In the early 1840s the first emigrants to Oregon sailed up the Missouri River from St Louis to what are now various suburbs of Kansas City and from there set off on foot, horseback or wagons on a two thousand mile journey through the present states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon until they got as far as the Dalles on the Columbia River. And then they were stumped. They ran out of trail for their wagons. So they built rafts and floated down the river to the British trading post called Fort Vancouver and from there they ended their long voyage with a short trip down the Willamette River to the Willamette Valley. It was a dangerous undertaking and many people drowned. Then Sam Barlow came to the rescue and built a wagon road from The Dalles in 1845-46 that stretched close to a hundred miles around the south side of Mt Hood and finally ended in what is now Oregon City in the Willamette Valley about 20 miles south of Portland.
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A few weeks ago I wrote about the Lewis and Clark bus tour we took when we attended the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) convention in Vancouver, WA in 2004 (see here). This tour went west to Cape Disappointment on the north side (Washington) of the mouth of the Columbia River and to Fort Clatsop on the south side (Oregon). There was another bus tour that explored the area east of Vancouver and included The Barlow Road, the final stretch of the original Oregon Trail. OCTA members call themselves “rutnuts” and they like to walk along the ruts and swales of the original trail. And so we signed up for this tour, too.
Our drive took us eastward along the Columbia River for about 100 miles passing through the Columbia River Gorge where the river bisects the great range of volcanoes called the Cascade Range that begins in Canada and then goes down the middle of Washington and Oregon pretty much in a straight line. The range finally ends with Mount Lassen as the last volcano before the range meets the Sierra Nevada in California.
Shortly after stopping to visit Multnomah Falls we turned south to pick up the Barlow Road halfway up Mount Hood where we walked for awhile and then rode west to the End of the Trail in Oregon City.
About 20% of the original Barlow Road still exists but there is no longer any vehicular traffic. Cars and trucks today travel on the Mt Hood Highway (US highways 26 and 35).
Our tour ended with a 20-mile drive up I-205 from Oregon City to Portland and then across the Columbia and back to Vancouver.