Sunday, March 13, 2005


Originally uploaded by Martina.
Every year (except for last year, and I still don't knkow how it happened, but suspect voodoo might have been involed), my friends and I make a pilgrimage to the not-so-ancient Stonhenge replica that stands on a bluff overlooking the little town of Maryill, Washington. I do not remember how the tradition started or even why, although I suspect it may have had something to do with This is Spinal Tap. What I do know is that it is an unspoken rule that the journey must be made at least once a year. It is simply how it has always been (assuming time began in the early 90's) and ever shall be (unless we forget like last year).

The weather in the Pacific Northwest has been unseasonably warm and sunny, so a couple Saturdays ago, we jumped in my car and headed East through the Columbia River Gorge Scenic area. If I haven't mentioned it before, now would be a good time to point out that the Gorge is one of my favorite places on earth. If I could write poetry that did not have the ring of a Hallmark Greeting, I would write it about the Gorge. Had the consumptive poets of the Romantic era known about it, I'm sure they would have written about it to. I am certain they would have come up with something better than:

Oh my Gorge you are so pretty
I think I will leave the city
And drive my car...I mean carriage
Out to you
Oh sweet Gorge you are so nice
And Vista House it adds (or at least will when it's built in 100 years)
some spice
And a lovely view

But back to the present and prose, the Gorge is beautiful (I would say gorgeous, but someone might hit me) and some of the views are absolutely stunning. Whenever I am there, I have to wonder how it must have been for settlers ending their journey on along the Oregon Trail to see it for the first time. I can't help but think that those who weren't cranky from the whole treacherous-journey-I-didn't-think-we'd-make-it-over-the-mountains-before- winter-and-I-told-you-we'd-need-more-in-the-conestoga-wagon-than-a-rocking-chair-a-banjo-whiskey-and-laudanum-oh-and-did-I-mention-I'm-starving thing. Even the snarky ones must have been at least a little impressed.

This time we did not spend much time in the Gorge proper. We did, however, stop for lunch at Big Jim's in The Dalles. Maybe it's because my grandfather used to live there long ago, but I've always liked The Dalles with its little red brick church and old timey Main Street. Most of all, though, I like the name.

The Dalles was named by a French trapper, Joseph Lavendure. A dalle is a flat stone, and French traders used the term to describe the river rapids near the site of the present city. Originally it was known as La Grande Dalle de la Columbia, but was later shortened to Dalles City and then The Dalles. History books will tell you that Lavendure was the first person to settle the area. This is true, if you're willing to ignore the Indians who got there some 9,000 years before him. As an abundant Salmon fishing area, it was already an established trade center long before any white settler laid eyes on it. Big Jim's, however, did not come until much later.

It's a good thing, because by the time we got there, we were pretty hungry. Big Jim's is one of those little local burger joints that have delicious, embarassingly cheap food and lots of it. They're especially fun in the summer, when they have fresh fruit shakes. It's the perfect place to stop on the way to the general Maryhill-Stonehenge area.

The thing I love about Washington's Stonehenge is that although it boasts itself a life-sized, faithful replica of Brittain's ancient stones, it looks like it was made from a giant plaster (well, really concrete) cast. Stonehenge was erected by local millionaire, Sam Hill, who built it as a monument to Klickitat County's war dead. Although it is a nice thing to remember those who have sacrificed, I'd always wondered "Why Stonehenge?" Apparently Hill, a Quaker pacifist, thought the original Stonehenge was a sacrificial site and built his version as a reminder that "humanity is still being sacrificed to the God of war". Some 75 years later a week away from the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it's still true. Given human nature, I suspect it will still be true 75 years hence.

Either way, you have to like the spirit of Hill's endeavor. I think he must have really loved the Gorge. He was involved in constructing the old highway and tried to found a Quaker colony at the site of the present day town of Maryhill. Furthermore, he built his mansion, which is now a lovely museum with an unexpected collection of Rodin sculptures, Native American artifacts and memorabilia from Queen Marie of Romania there and ultimately was buried at the foot of his war memorial. As many times as I had been there before, it wasn't until this last visit that I realized that a trail down the side of the bluff will take you down to the site of his eternal rest. Even later I noticed a convenient set of roughly hewn stone steps that will take you there too, but I have to say that I think the trail is probably more fun. Whichever way you go down, I highly recommend a visit not only to Hill's crypt overlooking the Columbia River, but Stonehenge and Maryhill as well.

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