“Roll on Columbia, Roll on..” those were the words of a folk song and a fitting theme for our trip. The song was written in 1941, by Woody Guthrie an american folk singer. The song was about the New Deal and the public works projects that added 11 hydroelectric dams to the river. It became the official folk song of Washington State in 1987. Our trip this week for Independance Day features 2 spots on the Columbia River. We didn’t originally plan it that way but our added vacation time gave us a chance to hit another park before our long planned trip to Maryhill State Park with my Aunt and Uncle. Coincidently both parks are on the Columbia River, as was our last trip at Cape Disappointment where the Columbia River meets the Pacific. Our first stop was Wanapum State Park.
Wanapum State Park, or the Ginko Petrified Forest State Park as it is also known is conveniently located just off 1-90 in the town of Vantage, only a 2 and a half hour drive from Seattle. It sits on a bluff just above Lake Wanapum,which is the name of the lake that formed when the Wanapum Dam was built on the Columbia River. This area is full of history from the prehistoric times to when Lewis and Clark met the Wanapum Indians on their quest to find the Pacific Ocean. Wanapum means “River People” in the Sahaptin language. The Wanapum lived in tule huts alongside the banks of the river where they hunted salmon and cut petroglyphs into the basalt cliffs. Several of these petroglyphs are now on display at the Ginko Petrified Forest museum in Vantage. You can also see several petrified logs that were preserved 12,000-18000 years ago during the great Ice Age Floods. The museum is open daily from 10-6 but when we arrived there on a Monday afternoon there was not a soul in sight. Sadly, we were only able to see the outside of the museum. Along with the Museum, the State Park offers multiple hikes in the area to view these petrified logs in their original state. We did not go on any of the hikes due to the oppressive, hot, weather. This is also rattlesnake country so before you venture out on a hike be prepared.
We spent 3 nights at Wanapum in the most beautiful campsite on the bluff. Unfortunately the oppressive heat wave we were under stifled some of our plans and we mostly just hung out at camp. Our Air Conditioning was barely working. The temperatures for the 3 days we were there were above 100 degrees, capping at 107 on the third night. The RV was rarely below 90 so it was hot, hot, hot for all of us. Thankfully Wanapum has a very nice swimming beach where we were able to go to stay cool. We also have misters that we attach to our awning. This made sitting outside in the evening tolerable. This park gets super windy at night but luckily the first 2 nights were a dead calm. The third night however it was almost as if our campsite was smack in the middle of the Boeing Wind Tunnel! When people say it gets windy here they aren’t joking. Don’t even try to camp here in a tent. Our “neighbors” couldn’t even keep their tent up, one time getting stuck inside the tent as it fell on them. I was really thankful for the electronic awning at this park as when the wind picked up, in came the awning. After a night in the wind tunnel we were ready to move on to our next stop, Maryhill State Park.
We hit the road first thing in the morning for our 3 hour drive south to Maryhill, on the banks of the Columbia right across the river from Oregon. We took Hwy 97 south through Yakima to get there which was a drive with several up and down grades, almost like a roller coaster. There are some amazing views in this area, especially as you get closer to Yakima. You’ll be able to see the back side of Mt. Rainer, an incredible view of Mt. Adams, and a distant view of Mt. Hood. Both peaks protrude above the rather arid landscape in all their snow-capped glory. The Yakima Valley is a plush, green place standing out against the dry grass but once out of Yakima it is nothing but brown hills, windmills, and the occasional peak at Mt. Hood in the distance. The road to the state park is precarious at best, going down 5% grade with switchbacks to get to the park entrance. We did fine but there were several semi trucks in front of us burning their brakes on their way down. Maryhill State Park is an oasis of green, popping out at you as you ascend down the hill to the park. We were looking forward to our 5 days of relaxation here.
