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Monday, July 28, 2008

A Columbia River hideaway

It must be a one-horse Chamber of Commerce office down in Wishram, Washington.

A large billboard several miles up the highway invites the tourist to, 'Come to Wishram, Railroad Town.' The sign further promises food and antiques. Wishram is a long way off the beaten path, in a country some say God forgot.

While the latter is doubtful, it's possible that a lot of folks have forgotten Wishram, if they knew it in the first place. But it is a sidetrip that leads to a quiet corner where you can boondock for free, right on the shoreline of the Columbia River. Camping on the Columbia is rare enough in itself, but boondocking at no charge is a really rare affair.

dsc01725.jpgYears back when the federal government and the Native American tribes hammered out treaty rights agreements on fishing, a little spot called Avery Park got hauled into the bargaining. Off Washington State Route 14, between mile marker 89 and 90, there’s a little road that takes you down the shoreline. Here the US Army Corps of Engineers has developed a tiny park. During the treaty fishing season, the Indian fishers have the run of the park--any other time of the year, the general public can come in, drop anchor, and stay for up to 14 days.

It’s a primitive situation with one 'official' amenity: A garbage dumpster. Other than for somebody else taking away your trash, you’re on your own. But the view! The wind riffles the water in this part of the channel, and little breakers splash up on the rocks. The sun goes down behind Mount Hood, and as the song goes, life is good. Trees provide shade and sound effects, as the wind blows here most of the time.

It’s a good place if you have a wind turbine for power, but solar panels will do if you don't get under the shade trees. Bring your wind-surfing board; it can be a popular put in, although across the river on the Oregon side, and just a wee bit east is a major windsurf park we’ve talked about before in this blog.

Wishram is not far east, however. And 'railroad town' it is. A major switchyard for Burlington Northern and Southern Rail, you can count on at least two or three trains an hour passing by. Since the park is on the river side of a grade crossing, you’ll need to learn to get used to the various 'signatures' of locomotive drivers who toot on through a few yards from your bedroom window.

What about those Wishram attractions? There is a bar (with friendly folks who’ll wave and call out if they’re on the sidewalk outdoors), and an antique shop just down the block. On the edge of the rail yard is a little grassy park where resides a shrine to a Baldwin Class P-2 steam engine, formerly running passenger service for the Burlington Northern line.

Wishram is like a lot of small town America. Long on dreams that seem to take a long time to come to fruition. But it’s a watering hole not far from a place where the river (and the barges) roll by your window, and 'where a man can stay for many a day, without needin' any money.'

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