03 Apr Rowena Plateau
Last weekend Kara Jean invited friend and collaborator Joal Stein, who is a writer and designer living in NYC, on a hike while he was in town. The crew – Kara, Andi, Ben and Joal – set out to hike Rowena Plateau in Central-North Oregon. These are his reflections of that journey.
There are stones that have traveled the world, and with the right eye you can discover their stories and what they reveal. I’m always reminded of this fact as we drive along the Columbia River Highway, which is easily one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Coursing east from Portland along the Columbia River Gorge, past waterfalls and through the Cascade Range, we split off and slowly make a series of hairpin turns to Rowena Crest just outside the town of Mosier, Or (population: 480, charm: Infinite).
Rowena Crest is a fascinating place, a transition zone that sits between the temperate rainforest west of the Cascades and the dry grass prairies east. It provides the perfect vantage of how dramatic the Gorge is, the product of volcanoes, lava flows and catastrophic floods. The cuts in the earth and jagged cliffs represent the cataclysmic history of the Missoula Flood; the gradient of rock formations stacked from the lava flows and basalt deposits; the rest is the result of the slow, persistent and inevitable weathering of wind and water. It’s a reminder of how history is not something locked away or buried underground, but inherited and always present.
We made our visit just as the famous wildflowers were starting to bloom, and walking along the trail it felt like the earth was heaving – desert mounds billowing into desert mounds with the occasional pond and acorn tree. In this part of the world these mounds are called “biscuit scablands,” and are formed by earthquake sorting, the burrowing of wildlife, soil accumulation, and the cycles of freezing and thawing.
Edging our feet to the trails end, there was a stillness to the landscape that was contrasted by how alive everything actually was, with spring making it’s headway and unexpected guests accompanying us. Life can be both small and large.
Taking the shorter, flat hike on the plateau, we spotted an outcrop and scaled our way up it’s eroded side. Perching ourselves on this watchtower, feet dangling into the weightlessness, it provided a perfect place to celebrate the beauty of this place and the company of friends as the famous Gorge wind whipped around us.
Walking back along the trail with thoughts drifting like wind-swept sediments, and following what has walked along here before, it struck me how this landscape is a collision of past and future forces. Humanity is a geological force in the world, a particular kind in which we live present within the margins of time we inherent, but dream both forward and backwards through imagination and curiosity. Too often escape is an attempt to control the parameters of what is wild; perhaps in order to truly escape we need to embrace what is wild.
With the short hike over we drove back through the town of Mosier, OR, which seems to be a town made up solely of vineyards and orchards, and took the opportunity to get lost among the cherry blossoms at Idiot’s Grace. It’s amazing what a flower canopy can provide, and inspiring the care some people take to grow such beauty in the world. In someways, caring is an act of creativity and a way to nourish the soul and imagination.
“[P]lace is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there.”
In a serendipitous moment before we left, we came across a dome house sitting in a field, resembling the mounds of earth we had just walked over. It will probably one day be a mound as well.