Maryhill State Park, our second stop on the Columbia River, is a beautiful, lush park just on the edge of the Columbia River Gorge. The park is on the Washington side of the river right off of Hwy 97. Surrounded by two highways, and two rail lines on each side of the river surprisingly this park is very peaceful and serene. Our campsite was on the inner ring of a huge grass field with a peek a boo view of the river. A short walk takes you to a massive day use area, with a swim beach, boat dock and a few covered wind shelters for picnickers. This park is a haven for windsurfers, and kite surfers. Across the river is the nearby town of Wasco(that name makes me think of the Dukes of Hazard) where the golden arches of McDonalds are prominently placed so you can hear the “Can we go get McDonalds” 50 times a day. There is a lot of things to do and see here. We didn’t get to see as much as we had planned but what we did see was amazing. Goldendale, WA is the Klickitat County Seat and about a 30 minute drive up the hill. While we were here the Goldendale Community Days were in full swing. We could’ve spent the entire 5 days there with all the activities but we chose one, and the boys headed on up for the Demolition Derby and motocross leaving the ladies back at camp to get some much needed relaxation time. The derby was held at the Klickitat County Fairgrounds and thousands of people were there. It was a fun day in the hot sun for the boys. They came back with pizza smeared faces, and smiles. We went back up to Goldendale the next day to go to the grocery store. They have 2 in town, both very small stores, but were sufficient for what we needed. While we were there we stopped for lunch at the Townhouse Restaurant, right next to the courthouse. It was a quaint little restaurant inside an old house with really good food. It was a budget buster on price though but my son says it was the most amazing steak sandwich he’s ever had in his life.
Maryhill is such a beautiful area. We set out the next day to visit the sights close to the park, some of which are within biking distance. Our first stop was the Maryhill Museum of Art. The views from the museum alone were worth the drive but what lies in the Museum is a treasure trove of art. The boys were not too thrilled looking at art, until we reached the giant chess sets, but I was loving all the rich history from all the paintings and paraphernalia. The art museum itself is inside of what can only be described as a castle which was built in 1914 for Sam Hill’s daughter Mary. It is a beautiful concrete house with loads of character and amazing views of the river. The house was never lived in as it was turned into an art museum which was one of Sam Hill’s most notable achievements. Sam Hill is also known for designing the Stonehenge Memorial, and the Peach Arch on the Washington-Canadian border.
Our next stop for the day was the Maryhill Winery, another spectacular place. The winery hosts concerts all summer long. There was not a concert the week we were there, but Hall and Oats were coming a couple weeks later. We would’ve liked to have seen that. The concerts are held on a stage overlooking the river. You can view the concert from the tiered grass below or from the deck of the winery itself where you can sip one of many award winning wines while you take in the music. Inside the winery they offer wine tasting for a fee, which will get refunded if you purchase a bottle of their wine. We sampled their “classic” offering of wines and left with three bottles. They also offer lunch there. We may have taken in the view with a light lunch, and bottle of wine had we not had the kids with us. Perhaps next time.
Last but not least we took a visit to the Stonehenge Memorial also built by Sam Hill. It is an exact replica of Stonehenge in England. He built this memorial to honor the fallen soldiers of World War I. The construction of the monument began in 1918 but wasn’t completed until 1930. Sam Hill lived just long enough to see it’s completion. He died in 1931 and his tomb lies near Stonehenge. Stonehenge in England was rumored to be some sort of sun dial but to this day there are many legends surrounding the place. This version is what Stonehenge would’ve looked like in it’s non-deteriorated state. The spot this memorial rests on is high up on the bluff overlooking Maryhill State Park. You can get here by taking the road right out of the park. It is within biking distance if you like hills. The views from up here are second to none. Names of the fallen soldiers are carved into each pillar making this a very humble place to be. What a great way to remember our American Heroes.
We had such a great time on our vacation on the Columbia River. We can’t wait till we return to this beautiful area. Before we left we loaded up on peaches from the local fruit stands in the area. Make sure to pick yourself up some when you are there. We elected to take the longer way home this time to avoid the steep grades and curves of Hwy 97. We took 1-84 on the Oregon side of the river where we connected up with I-5. It took about 30 minutes longer then normal but holiday weekend traffic made it a 7 hr drive home for us. It is however the better route to go for future reference, and a beautiful drive at that through the Columbia River Gorge.
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