The recommendation of two adventure photographers should have been sufficient motivation, right?
But after the last couple weeks of rain and French fries, I was feeling so down and lazy, I was just going to stay home.
But then something changed. I met up with my college friend Dave and discovered that he needed cheering up…maybe even more than I did.
And since Dave is the kind of guy who perks up at the opportunity to help somebody or fix something, I asked him if he knew a scenic back route to get to Multnomah.
I was still planning not to go. But next thing I knew, we were planning an expedition for the morning.
Dave even got me to agree to pick him up early, so he could make me breakfast.
I don’t even like breakfast.
Multnomah Falls is a two-tier waterfall, fed by the springs that flow under Larch Mountain, the extinct volcano with the deceptive name. (Lumberjacks sold the Noble firs on the mountain as larchwood.)
Record books and tourist boards have argued over the claim that Multnomah is the US’ fourth tallest waterfall. When you see it in person, this seems like a dumb question. A 611-foot drop–and, at this time of year, a five-foot-tall ice pack–is nature’s effective “Who cares?” to the quibbling of statisticians.
The falls are Oregon’s most-visited natural attraction; they get about 2.5 million visitors a year, and being as it was a clear Saturday in Portland, it was only to be expected that they should be sharing the trail with us.
In situations like these, I usually find myself soothing the indignation of natives, who resent the presence of so many other people on the day they chose to highlight their favorite local attraction.
Dave, however, was distinctly unbothered by the crowds.
Lewis and Clark, et. al, were the first white folks to view the falls, during a cool-down excursion on the Columbia River after their 1805 cross-country expedition.
Clark made a note in his diary of a village called Nematlnomaq, which seems to mean “downriver” in an Upper-Chinook dialect. This village was on Oregon’s Sauvie Island, but apparently they liked saying the name (as best they could), because they denoted pretty much every tribe in the surrounding area as being “Multnomah.”
While the Multnomah people didn’t name the falls themselves (they didn’t even name themselves, themselves), they did bequeath the falls with a bunch of legends, most involving beautiful native princesses and peculiar marriage rites.
One says that the waterfall was built by Coyote, leader of the animal people, as a place for his princess bride to bathe in secret.
Another says that the Multnomah chief’s newly married daughter threw herself over the falls to relieve her people of a plague.
A third story, corroborated by eyewitnesses and The Oregonian, tells of a boulder dislodged from the face of the gorge in 1995. The rock fell 225 feet, resulting in a splash that threw a shower of water and rocks 70 feet in the air, and down onto the Benson footbridge, where a wedding party was taking pictures. The groom, it was reported, suffered injury such as no man ought to; however, the bride reported the next day “that, despite his injuries, he had still been able to bravely perform his conjugal duties.
Nobody, in fact, really knows when it was decided to call the falls Multnomah. Typical practice would have been to call them after the neighboring stream…which, at the time, was known as Coon Creek.
I think all Oregonians would agree that was a bullet dodged.
The reigning belief is that the falls were named by S.G. Reed, bankroller of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company and known to history books as a “tycoon.” Clever man that he was, Reed gave the falls a name with a little more local cachet–presumably for the benefit of passengers on the steamboat tours he ran along the Columbia Gorge.
Samuel Lancaster, an engineer and landscape architect who built the Columbia River Highway in 1913, wrote this valentine to the falls:
“It is pleasing to look upon; and in every mood, it charms like magic, it woos like an ardent lover; it refreshes the soul; and invites to loftier, purer things.”
Or, in Dave’s words,
“It reminds me that Portland is actually a pretty good place to live.”