Wind, Water & Wine – Rufus, OR
“I honestly don’t know why people complain about the wind here” I said as I scanned the perfectly calm, perfectly flat waters in front of us. “I mean this place is perfect!”
It was hard not to agree, at least in the moment. We had landed what looked like the ideal boondocking site in one of the many free COE-managed areas on the banks of the Columbia River. We had a corner of the peninsula all to ourselves with sweeping views of golden hills and the gorgeous river rolling placidly along the sandy beach below us. There were only a few other rigs in the area (all well separated) and I couldn’t imagine wanting to leave.
Of course the fact that the hills were covered in windmills and that this was known as one of the premier windsurfing spots on the Columbia River should have provided a clue of what was to come, but as they say “ignorance is bliss”. So, after a lovely cocktail on our riverfront “porch” and a delicious meal we went to sleep with just a whisper of heavenly breeze through the window.
I was dreaming about trains, BIG rumbling trains, or perhaps it might have been earthquakes. Either way my dream was making a helluva racket. “Be quiet” I mumbled to no-one in particular.
BAM!! WHOOSH! RUMBLE!
This time I was wide awake. Was that the WIND?? Was the RV really rocking around as much as I thought it was? Was that crashing sound REAL? That’s when the windmills and all the rest suddenly made sense. Right, yes, this is the Columbia River Gorge for goodness sakes, Windsurfing Mecca of the north, the place where winds are SO consistent and SO notorious that when they’re not there everyone wonders where they went.
The next day our peaceful boondocking spot was crowded by day-use folks who’d came out to ride the waves and catch some air on the water. It was fun to watch, but our ideal spot dreams had certainly been shattered in the most windy way. We clearly weren’t going to stay long as I originally imagined, but we did stick around long enough to explore the rather desolate-looking area of Rufus and it ended up surprising us in more ways than one.
Hiking The High Desert Hills
Rufus is located on the very eastern edge of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and although it’s only ~100 miles east of Portland it is light-years different in shape and form. Whereas Portland is on the “wet” side of Oregon, this is on the “dry” side and the landscape decidedly reflects that. Instead of thick, wet rainforest-like mountains you have rolling hills, golden and dry, covered in withered grasses and barren as the desert. It feels pretty freaky to pass from dripping waterfalls to this, but that’s the nature of the Gorge. One minute you’re in forest and the next you’re in the desert. Without the river it’d be as dry as a bone here.
We decided to escape the wind one afternoon by exploring along the Deschutes River Recreation Area just ~15 minutes west of our spot. There are many miles of trails here, including a lovely old rail trail that runs high above the river-bank. Practically no-one comes here so you can enjoy a long solo walk amongst the pastel-colored hills that seem to move and change as the dry grasses sway in the winds. It was mostly overcast on our walk with doggie, so I got a little HDR camera-crazy trying capture the subtle colors. Plus we DID see snakes (two of them in fact intertwined in…erhmmm…snakey relations), but the views and solitude were fabulous. Well worth it!
Bring Doggie? YES. All the trails in Deschutes River Recreation Area are dog-friendly.
Tasting Fabulous Wines
Our hike obviously made us thirsty and what better way to quench said thirst than with a touch of wine? Turns out that the desolate hills just 15 mins away on the opposite side of the river (the Washington side) hide an outstanding dog-friendly (really!) winery with sweeping views of the valley.
We moseyed on over the bridge to Maryhill Winery and enjoyed a fabulous tasting ($5) of ~6 wines all of which we both agreed were very high quality (and very reasonably priced) wines. The spacious grounds are green and perfectly manicured and even offer cool music concerts during the season. In the end we bought 4 bottles (including an excellent specimen of Port) and spent at least an hour hanging on the porch with the views. What a total treat!
Bring Doggie? YES. This winery is so dog-friendly they even allows dogs inside the tasting room!
I remember rather vaguely reading something about this place a long time ago, but for whatever reason I’d forgotten exactly where it was, so when I saw what looked exactly like Stonehenge off the side of the road I squealed so loud that poor Paul almost lost control of the car. “We’ve GOT to go see that!” I exclaimed.
So, with bellies warmed by wine we drove the few miles over to visit. This extraordinary structure, which seems decidedly out-of-place here, was completed in 1929 as a memorial to the lives lost in WWI. It’s resemblance to the real Stonehenge (in England) is not a coincidence. It’s the exact same size and form and was built by a Quaker pacifist, Samuel Hill who visited the original during the war. Back then it was thought Stonehenge was used for human sacrifice (we now know that to be false) and so Hill built the replica to represent that human lives were still being sacrificed to war.
It’s a totally surreal experience to see this thing and definitely should not be missed if you’re in the area.
Bring Doggie? YES. The memorial is open to all and fully dog-friendly.
On our way back to our windy boondocking spot we also stopped at the fruit farms on the Washington side to pick up some fresh produce. There are ~4 big stands along the river (right next to Maryhill State Park) that all offer excellent seasonal stuff at excellent prices. Another stop we didn’t make (but which comes highly recommended) is the Maryhill Museum in the same area. Who knew the little area around Rufus had so much going on??
But in the end the winds got us. One more night of rock-n-roll was enough and so the next day we raised the jacks and drove another ~150 miles to an excellent overnight spot by the river near La Grande (I’ll review both the boondocking spot and the overnight spot in my next 2 posts). This will be the last place we stop before our 2-week reservation in the Wallowas. We’re ready for some mountain-time and to be surprised all over again, hopefully in a good way. Just maybe not so much wind this time, OK?
P.S. Internet access at the Wallowas is pretty much non-existent so my comments will be sporadic (whenever I can hunt down a coffee shop or brewery with WiFi). Please excuse any delayed replies 🙂SPONSORED LINK:
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