Fall in love with the Columbia River Gorge

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Maryhill Museum surrounded by a sea of sage and lupine. Photo by Nayland Wilkins courtesy of Maryhill Museum.

By Heather Caro

Fall is the time of year when it’s easy to appreciate living somewhere with four seasons. The air is crisp and we can drive with our windows rolled down … finally. A great way to end summer and rev up autumn is with a road trip across Satus Pass. Grab a sweater (and a camera) and hit the road for a weekend filled with unexpected gems in the Columbia River Gorge.

Perched high above the Columbia River, the Maryhill Museum of Art defies convention. Landscaped gardens rise as though from an oasis in the middle of endless sage-flecked hills. The contrast has prompted many a passer-by to mutter, “Why in Sam Hill would anyone build a museum up there?”

And yet Maryhill’s origins are as interesting as its location.

In 1907, Sam Hill (interestingly enough, not the Sam Hill from the expression), a Harvard-educated, wealthy businessman and Quaker pacifist, purchased more than 5,000 acres along the Columbia River with the hopes of establishing his own Quaker farming community. In 1914, construction began on the hilltop mansion slated to be Hill’s home. However, the remote location of the site and the lack of irrigation eventually caused Hill’s utopian venture — and dream — to fail. By 1917, construction of the mansion (dubbed “Maryhill” after his daughter) had ceased.

But this was not the final page of the Maryhill story.

Encouraged by close friend Loie Fuller, a pioneer of modern dance, Hill’s vision was reinvented, and work began transforming the mansion into what eventually would become the Maryhill Museum of Art.

Through the work and donations of some influential friends — including Queen Marie of Romania and arts patron Alma Spreckels — Maryhill Museum opened to the public in 1940, nine years after Hill’s death.

Today, Maryhill’s expansive collection is one of the best in the state and includes Rodin sculptures (including the only pedestal-sized version of The Thinker), a vast Native American collection, European and American paintings, international chess sets and items that once belonged to Queen Marie, including her coronation gown and crown.

To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Maryhill’s seasonal exhibits are designed to charm all generations. From on-site glass blowers to comic book art (Randy Emberlin of Spider-Man fame will be on site Sept. 18), there is art for every taste.

While you’re there, be sure to check out the Outdoor Sculpture Garden. Visitors can wander the grounds and view large-scale works from contemporary sculptors such as Jeffery Weitzel’s The Grace Blue, or order a boxed lunch at Café Maryhill and picnic outside in the company of friendly peacocks.

Maryhill Museum's Outdoor Sculpture Garden is home to large scale works, such as Jeffrey Weitzel's The Grace Blue. Photo by Scott Thompsosn Courtesy of Maryhill Museum.

Day-trippers may find the Maryhill experience continues beyond its garden gates. Here are some sights you won’t want to overlook.

Have a love affair with the open road? Hill’s eclectic vision also included the 1909-1913 construction of the first asphalt-paved road in the Pacific Northwest, which connected the Maryhill community to Goldendale. Today, a section of Maryhill’s Loops Road is open to bicyclists and pedestrians. The stretch contains an astounding 25 curves (eight of which are hairpin) along a steep, 5 percent grade.

In July, the road received national attention as the location of the 2010 Festival of Speed downhill long-board skateboard race. During Car is King Weekend, Oct. 2-3, the stretch will be opened to cars from the past and present. Don’t miss this chance to take a spin on the historic road.

Visitors can also finish their trip — or start it — with a stop at the full-scale replica of England’s Stonehenge. Believing the original Stonehenge functioned for human sacrifices, Hill commissioned the Stonehenge Memorial as a tribute to local war veterans. The memorial, completed in 1929, was also the planned site of Hill’s Quaker village as well as Hill’s final resting place. After his death in 1931, Hill was cremated and interred to a crypt near the Stonehenge monument – overlooking his beloved Columbia River Gorge.

Maryhill Museum

509-773-3733

35 Maryhill Museum Drive

Goldendale, Wash.

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from March 15 through Nov. 15.

General admission is $7, seniors $6, children (ages 6-16) $2.

maryhillmuseum.org

Maryhill Winery's vine covered arbor frames views of the Columbia River Gorge. Photo courtesy of Maryhill Winery.

Living in a Valley brimming with fabulous wine options, it takes a lot to impress most Yakima oenophiles, but Maryhill Winery manages to fit the bill. Located minutes from the museum, Maryhill Winery is a destination that has made a big name for itself in recent years. Between picturesque views of the Columbia River, a 4,000-square-foot tasting room with ornate tasting bar, knowledgeable staff — and oh yeah, the wine — it’s easy to see why Maryhill is visited by more than 75,000 people each year. But what really sets this locale apart is its 4,000-seat amphitheater and renowned summer concert series. The venue is built into the existing slope of the Gorge and has played host to a variety of artists, including Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Natalie Merchant. The concerts are over for the 2010 season, but be sure to put them on your radar for next summer.

Maryhill Winery

877-MARYHILL or 509-773-1976

Highway 14, Goldendale, Wash.

Tasting Room Hours:  10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily

maryhillwinery.com

If a day filled with culture and wine inspires a sleepover, there are a few notable lodging options close by. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, Celilo Inn in The Dalles, Ore., is a 46-room hotel with seasonal outdoor pool, espresso bar and fitness facility. The inn was recently renovated and boasts a retro-urban style. But for those interested in less-conventional sleeping arrangements, we recommend catching some winks at the historic Balch Hotel in nearby Dufur, Ore. The carefully restored 1907 brick hotel is run more like a B&B and features 20 rooms, including a master suite. Rooms facing south include private bath facilities, and many feature views of Mount Hood. The three-story hotel is a popular wedding destination and offers plenty of turn-of-the-20th century charm, such as claw-foot tubs and antique furnishings. Visitors are encouraged to “unplug” during their stay, and rooms do not include televisions or phones, though complimentary Wi-Fi is provided for patrons who must stay connected.

Balch Hotel offers visitors plenty of turn-of-the-20th century charm. Photo courtesy of Balch Hotel.

Chocolate chip cookies before bed and a breakfast for two are included in room rates (many under $100). Owners Jeff and Samantha Irwin are well known for their hospitality and can point visitors in the right direction for area attractions such as hikes, bike trails and local dining.

Celilo Inn

541-769-0001

3550 E. Second St.

The Dalles, Ore.

celiloinn.com

Balch Hotel

541-467-2277

40 S. Heimrich St.

Dufur, Ore.

balchhotel.com

Plan your Gorge getaway around these events:

Comics at the Crossroads: Art of the Graphic Novel

Thirty Northwest artists who are on the vanguard of comic art and who are pushing into new territory.  Sept. 18-Nov. 15

Car is King Weekend

Open car shows, races for kids and vintage racecars competing in a hill climb race.  Oct. 2-3

At Maryhill Winery

Annual Grape Stomping Harvest Celebration: Old fashioned grape stomp, free wine tasting and live music all weekend on the arbor.  Weekends through October:  Oct 9-11 and 16-17

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