of the corners. The pavement of the road is still maintained today and gets a fresh surface every 5-10 years.

We will have the road open on Saturday during the rally. From 10-1, Jesse Murphy will lead a clinic focusing on body positioning for an additional fee. The session provides one-way traffic for the students. In the afternoon the road will be open 1-4 pm to allow all other registered riders of the rally to ride the road. The format will be two way. Both sessions will require a rally registration as well as insurance specific to you and your bike. No swapping of bikes is allowed during these sessions.

Historic Columbia River Highway

With the lessons of the Maryhill Loops Road under his belt, Sam Hill attempted to persuade Washington to build a full-length paved highway between Portland and the Maryhill area. The governor of Washington at the time, Ernest Lister, wasn't interested. Oregon's governor, Oswald West, on the other hand was very interested and awarded Hill and his chief engineer, Sam Lancaster, with $75,000 to get the job done. Construction began in 1913 and was completed in 1926 - well over budget. The cost of the Vista House rest stop alone ran $70,000. Nothing compared to the million dollar restoration in 2006.

Rally attendees enjoy various sections of this road that remain open today as alternates to using Interstate 84 and for good reason. The road features some fantastic figure eight elevation climbs, radii of no less than 200 feet on any of its many 180-degree corners. The sections between Multnomah Falls and Troutdale, and Mosier and The Dalles are common navigation routes, but we know of several other sections not so obvious that can be legally accessed on two wheels.

The Maryhill Museum

Built between 1914 and 1926, this was never meant to be a museum at all. Sam Hill envisioned it to be his home, but that never came to be and at the time of its completion, it was dedicated as a museum. The highly-prized collection of Rodin sculptures, chess boards, Indian baskets and more make this a fine art museum in the middle of nowhere and one of the best in the Pacific Northwest.

Riders can visit the museum during regular business hours while at the rally, but Saturday during the Maryhill Road opening may be the most convenient.

Vista House

Built between 1916 and 1918, the Vista House is perched atop Oregon's Crown Point along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Although officially a museum today, the original design was that of a world-class rest stop along the ornate route between Portland and The Dalles. And ornate it is, featuring leaded glass windows, stunning views of the Gorge and river below, and its Art Nouveau concrete work.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, rally attendees can visit during regular business hours any day of the rally. It is a featured stop on this year's Mission: Museum Fun Run.

Stonehenge War Memorial

Built between 1918 and 1929, this replica of England's Stonehenge is the closest some people ever get to seeing the real thing. This one is still in one piece and all the mathematical engineering that went into the original is here at work, right down to the compass direction of the structure. Sam Hill dedicated it to the veterans of World War I, and later it additionally became a dedicated structure to lost soldiers of the Vietnam War. How fitting that many consider the large slab at its center as having been used as a sacrificial platform in ancient times.

Riders can visit the memorial, free of charge anytime during the rally, but Saturday during the Maryhill Road opening may be the most convenient.

Bridge of the Gods

Originally completed in 1926, this cantilever erector set of a bridge was built to connect the town of Cascade Locks with North Bonneville. Its span was 1,126 feet. But a funny thing happened in 1940 when the Bonneville Dam was built. In order to maintain the crossing, it had to be raised 44 feet and extended to 1,856 feet. The bridge that was built twice? Yes.

Riders can visit the bridge anytime during the rally and it's suggested you dismount at the base of the bridge in Cascade Locks to read through the informational boards there.

Bonneville Lock and Dam

While many dams have been built on the Columbia River, what makes this one most unique is that it was built in two parts: a north side and a south side, with an island in between. The south side includes a lock for moving cargo and touring boats up and down the river. Construction began in 1934 and was completed in 1937.

Rally attendees are encouraged to visit here at either of its north or south visitors' centers (the south is more robust in history). Also, on the south side lies a fish hatchery worthy of dismounting and exploring. The nearby spawning pool features one of the largest sturgeons in captivity, 'Herman.'

Summary

Just about anyone who has visited the Rally in the Gorge can attest to what marvels these wonders are. It may not be possible to reach them all in one visit, but then again, you can pick up what you miss the next year.

And beyond these 7 wonders, there's also 7 Natural Wonders of the Columbia River Gorge. But that is another story.

Tom Mehren/July 2019


Tom Mehren is the author of Motorcycle Rides through the Columbia River Gorge, as well as Dual Sport Rides through the Columbia River Gorge. Each guidebook is available in the Sound RIDER! store. For more information about the Rally in the Gorge and to register, visit www.soundrider.com/rally.


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