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Columnist Sharon Nesbit takes a drive through the Columbia River River Gorge, celebrating the absence of crowds and the return of autumn's calm.

SHARON NESBITIt is ours again. At least on weekdays. The Historic Columbia River Highway.

I took a notion on a reccent sunny afternoon to drive up the gorge to Bridal Veil on the old highway. The gorge is too much loved these days, thus, too much used. I do not go there in the summer.

But this was a good day, starting with rain, which discouraged the hikers/bikers. Then the sun came out and was at my back in late afternoon, lighting the golden leaves on the maple trees. In summer, the place is solid green. In fall, it is highlighted in gold.

A woman sat on a rock wall at Portland Women's Forum reading a book, all of the gorge and Vista House spread out before her. Strollers walked around Vista House, which is closed, of course, but the view is open. In every direction.

Then down the Latourell Loops, circling, descending, slightly giddy.

I slip off the road to Guy Talbot State Park to visit the village of Latourell. The park is quiet on such a day. The adjacent tiny town has the place to itself again. A woman walks a goat, three dogs and a cat down the street.

You can, if you look closely, see the old street grids of what was once a proper town where the Latourell family lived and hosted travelers. It had a post office, a train station and a store. And, some say, gambling late at night.

The Latourell family's crumbling old house, once grand, is still there, the second floor emerging from a tumble of blackberry bushes, the roof collapsing

They were gorge royalty, the Latourells. Grace, of Chinookan blood from Camas, married to French-Canadian Frenchy Latourell. The two raised a flock of beautiful kids, all musical enough to form a family band. And when, before the freeway was built, sternwheelers nosed to the Latourell shore, they entertained. People danced to Frenchy's fiddle and ate Grace's food, some staying all night to take the train out the next morning.

One of their beautiful daughters became the first woman mayor of Troutdale. Her statue stands there in Mayors Square.

It is good to drive slowly through the few blocks of old Latourell and think of that family, and then take the old, twisting Latourell Road back up to the highway.

The light still glows in the trees, waterfalls flash on the right where their creeks drop, surprised, down the cliffs of the gorge.

You regain the freeway at Bridal Veil, astonished that the big noisy slab of pavement is there. The road back leads straight to the Dairy Queen where a hot fudge sundae with peanuts can be had. Is this great country or what?

Sharon Nesbit can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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